ISS at 65: Still educating academics of high integrity? by Bas de Gaay Fortman


About the author:
De Gaay Fortman-003As part-time professor of economic development at the Institute of Social Studies Bas de Gaay Fortman gave his Inaugural Address on ‘Rural development in an age of survival’ in1972[i]. As the Institute’s Chair in Political Economy since 1977 his Valedictory Address was entitled ‘Power and protection, productivism and the poor’ (2002). Among his many books and other publications are Theory of Competition Policy (1966)[ii], Political Economy of Human Rights (2011)[iii] and recently Moreel Erfgoed (Moral Heritage, 2016)[iv].



As a long-standing member of the ISS community, Bas de Gaay Fortman, author of a book on moral heritage, argues that ISS should cherish its heritage of nurturing academics of integrity. He poses the question of whether ISS today can keep up this tradition, or whether the institute has been caught too much in the rigour of academic standards alone. Solidarity and staff-student interaction are key in breeding academics of integrity
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As this blog appears in the Institute’s lustrum week, I shall take the liberty of going a little back into the history of this extraordinary academic institution. Actually, it was a personal meeting in 1967 with its first rector, Professor Egbert de Vries, who had just retired. His advice gave me focus in more than half a century of academic engagement.

Already soon after its foundation in 1952 I came to know of the Institute of Social Studies. My father was a part-time visiting professor at the ISS those days. The Institute had a rector but around him very few fixed staff. For its diploma courses—Master degree programs came much later—it used the services of professors at regular Dutch universities.

My school was close to The Palace where the Institute had been hosted by Queen Juliana of the Netherlands. In the late 1950s and early 1960s, when I was a University student, I enjoyed Saturday evenings in its ‘Common room’, playing billiards, table tennis and chess with students from far overseas. Thus, I remember discussions with three Ivorians who followed a nine months diploma program to prepare for their appointments as Ambassadors of their newly independent country in Paris, Washington and with the UN in New York. Most remarkable, however, was a meeting with Bert de Vries after attending a conference in The Palace on ‘Development and Higher Education’. This was in 1967, when I was about to leave for Zambia to take up my appointment in the Economics department of its University. That conference had produced lots of well-meant statements on ‘our’ contribution to progress in the ‘developing countries’. ‘Do not be misled’, professor De Vries said, ‘there will be just one challenge for you: contributing to the education of academics of high integrity.’

In academic circles in this country, and undoubtedly elsewhere too, academic integrity is subject to much discussion. In codes of conduct it has been specified in standards such as ‘avoiding false claims’, ‘making sure that standard research practices are followed’, etc. Laudable principles. But let us look at the dictionary definition of integrity: ‘the quality of being honest and having strong moral principles’. Thus, integrity is a quality that typifies a whole personality. Among the synonyms of that attitude I highlight ‘uprightness’, ‘truthfulness’ and ‘trustworthiness’. These qualities, indeed, imply much more than just professional honesty.

ISS_1950s
Palace Noordeinde (1957~), The Hague. Photographer: Nico Naeff.

In 65 years of ISS commitment to the education of honest and upright academics, have we succeeded? Over the past decades, I have seen some strong indications that this engagement has made a difference. In countries in dismal material as well as spiritual conditions, it was often at the universities where oases of integrity still existed. In particular, I saw many of our alumni and alumnae showing courage and upright behaviour in times of structural injustice and oppression.

This year, I published a book on moral heritage, out of my concern that the moral heritage of the Netherlands and globally is increasingly challenged by developments in the past 50 years. The concept of moral heritage concerns the relation between morality and power and much of the ideas I developed in the book have been inspired by the students I met at ISS, whose integrity and commitment to the development of their country was often outstanding.

 

Let me conclude this lustrum blog with two brief observations. Firstly, our upright academics who have returned to places where their commitment towards honesty and public justice is urgently needed, expect more than just our professional support. Indeed, communication in our ISS Alumni – connecting the world-groups, needs to centre on solidarity more than anything else. Secondly, ISS needs to ask itself the question if its academic work and institutional setting is only focused on acceptable standards of research and teaching while missing out on the education of ‘academics of high integrity’? I leave this question open, noting however that first and foremost the latter mission requires personal and reciprocal interaction between staff and students. So far, compared to other academic institutions in this country, the ISS has been extremely fortunate in being able to create a conducive environment for personal interaction with its students or, in ISS terminology, its ‘participants’.


Egbert de Vries
Illustratie (van de ISS website, het portret bevindt zich nu in het souterrain) Egbert_Vries.jpg

Professor Egbert de Vries was the first full-time rector of the ISS during ten years (1956-1966), well-known as ‘rector magnificus’. He was also Emeritus Professor in International Development at the University of Pittsburgh. The Institute of Social Studies also awarded its honorary doctorate to Egbert de Vries in 1966.

 


[i] Published as article in De Economist, March 1973, Volume 121, Issue 2, pp 157–171
[ii] Amsterdam: North Holland (now Elsevier)
[iii] London/New York: Routledge
[iv] Amsterdam: Prometheus

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