Concerning the Rejection of Some of Those Recommended for Membership of the Science Council of Japan

Update: October 13, 2020

There is growing criticism that the decision taken by Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga to reject 6 of the 105 names put forward for membership of the Science Council of Japan in an unprecedented manner and the fact that no reason for this rejection was put forward by either the Prime Minister or the Chief Cabinet Secretary represent an arbitrary assault on, and infringement of, academic freedom. In light of this, concerns are rising that, if this continues, such surreptitious modes of plenary governance, devoid of any form of dialogue, will be exercised on all areas of learning and cultural activity.

It is the government's position at this given moment (7 October 2020) that the decision to reject these nominations is in accord with a paper drafted by the Cabinet Office in 2018. There it is written that "the Prime Minister must be in a position to assume responsibility for such nominations on behalf of the people and the state" and, based on this, the government has concluded that "it cannot be said that the Prime Minister is obliged to accept every nomination". However, regarding the current situation, the Prime Minister has as yet failed to make clear the grounds on which he is unable to take responsibility for these appointments.

The name of this academic body is translated into English as the Science Council of Japan. Unlike a meeting in which people gather to debate, to conduct business or to exercise legal duties, a Council is a meeting where experts gather together to discuss issues and offer advice. At the same time, the Council is charged with focusing on the next generation as it deliberates on the future direction of educational research appropriate for the whole country and with offering recommendations with regard to future policy.

In the preface to the law promulgated in 1948 that led to the establishment of the Council, the function of the new Council is outlined as follows: "Premised on its belief that science represents the foundation of the culture of the nation and with the consensus of the scientific community, the Science Council of Japan is hereby established with a mission to contribute to the peaceful restoration of our country, to the welfare of human society and to work with the worldwide academic community to make progress in advancing the frontiers of knowledge".

As is implicit in expressions such as the "culture of the nation" and "peaceful restoration", this mission incorporates a profound sense of reflection on the arrogance embedded within the non-scientific, spiritualized theories that prevailed in pre-war Japan as well as the complicity of the academic and research communities with the military.

Such reflection on the past and hope for the future - as seen in such expressions as contributing to "the welfare of human society" and working with "the worldwide academic community" - is very close to the hearts of the entire ICU community: faculty, staff, students and alumni alike. Indeed, it reminds us all of the founding principles of this university.

Our University was founded in 1953 out of a profound sense of reflection on the War and based on Christian ideals with an aim to nurture "internationally minded citizens who perform service to God and humankind and make contributions to lasting peace". That vision is encapsulated in ICU's three commitments: international, Christian and academic. Apart from the religious aspect, the commitments to peace, culture and globalization are principles that are common to ICU and the Council. The current dispute regarding the recommendations for membership of the Council is not simply a quarrel occurring between an academic body and the government, far removed from the classes that are taking place on our campus; rather, it needs to be seen as an issue regarding the unjustified exercise of power over principles, the value of which is something we share in common, and as an issue of intellectual censorship.

I am linking this discussion to the University to which I belong. However, as evidenced by the message offered right at the outset of this dispute by Yuko Tanaka, Chancellor of Hosei University, each of our universities, research organizations and academic societies will be able to contribute to the discussion on this issue from the perspective of their own mission and values, and a more comprehensive viewpoint will no doubt be generated.

Just as those who favour research carried out for military ends or for the establishment of laws that run the danger of limiting the freedom of the general citizen are entitled to their views, so the offering of different points of view is the right of all those engaged in education, the right of all those who value freedom and a peaceful daily life. Since the reason for the rejection of these nominations has not been made clear, many people will be driven, for lack of clear evidence, to assume that this is a case of our present government removing from an academic society those who fail to follow the party line. This cannot be healthy for society.

Our attention is also drawn to clause 2 of the "Charter of the Science Council of Japan". Here we find the following statement, "In fulfilling its responsibilities, utilizing the wide-ranging structure, which encompasses the gamut of the humanities, social sciences and the natural sciences, [the Council] is to act with due consideration for universal, comprehensive, as well as multifaceted perspectives". This structure mirrors the concept of the Liberal Arts whereby knowledge of the humanities, social sciences and the natural sciences is combined; indeed, it echoes the concept of "active Liberal Arts" that ICU espouses.

The acquisition of knowledge that represents the essential function of science (or knowledge; scio in Latin) is achieved by means of a combination of a critical mindset, dialogue and diversity. We can neither accept nor ignore this current action that not only rejects critical thinking and removes the opportunity for dialogue and explanation, but which abuses the right to confirm appointments in an attempt to secure a homogeneity of thought. If we accept such an approach, the health of the national psyche will be threatened; even more so since it could even lead to a descent into the tragedy of a general sense of apathy.

October 7, 2020
Shoichiro Iwakiri
President, ICU

Page top