Friday, May 13, 2005

 

The Tyranny Of Academic Freedom

Back on April 8 Dr. Mansour El-Kikhia wrote about the repression in academia of those who are suspected of not supporting Israel (see previous comments about this column here):
A move to muzzle academics is well under way. Tenure, the only barrier preventing recrimination against faculty who teach and express their views on controversial issues, is also under attack.

The purpose of this insidious movement is clear:
One of the revisions mandates that in the classroom, faculty members are "expected not to introduce into their teaching controversial matter that has no relation to his or her subject."

This isn't quite the gag that El-Kikhia makes it out to be. This is an excerpt from as American Association of University Professors (AAUP) statement on controversy in the classroom:
Controversy is often at the heart of instruction; good teaching is often served by referring to contemporary controversies even if only to stimulate student interest and debate. If these watchdogs have their way, a professor of classics, history, ethics, or even museum administration could make no reference to the Iraq conflict or to George Bush—in their courses on the Roman Empire, colonialism, the morality of war, or trade in the artifacts of ancient civilizations—because the "subject" of these courses is not this war or this president.

Far from banning controversial subject matter in the classroom, this statement makes it clear that the AAUP believes that controversy is an important element of an education even if the subject has nothing to do with the class being taught. Furthermore, El-Kikhia feels that those who voice opposition to Israel are being targeted by the new rules:
Middle Eastern scholars are finding it very difficult to teach, write or lecture on U.S. foreign policy or Israeli politics. They are accused by those on the extreme right of "anti-Americanism" for criticizing U.S. foreign policy and by the supporters of Israel with "anti-Semitism" for criticizing Israel.

Honestly people, does anyone believe that El-Kikhia has changed the content of the courses he teaches simply because he believes the "extreme right" doesn't approve? Sorry, but I don't buy it for a second. The results of this jihad against free speech; nothing:
An independent university committee set up to investigate the charges against the four professors exonerated three of them of wrongdoing and found no evidence of any of the charges leveled against them. The committee found the fourth guilty of one instance of "inappropriate conduct." He is disputing the report. The committee also accused the small but vocal supporters of Israel with lack of civility and disruption of classes.

The reality of course is far different (as any of El-Kikhia's former students like me can attest) as Tom Friedman recently said:
In the West [the absence of democracy in the Middle East] was avoided because a toxic political correctness infected the academic field of Middle Eastern studies - to such a degree that anyone focusing on the absence of freedom in the Arab world ran the risk of being labeled an "Orientalist" or an "essentialist."

Well, more info has come to light about this horrible situation in academia since my original post, and El-Kikhia was right, there is repression of certain ideas in the hallowed halls of our universities, but it is directed at those scholars foolish enough to support Israel and it is happening right now in Britain where hatred of Israel has been intitutionalized. Can the American university system be far behind? Via The Guardian:
The Association of University Teachers today voted to boycott two Israeli universities over their failure to speak out against their government.

Delegates at a conference in Eastbourne voted, against the wishes of the executive, for an immediate boycott of Haifa University, which they accuse of restricting the academic freedom of staff members who are critical of the government, and of Bar Ilans University, which has a college in the disputed settlement Ariel.

The boycott, which is now official union policy, will follow a plan prescribed by a group of 60 Palestinian academic and cultural bodies and non-governmental organisations, which calls for British academics to severe links with Israeli institutions but to exempt Israelis who speak out against their government's policies towards the Palestinians.

This sounds far more insidious than the consequence-free "repression" that has El-Kikhia so worked up. It is almost hard to believe that two Israeli universities are being boycotted for not speaking out against...wait for it...Israel! In approving the boycott the Association of University Teachers are doing the bidding of their Palestinian masters:
Council delegates also agreed to circulate to all local associations a statement from Palestinian organisations calling for an academic boycott of Israeli institutions.

Interestingly, the boycott isn't just against Israeli academics in general, but applies only to those who support their government:
There is yet another twist to this resuscitated campaign. For the boycott would not be extended to all Israeli academics -- only to those who refuse to denounce their government's policies in the occupied territories. The motion would generously exclude "conscientious Israeli academics and intellectuals opposed to their state's colonial and racist policies"[emphasis mine].

This requirement to denounce Israel as the price of continued social acceptance is doubly disgusting. First, it is of course a monstrous inversion which turns Israel, the victim of unbroken annihilatory Arab terror for the past half century, into the regional bully while sanitising Palestinian aggression.

Second, it represents a profound betrayal of the cardinal principle of intellectual endeavour, which is freedom of speech and debate. If anyone had ever told British academics that there would come a time when they would punish colleagues because of the views they held, and would treat them as pariahs and try to destroy their livelihoods in order to intimidate others into toeing the sole approved political line, they would have been incredulous. In the western tradition the universities are, after all, the historic custodians of free intellectual inquiry and open debate. Censorship, suppression of ideas and intellectual intimidation are associated with totalitarian regimes which attempt to coerce people into the approved way of thinking.

Did you get that? If you aren't a supporter of the colonial and racist Israeli state then you are generously excluded from the boycott. How wonderful! I guess free speech doesn't apply to Israelis. And as this letter to the AUT from the University of Haifa shows, Arab professors are also being hurt by the boycott:
The University of Haifa is saddened and not a little outraged by the utterly unjust and unjustifiable decision of the AUT and by its attempt to erect barriers and obstruct the flow of ideas within the international academic community.

