Toomas Hendrik Ilves appointed University of Tartu visiting professor

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Toomas Hendrik Ilves. Source: Priit Mürk/ERR

Former president Toomas Hendrik Ilves has been appointed the University of Tartu's Visiting Professor of Democracy in the Digital Age. His teaching will include highlighting threats to liberal democracies appearing online in social media and the spread of fake news.

Ilves' new post will see him give one lecture course per semester, part of a masters offered at the university's Johan Skytte Institute of Political Studies. The potential move had been in the air since 2016, when then-rector Volli Kalm first raised it, while Ilves was still in office as president.

Through 2020, the University of Tartu has been active in creating standardization for visiting professors. This will be a centralized, partly centrally-funded program at the university, ERR's online news in Estonian reports.

University of Tartu Rector Toomas Asser said that: "President Toomas Hendrik Ilves is one of the best choices in opening this program."

"We aim to continue to invite outstanding opinion leaders, and leaders from various fields of society, as visiting professors - not permanently connected to the university and an academic career - but who could broaden both the university's field of activity and our students' learning experience, via their diverse knowledge and experience," Asser added.

The principles of the visiting professorship follow the model of the professorship of liberal arts, established at the university in 1993: "For the many-sided intellectual and creative development of University of Tartu members," the university said via a press release Monday.

A prominent and suitable Estonian, whose activities relate to the univeristy's traditional academic fields, is picked each year, the university says.

Ilves, who was President of Estonia over two-terms 2006-2016, says that he aims to concentrate on societal changes influenced by the advent of the digital age, in the course of his activities as visiting professor, adding that significant global changes have happened within society in recent years, not all of them positive developments.

Ilves said, via a university press release, that: "The spread of social media and fake news has affected the foundations of liberal democracy, including freedom of speech and free elections, but this has gone unnoticed by many."

On his own website, Ilves says that: "I say, 'I'm a liberal.' That says nothing about whether I'm left or right, but I believe in free and fair elections, rule of law, respect for human rights."

Ilves' post-presidential resume includes working as a distinguished visiting fellow at the Hoover Institution, Stanford University, in northern California. 

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Editor: Andrew Whyte

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