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On Wednesday, October 28th, Polish women all over the country did not go to work as part of the strike. The University of Gdansk announced this day as the Rector's Day to allow students and workers to take part in the strike.
Thousands of women and men took part in the protest on the University of Gdansk campus. They carried slogans on banners: "Buy them flowers for the grave they are digging themselves", "Kinga Duda blink twice if you need help". The students dressed up as handmaids from Margaret Atwood's novel.
The decision taken by the University authorities was poorly received by the new Minister of Education and Science, Przemysław Czarnek. On Thursday morning on TVP Info, commenting on the women's strike, he said:
- According to our information, 15 universities in Poland expressed support for the strike. But the rector's hours were introduced in Wroclaw and Gdansk and students were encouraged to take to the streets. This is a scandalous and irresponsible decision of the university authorities. Polish law gives the universities a lot of autonomy, but where the law is broken, the consequences will be far-reaching. I would like to remind you that we have applications from these universities for research funds and grants. We will also take into account what is happening right now, for example is someone encouraging someone to take to the streets in the peak of the coronavirus pandemic.
Beata Derkacz, spokeswoman for the University of Gdansk: - The authorities of the University of Gdansk will not comment on the Minister's statement.
Why? - I ask the spokeswoman. She did not answer.
Academic community in Gdańsk shows its support
The Gdansk University of Technology did not dare to introduce the rector's day last Wednesday.
- We proposed a compromise: on the one hand, the classes were held in the planned formula, and on the other hand, the absence of some students could have been justified by the lecturers - explains Maciej Dzwonnik, the university's press spokesman.
- Universities have a high degree of autonomy in terms of making decisions on the implementation of the educational process, which is also the case with recent events. On the other hand, shaping the relations between the ministry and higher education institutions is the responsibility of the Conference of Rectors of Academic Schools in Poland rather than of individual universities. Any possible position of CRASP on this matter will therefore be the common voice of the academic community - adds Dzwonnik.
On Thursday afternoon the Presidents of the Gdansk University Councils issued a statement on this matter. We read in it:
"As Chairman of the Councils of Gdansk Higher Education Institutions we express our support for the autonomous decision, setting October 28th this year as the Rector's Day, made by the acting Rector of the University of Gdansk Prof. Krzysztof Bielawski. The statement of Minister Prof. Przemysław Czarnek about the potential financial punishment is treated as an unjustified attempt to interfere in the autonomy of the University and academic freedom".
Other universities face pressure too
This week, Minister Czarnek sent a letter to the Rector of the University of Szczecin, in which he expects the University to take appropriate steps towards one of its lecturers - Prof. Inga Iwasiów. According to the unofficial information obtained by "Gazeta Wyborcza", Czarnek was not pleased by the language that Iwasiów uses during the Women's Strike.
Inga Iwasiów is an outstanding literary scholar, critic, writer and finalist of the 2009 Nike Literary Award, as well as a well-known feminist. She has been active on numerous occasions in protests against violation of fundamental rights and aggression against minorities. She has opposed anti-Semitic rhetoric, hate campaigns against refugees and LGBT+ people.
Now, in Szczecin, during protests caused by the verdict of the Constitutional Tribunal, her speeches are received with ovations. The academic lecturer does not hesitate to use strong terms characteristic of these protests, she reaches for profanities. She says straightforwardly: Get the fuck out. She publicly criticizes the current government.
According to the unofficial information of "Wyborcza", the University of Szczecin has already reacted to the letter of the Minister of Education and Science. An investigation has been initiated.
A large group of her colleagues from University of Szczecoń stood in defense of Iwasiów. 102 scientists signed a letter of support. They point out that the attack on the literary scholar is "an attempt at public lynching," and criticism of her use of profane language is "a temptation to discipline academics, not only to impose how they should speak but also how they should think. Scientists emphasize that : "the similarities with the era when writers were dismissed and asked to focus on writing, and students on studying are perceived as intimidating the academic community".
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