Reflections on promoting open discussion forums at university
Van der Merwe, J. C.
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The Department of Philosophy at the University of the Free State recently presented an open discussion forum on the following topic: Imagine a truly South African university. Many people reacted with scepticism towards this initiative, suspecting that there had to be some party-political agenda behind it. The idea that one may, and even should, address political issues relating to the nature and functioning of the university in an intellectual and academic fashion seemed somehow inconceivable to many. At first it seemed as if these reactions were merely the result of a weak political culture on campus, but it became evident that it was in fact the lack of a culture of dialogue that constituted the major obstacle in the way of genuine interactive communication. This article will explore some of the possible reasons for this state of affairs. The first part of the article focuses on the possible detrimental effect that certain paradigms of higher education - with their one-sided focus on vocationalism - have on critical thinking. In the second part, the communicative dynamics of the forum will be analysed as a theme of interest in itself. In conclusion, the importance of cultivating an appropriate attitude that meets the ethos of constructive communication for such discussion forums will be emphasised.