Ladies and Gentlemen,
we are slowly nearing the end of the most peculiar year in the remembered and written history of our University. Words and phrases such as ‘distance’, ‘isolation’, ‘distance learning’, ‘masks’, ‘remotely’, and ‘avoiding contacts’ became a large part of this year’s vocabulary. Each of these, and all together, are the opposite of the word ‘community’. A community, although based on intangible symbols and values, is only fully itself when everyone is actually together in a common, limited space.
Gradually and with cautious uncertainty caused by the threat of yet another epidemic wave, we are returning to a life of community, reclaiming the public space, recreating the polis, of which the public university is an essential part and perhaps even the best model available today. We create a place having science and education as its foundations, but the importance of the University goes much further than that. The University is becoming a key participant in the debate about the future of democratic institutions and about repairing the biosphere, proving that it is possible to have an inclusive, tolerant, and fair state that serves all its citizens.
The regional uniqueness of the University of Silesia gives these universal tasks a concrete, local meaning. We develop knowledge and educate students in a unique region. It is distinguished by high technical culture, contact of its inhabitants with advanced technology and organisation of work, competence and diligence as the priority in evaluating people, and tolerance resulting from it. The humanities, visual arts, and music thrive in such an environment. New industries of Silesia and Zagłębie are emerging before our very eyes, including science, advanced education, artistic culture, and social and economic innovations. And just like heavy industry before, now the industries of science and education can attract workers and residents from all over Poland and the world, but first and foremost the young people of Silesia and Zagłębie.
Most of all, however, science and education represent the repayment of a debt owed to many generations of residents of our region, affected by health-threatening work, destruction of the environment, predatory exploitation of fossil fuels, and social problems characteristic of industrial areas. Jolanta Wadowska-Król, Honorary Doctor of the University of Silesia, who worked tirelessly to save children suffering from lead poisoning, is a symbol and embodiment of the duty of science. The universities of our city and region must undertake extensive, multidisciplinary cooperation in order to systemically diagnose and solve problems facing the region. We cannot do it separately. Chemical sciences, biological sciences, medicine, technology, social sciences, humanities, and education must cooperate with each other and with the self-government units and economic entities of the region. The universities of Silesia should serve as a large public think tank for the benefit of the residents of our city and region. The University of Silesia, and we, people who create it, are the leaders and organisers of spectacular events which serve this purpose, including: Silesian Science Festival KATOWICE, application for the title of European City of Science, and Transform4Europe alliance. That’s something we can be proud of.
Currently, we are concerned with the safe return to research and education within the walls of the University. The pandemic must lose momentum for this to be possible. And for it to stop completely the world must embrace the vaccine. The majority of staff at our University have taken it. This demonstrates our sense of responsibility and confidence in the science we represent. Widespread vaccination of students is necessary for us to return safely. I urge all of you who have not yet taken the vaccine to do so for the sake of yourselves, your families, and the colleagues you will interact with within the walls of the University. The science that we co-create and which we represent has, once again, given us the means to protect peoples’ health and lives. While the decision to use it is entirely up to the individual, I believe that it is not a hard choice for a university person.
Thank you all for keeping our University operational and ensuring the continuity of education and research. I wish you a peaceful summer and a healthy and safe return to the University. I hope it will take place on 1 October 2021, the first day of the new academic year.
Be well and stay healthy!
Prof. Ryszard Koziołek | photo by Julia Agnieszka Szymala