Universities no longer sanctuaries of learning: Soyinka

01 December 2016 - 16:58 By Ernest Mabuza

The universities are no longer the sanctuaries of learning that they would like to think they are‚ Nobel Laureate Wole Soyinka said on Thursday.

The internationally recognised Nigeria-born author and scholar, professor Wole Soyinka,. File photo.
The internationally recognised Nigeria-born author and scholar, professor Wole Soyinka,. File photo.
Image: Alon Skuy

“They find themselves often on the frontline of sudden and bloody violence‚” Soyinka said at the third annual Brics and Emerging Economies Universities Summit held at the University of Johannesburg.

Soyinka was addressing the summit on his vision for the university of the future.

Drawing from his experiences in Nigeria during the past five decades‚ Soyinka said anti-intellectual and disruptive intellectual forces had long found root in the institutions of higher learning.

He said there was a thinking that this only affected Africa and the Middle East‚ but this was not true.

Soyinka said religious intolerance was not something new‚ recalling that on a visit to the University of Barcelona‚ he was shown heavy tomes that still bore the bullet holes of the Spanish Civil War in the 1930s.

He also referred to situation in Kenya last year where 147 people‚ most of them students were killed by al-Shabab militants at Garissa University.

Soyinka said “the religious night raiders”‚ reading from list provided by some college students‚ called out the victims one by one‚ then knifed‚ bludgeoned and shot them to death.

“Those victims were the supposed unbelievers‚” Soyinka said.

Soyinka said an "underground seepage of anti-humanism" was sweeping through universities around the world and this should be addressed by creating an environment in which students are given a chance to make their own discoveries.

Soyinka’s vision of a future university would see all first year students undergoing a multidisciplinary course where the aim would be to dehumanise the extremist views they might have.

Soyinka said after a year of study‚ students should then be allowed to exercise an intense mental discipline.

Replying to a question on whether universities in the United Kingdom should be preventing radical speakers from campus from speaking to students for fear of radicalising the students‚ Soyinka said a line must be drawn.

He said while he believed in democracy and freedom of speech‚ there must be limit.

“But I believe that many communities are beginning to understand that there is a limit. There is a point at which even we must recognise something called hate speech. A weapon is used to take advantage of the positive‚ the progressive notion of freedom of speech‚ liberty etcetera to erode the very communities which are founded on those human principles.”