Ladies and Gentlemen,
On 12 March 2020, due to SARS-CoV-2 virus risk, we closed our University for students and limited the presence of employees in the University premises. The phrase “we closed” seems to be inappropriate. Classes are taught, research is conducted, the administration and technical departments continue to work, there are meetings, conferences, as well as defences of diploma, doctoral and post-doctoral theses. We have transformed our working environment, but its essence, which is creation and transfer of knowledge, has remained unchanged.
What is more, the nature of scholar’s work makes us, people of the university, trained in long-term isolation. We work and teach either individually or in small teams. We form separate institutes and faculties. We call ourselves a community, although we will never get to know all its members. Many of us will never visit all University of Silesia campuses during their studies, or even throughout the years of work. So why are we so impatiently waiting for the moment when we get our University back again? Why do we feel that the epidemic took from us something more than the real co-presence with the students and colleagues? In my opinion, this sense of weird deficiency comes from a momentary loss of one of two forms of the University. And I don’t mean the access to academic buildings.
The First University is real and tangible. It is formed by material substance, which is living people and academic premises, and the laws which govern the functioning of our community.
The Second University is mysterious, invisible and elusive. It is not the sum of working and studying individuals. It lasts, even though the rectors, deans and directors change. It exists, although once upon a time we were not there, and one day we will leave it forever. The Second University’s operation is not described in any law, statute, rules or regulations. It is a concept whose existence cannot be proven, because it manifests itself as a result of faith, trust and practice of values that found this Second University. Belonging to both Universities gives the meaning to our work and provides us with a sense of scholar’s professional and personal dignity.
Our beliefs and values are objectified at the University as a place where peaceful and friendly life with others happens, because we agree together to search for the truth and convey it in a manner free from any political or economic pressure.
We belong to a community which is proud of its sovereignty and autonomy towards the state apparatus. In return for this freedom, what we owe the society is an intellectual and public voice of the truth that we call scientific.
The period of epidemic remoteness suspended our being together. The following representations of the idea of the university ceased to operate: lectures and classes in the academic spaces, as well as real and symbolic relations between scholars and students. It became clear that it is easier to transfer into the virtual space the material university than its non-material concept. Nothing but the physical presence of scholars, students, doctoral students and employees together, at work and during feasts, produces, maintains and manifests to itself and the world dignitas – the dignity of the University. Peaceful being together, through science and knowledge, creates the secular mysticism of the University, which we express by means of academic events, rituals and symbols.
For the second consecutive year we celebrate the anniversary of the establishment of our University remotely, forced to limit the usual meetings and ceremonies.
On the 53rd birthday of the University of Silesia, I wish us all a quick return to both our Universities. The first one is waiting ready for your arrival; the second one will be restored along with our living presence together.
Prof. Ryszard Koziołek
Rector of the University of Silesia