I am sorry that I was unable to be with you at the Convocation ceremony it yesterday, but I am glad to welcome you here tonight.
I am pleased to see among us the students who graduated yesterday, and I would like to take this opportunity to express to them my best wishes for success in the years ahead of them. I hope that the knowledge they have gained in the University will stand them in good stead.
I would also like to congratulate most sincerely, Sir Arku Korsah, Mr. K. G. Konuah and Dr. Du Bois, who are the first to receive honorary degrees from the University of Ghana. We accept them warmly as alumni of Legon.
You who are with me tonight are connected in one way or another with the University of Ghana, and I know that you believe in the ideals for which a university institution like ours stands, namely, the pursuit of knowledge and the formation of character.
It is important also that there should be no doubt whatsoever in our minds as to what is the role of a university in a developing country such as Ghana.
The role of a university in a country like ours is to become the academic focus of national life, reflecting the social, economic, cultural and political aspirations of the people. It must kindle national interest in the youth and uplift our citizens and free them from ignorance, superstition and may I add, indolence. A university does not exist in a vacuum or in outer space. It exists in the context of a society, and it is there that it has its proper place. A university is supported by society, and without the sustenance which it receives from society, it will cease to exist.
We know that the objectives of a university cannot be achieved without scrupulous respect for academic freedom, for without academic freedom, there can be no university. Teachers must be free to teach their subjects without any other concern than to convey to their students the truth as faithfully as they know it. Scholars must be free to pursue the truth and to publish the results of their researches without fear, for true scholarship fears nothing. It can even challenge the dead learning which has come to us from the cloistral and monastic schools, of the middle ages. We know that without respect for academic freedom, in this sense, there can be no higher education worthy of the name, and, therefore, no intellectual progress, no flowering of the nation’s mind. The genius of the people is stultified. We therefore cherish and shall continue to cherish academic freedom at our universities.
Speaking for myself, if I may do so with your permission, there was not an academic year in all my twelve years abroad when I was not at one university or another. I even augmented this with summer courses. I know the inside and outside of a university and I know the value of academic freedom. And I think you know what I am talking about.
Apart from the State, the university is one of the greatest institutions of man. The work of a university requires objectivity and honesty at every level. With malice to none, it is inspired only by a passionate concern for truth. It is therefore the business of the university to seek and to maintain that honesty and objectivity which are the only keys to progress.
Not only as Chancellor of the University, but also as President of Ghana, I would like to assure you of my readiness to defend at all times this right of the university, and to encourage all those who work within it- students, research scholars and professors — to work with honesty and objectivity.
There is, however, sometimes a tendency to use the words "academic freedom" in another sense, and to assert the claim that a university is more or less an institution of learning having no respect or allegiance to the community or to the country in which it exists and purports to serve. This assertion is unsound in principle and objectionable in practice. The university has a clear duty to the community which maintains it and which has the right to express concern for its pressing needs.
We know that academic freedom can be perverted and ever abused. It can also become a dangerous cloak for activities outside the academic interests and preoccupations of the community or of the university. Where this has happened, a grave disservice is done to everything for which knowledge and truth really stand. True academic freedom — the intellectual freedom of the university — is everywhere fully compatible with service to the community; for the university is, and must always remain, a living, thinking and serving part of the community to which it belongs.
Let us be clear that it is not always from the outside that academic freedom can be threatened. University staff and the students themselves have a grave responsibility in maintaining this freedom, since they themselves can also be a threat to academic freedom of the university. They must always be ready to expose those individuals in the university itself who abuse academic freedom.
When I accepted the office of Chancellor, I promised you that I would do everything in my power to assist in promoting the successful development and prosperity of the University. I would like to take this opportunity to repeat this promise, legitimate endeavours in the interests of the University and the people of Ghana.
Everything I have said this evening has been prompted solely by my anxiety to ensure the success of our University, which is the pride of Ghana and many lands far beyond this country. The people of Ghana rightly expect that the University, in the words of the University Commission, should be fully responsive to the sense of urgency which animates them; to use its resources imaginatively and effectively to contribute to the economy of Ghana and of Africa, and to apply your studies for their benefit and to learn from their problems.
It should be the honour and responsibility of those of us who have had the privilege of the best education our country can afford to strive in every way possible to make our generation better than we found it. We must not only feel the pulse and intensity of the great African revolution taking place in our time, but we must also make a contribution of its realisation, progress and development.
Revolutionary Africa is a land of vigorous millions of people endowed with youthful energy and blessed with a sensitive humanism incompatible with the growth and maintenance of a privileged class. You who pass through the portable of our universities should be constantly aware of your oneness with the people and your responsibility towards them. This is our challenge and opportunity, and all of us—professors, teachers, alumni and students alike — must strive to maintain this great heritage which has been handed to us.
And let us nourish this heritage and pass it on to the next generation unalloyed and untarnished. And now, I ask you all to rise and drink with me a toast — a toast to the progress and development of University education in Ghana.