Plenaries on the second day of ACU Conference of University Leaders in Ghana focused delegates' minds on issues of tolerance and social justice.
The day kicked off with a plenary on the topic of 'universities, faith and tolerance', looking at whether universities hold common views of tolerance and freedom of expression – a session which truly demonstrated the strengths of the ACU. Four vice-chancellors of faith-based universities from Africa, Asia, and Europe discussed on equal terms how their work can help contribute to common understanding, emphasising the need for openness and the need to learn about each other's traditions.
The speakers noted that many universities were established by religions, and focused on the progression from information through knowledge to wisdom; the need to balance body, mind, heart and soul; and the recognition that 'I am, because you are, so that we are'. Today there is an ever greater need to learn about and respect others' traditions, cultures, and religions – and many universities seek to develop global citizens who recognise their responsibilities in these holistic ways.
To further support this, the ACU is seeking funding to establish a programme of work among its members, aimed at supporting mutual understanding of different faiths, and creating practical guidelines that can lead away from their extremist interpretations.
The last session of the day looked at whether universities should be responsible for addressing historical injustices.
Sir Hilary Beckles, Vice-Chancellor of the University of the West Indies (UWI), which has campuses built on former sugar plantations, spoke about how the university is torn between crafting a future vision and negotiating its past. He spoke about how establishing a centre for reparatory study to address its history has earned UWI a reputation for denouncing crimes of African enslavement, and therefore has a big responsibility towards the Caribbean region.
Professor Adam Habib, Vice-Chancellor of the University of the Witwatersrand in South Africa, spoke about how, in light of the recent student protests, there is a need for thoughtful activism and principled solidarity. He called on universities on the African continent to act more collectively, as part of a continent-wide system.
Other sessions throughout the day covered a diverse range of topics, including: responsibilities in international partnerships, how universities can meet labour market needs, access and inclusivity, ensuring that research benefits society, and visions of social responsibility. In particular, two sessions looking at how universities can maintain the integrity of the undergraduate curriculum, brought together universities with a special focus on undergraduate education to talk about their issues, challenges, and solutions.