The primary responsibilities of our university are to provide a high-quality academic education and conduct high-quality scientific research in order to build a strong knowledge society. But our university also has a vital social responsibility. It can fulfil this role by facilitating and initiating debate and dialogue on key social issues.

Our campus should be a ‘town square’ where people gather to listen to each other, try to understand each other and approach an issue from different angles to reach a solution. Multiple disciplines can arrive at knowledge-based innovative and sustainable solutions together, for example by gathering together historians, philosophers, economists, health scientists, legal experts, political scientists and sociologists to debate a specific topic related to current affairs.

So much is happening in the world right now. Subjects such as the violation of fundamental human rights, safety, emancipation, poverty and climate change are key social issues that we encounter in local and international news media every day. Witnessing the horribly excessive violence against innocent children and families in Palestine, for instance, I often wonder: what would Desiderius Erasmus think and say about this? In a statement on MyEUR, the university board indicates that it believes in respectful dialogue, but not in taking up a position. But isn’t that exactly what we should do, given our Erasmian values and the humanist principles of which we’re so proud?

Although my last column proposed silence as a form of quiet protest, staying silent about human rights is wrong. When fundamental human rights are being violated, silence has a completely different role and effect. To remain silent is to condone.

Hanan El Marroun is professor of Biological Psychology.

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