In lieu of evidence to support the singling out of Israeli academia, the authors of this campaign have chosen to adopt a three-year old urban legend. We are astounded by the fact that the AUT never requested our response prior to adopting their resolution, and did not allow our position to be presented by members of the AUT who are familiar with the facts. The case against Israeli academia, in general, and the University of Haifa in particular, is devoid of empirical evidence and violates the principle of due process. Driven by a prior and prejudicial assumption of guilt, the AUT has refused to confuse itself with facts.

The silence of the American Association of University Professors in deafening. According to their academic freedom "Alert" page this boycott never happened. In fact, the AAUP and their British couterparts in the AUT have a "Reciprocating Agreement" regarding teaching privileges. Want more proof that the AAUP is sitting on it's hands? The Scholars at Risk Network recently held a conference to discuss the protection of academic freedom, and you will note no mention of the boycott against Israel is made:
Scholars at Risk held its network meeting and conference themed "Global Strategies for Defending Academic Freedom" on April 28-29th at New York University. More than 80 faculty, administrators, human rights advocates, higher education experts and other guests participated in the two-day event, including scholars from Belarus, Iran, Liberia, Pakistan, Rwanda, Ukraine, Venezuela and Zimbabwe.

So what does all of this have to do with the San Antonio Express-News? Well, first and foremost, if the SAEN editorial board wants to let Dr. El-Kikhia use his weekly column as a soap box to whine about his personal life they can, but they should insist that he get his facts straight. Secondly, I bet most of you never heard about the AUT boycott before today, and it seems to me that the SAEN could have put a few sentences in somewhere to report that this boycott against free speech was occurring. And finally, very soon SAEN Watch will be growing into something bigger and better. Our new blog will cover everything from politics to the culture wars to topics like this, academic freedom and the move to muzzle support for Israel. You can expect a formal announcement soon, but don't you worry, pointing out the liberal bias of the Express-News will still be a big part of what we do.

"The time has come for someone to put their foot down on liberalism. That foot is us." --Alamo City Commando(not really)

Update

As Gregg's comment points out the AAUP issued a statement calling for a repeal of the boycott. In fairness to me the statement went out on May 3rd, over 3 weeks after I started this commentary. That said, in my mind it changes nothing. So they issued a statement...wow. That is what they call "passive" action. They have not severed links with the AUT until the boycott is repealed. Moreover, the statement makes it clear that the repression that El-Kikhia talks about won't be tolerated by the AAUP:
Excluded from the ban are "conscientious Israeli academics and intellectuals opposed to their state's colonial and racist policies," an exclusion which, because it requires compliance with a political or ideological test in order for an academic relationship to continue, deepens the injury to academic freedom rather than mitigates it.

My amazement that something like this can even become reality, and the subject matter it references still holds. The recent conference held by the Scholars at Risk Network that I reference above makes no mention of the boycott. The boycott was approved almost a week before the Risk Network's conference, and they ignored it. So the AAUP issues a statement and that is it; they washed their hands of the entire incident after issuing their statement. That said, my thanks to Gregg for pointing out the existence of the statement.
Comments:
The silence of the American Association of University Professors in deafening.

You are mistaken. The AAUP has been very active and public in condemning this boycott. Take a look at the first item on the aaup homepage. Likewise, about 3,000 people have signed opposing the boycott.
Gregg
 
Gregg,
You are correct; however, that statement is as far as they have gone. I don't think it is enough. They have not severed ties with the AUT nor do they discuss it at their conferences on academic freedom. Typing up a letter of condemnation is a far cry from actually doing something about it.

Commando
 
This kind of ethnocentric exclusionism should come as no surprise. It happens everyday in universities across the country.

Afro-centrists teach that King Tut was Black and that the Greeks stole are their intellectual achievements from the Egyptians. This is despite the fact that Egyptologists and Classicists alike agree that the Greeks had relatively little understanding of the Egyptians themselves and that Egyptian thought had little in common with Greek ideas.

Feminists teach that all suffering in the world is the result of male patriarchy and to dispute them is to be branded a chauvinist.

Chicano scholars teach that Santa Anna was a good guy, despite the fact that at the time, nobody in Mexico or Texas actually believed this regardless of race, ethnicity or religion.

Queer Studies professors go around outing the intellectuals of the past like a bunch of Mormons appropriating the souls of their ancestors. In you question their methodology, you’re labeled a homophobe.

Bi-cultural studies majors are taught that one culture is intrinsically evil and colonialist and the other benign and noble. If you dispute their intellectual framework that is itself colonialist and based on what amounts to the condescending Noble-Savage theory, then you are called an imperialist.

The pursuit of objective truth is mocked in universities worldwide as a fool’s errand as everyone advocates for their own parochial post-modern victim of choice. So why should we expect more from the Palestinians than we do from ourselves? They are in lock step with what amounts to the mainstream thought in post-modern academia when it comes to methodology and epistemology.

To those who are saving for college tuition for their children, I strongly advise you encourage them to study engineering. Otherwise you may be stuck with a $50,000 bill for an offspring who is degreed but uneducated, and worse indoctrinated.
 
Cicero,

I could not have said it better myself. In fact, I didn't! Thanks for you comment and for reading SAEN Watch.

--Commando
 
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