22 July 2016
Dear colleagues and students,
Recently the Executive of the University of Cape Town made a decision concerning the upcoming TB Davie Academic Freedom Lecture. The invited speaker was Mr Flemming Rose, the cultural editor of the Danish magazine, Jyllands Posten, which in 2005 had published a series of cartoons depicting the Prophet Mohammed. The publication of the cartoons generated extensive debate and controversy globally, regarding freedom of speech, blasphemy and Islamophobia, and was accompanied by public protests, riots and even loss of life. Most print media around the world refused to republish them.
It should be noted that when the Academic Freedom Committee (AFC) issued this invitation to Mr Rose in March 2015, the climate on university campuses across South Africa was much quieter than it is now.
The UCT Executive remains committed to academic freedom and freedom of expression and we view these rights as fundamental to our institutional culture. As with all rights, however, context and consequence are also critical. We recognise that UCT also has a paramount responsibility to the campus community.
After giving careful and extensive thought to this matter, the UCT Executive made the decision, with great reluctance and regret, to ask the AFC to withdraw the invitation to Mr Rose. On behalf of the Executive team Vice-Chancellor Dr Max Price wrote to the committee outlining the reasons for this decision and I share this letter with you here, along with the AFC's response.
One result of the Executive's decision is that there will be no TB Davie Academic Freedom Lecture this year.
We accept that there will always be difference of opinion on a matter such as this one, and engagement is helpful for deepening our understanding of this kind of issue.
Professor Francis Petersen
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