Edward Snowden at FU Berlin? – Series of Events Planned by Students' Union, Honorary Title Proposed


AStA FU – Berlin Free University's students' union – has invited Edward J. Snowden to our university. A series of events titled “Back to Basics – What is Freedom, and what is not?,” at which Snowden is invited to lecture, is being planned on the occasion of a motion by student members of the “F”U's Academic Senate to award honorary university membership to Snowden.

This April, Berlin “Free” University's students' union is organizing a series of events on the topic of “Data privacy in an age of ubiquitous surveillance and unchecked intelligence agencies.” Due to his unique insight into the depths of NSA surveillance, Snowden has been asked to lecture on the technological aspects of unlimited data collection and on ways and means to regain data privacy in practice. The series is planned with a view to the creation of both new impulses for research and awareness of the dangers of concentration of power and elite formation with a simultaneous de-democratization of society – for which the Free University with its intransparent, authoritarian and undemocratic politics is an illustrative example.

Snowden's position remains ambivalent as his public statements display a lack of principled critique of intelligence agencies, whether military or civilian. In no way does he question their existential importance; he thus remains a loyal patriot. However, his willingness to take severe personal risks in order to reveal the NSA's comprehensive global surveillance activities deserves recognition. It is because Edward Snowden is both a very controversial figure and a role model for many students that the Students' Union considers it important to give him the opportunity to enter into dialogue with FU students about his actions, his revelations and their implications both for academic research and political appraisal.

Simultaneously, student members of the university's Academic Senate [AS] made a motion to award Snowden honorary membership in the Senate's upcoming session on February 12. They base their proposal on Snowden's outstanding merits in the struggle for transparency, justice and freedom, which correspond perfectly to the university's maxims of “veritas,” “iustitia” and “libertas.” (See the attached document, which has been supplied to us by AS members.) In the past, the university's honorary titles have been awarded at the instigation of the Executive Board (Präsidium) – to personae who are largely notorious for their influence, power and dubious political legacies, all the way to a personal record of slave ownership (see http://www.heise.de/tp/artikel/39/39484/1.html).

It remains unclear how “F”U President Peter-André Alt will respond to the students' initiatives. Again and again during his tenure, he has removed student members' proposals from the Academic Senate's session agenda for spurious reasons. Since October 2013, rooms for political events organized by students will only be granted by the administration if the presence of “F”U teaching staff guarantees for the event's “scientificity.” The invitation to Snowden provides an opportunity for Alt to act, for the first time, in the spirit of a truly Free University. After all, he hopes to be re-elected on April 30.

AS_Antrag_Snowden.pdf69.28 KB