Editor's Introduction - Volume 4

By Ashley Dawson

The call for papers for this issue of the Journal of Academic Freedom was focused on the globalization of higher education and its impact on academic freedom. How, the CFP asked, is the expansion of US higher education around the world and the increasing international integration of academia affecting academic freedom? In what ways, conversely, is the globalization of higher education transforming academia within the United States, shifting and impinging upon traditional notions of academic freedom? One of the more specific topics highlighted as potentially of interest in relation to these broad questions included the issue of academic freedom on satellite campuses such as NYU-Abu Dhabi and Yale-Singapore. How does the expansion of the liberal university into such authoritarian states affect its mission and the forms of academic freedom enjoyed by scholars at such institutions? Another suggested topic for exploration included the wave of student protests around the world, from the Occupy Movement in the US to the student uprisings in Chile, against the increasingly privatized, corporate character of education around the globe. How, we asked, has faculty and student input into academic curricula been inflected by these apparently economically driven protests? In addition, the call also invited reflection on the impact of Massive Online Open Courses (MOOCs), which have exploded in popularity over the last year, generating large international student subscriptions to both for-profit and not-for-profit online courses offered by elite US private institutions such as MIT and Stanford. What is the impact of such MOOCs on education and academic freedom in developing nations?

The intention of this CFP was to spark a broad conversation within the AAUP about when and how the organization should respond to violations of academic freedom and faculty rights beyond US borders. Several incidents that unfolded around the time that the CFP was circulated suggested that the time was ripe for such a discussion. Early in fall 2012, for example, members of the AAUP’s Committee A wrote a public letter to Yale University questioning its involvement with the National University of Singapore on the basis of clear violations of academic freedom (and broader civil rights) in Singapore. Several months later, the AAUP Council passed a resolution defending a dissident Latin American faculty member facing potentially violent government and extra-governmental repression. The AAUP remained silent, however, in a case that posed analogous questions. An Israeli accrediting body recommended closure of the Department of Politics and Government at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev in 2012, seemingly because members of the department were deemed to hold unorthodox views on the Palestinian question (see http://chronicle.com/article/Fate-of-Controversial/134782/).  This appeared to be a clear and grievous violation of academic freedom, and the AAUP’s sister organization, the Canadian Association of University Teachers, responded with a letter to the Israeli Minister of Education. The AAUP’s silence on this matter suggests that the organization urgently needs to develop policies on how to respond to such incidents.

The main response to the call for papers came in the form of a roundtable concerning the issue of academic boycotts in general, and the Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel (PACBI) in particular. AAUP policy currently opposes boycotts because of “the Association’s long-standing commitment to the free exchange of ideas.” Reviewers of the submitted articles nevertheless felt that the roundtable could have the salutary effect of pushing the AAUP to discuss the criteria for responding to violations of academic freedom and faculty rights around the world. In addition, it was broadly felt that, as a forum for opinion, discussion, and debate of issues in academic freedom, the Journal should be open to a wide variety of views, including those critical of AAUP policies. It must be stated, however, that publication of such criticism in this forum does not necessarily indicate any change in AAUP policy or even an intention to directly consider such change.  In addition, we invite continued discussion of the issue and responses to the roundtable as a whole or to any individual portions of it in future issues of the Journal.

The roundtable begins with a contribution from Marjorie Heins, who offers a restatement and defense of the AAUP’s policy on academic boycotts. Heins argues that, when aimed at colleges and universities, boycotts will tend to “deprive these institutions of needed resources and undermine the ability of the scholars who work there to study, teach, and exchange ideas with colleagues.” Heins provides a brief history of AAUP Committee A’s statement in 2006 that academic boycotts “strike directly at the free exchange of ideas even as they are aimed at university administrations.” What, Heins asks, of dissenting scholars and students on Israeli university campuses? Heins also argues that decisions about whether particular institutions are complicit in maintaining the occupation and thereby denying Palestinian rights could involve “unpalatable and unwise tests of political orthodoxy.” For these and other reasons, Heins argues that the AAUP should maintain its policy of opposition to academic boycotts.

The next contribution is from Bill V. Mullen, who curates a series of essays on the topic of the Palestinian boycott, divestment, and sanctions (BDS) campaign. These essays include pieces by Barghouti, Johar Schueller and Lloyd, and Hermez and Soukarieh. In his contribution, Mullen covers the history of the AAUP’s 2006 decision against academic boycotts and argues that political events since then warrant a reconsideration of this decision. Mullen then offers an overview of the main themes in the essays he curated, which include arguments about the conceptual weakness of the AAUP line in relation to academic boycotts, assertions that AAUP policy tacitly grants “exceptional” status to Israel in light of its prior censure of South Africa, and analysis of the manner in which invocation of academic freedom in Middle Eastern universities such as the American University of Beirut helps advance US-Israeli interests. Mullen concludes by arguing that academic freedom is a tool used by Israel and its proponents to shut down (potentially critical) debate.

The next contribution is from Omar Barghouti, who argues that the AAUP’s definition of academic freedom implicitly privileges the nation state. In so doing, Barghouti argues, the AAUP ignores the rights of occupied people. Further, he suggests that by privileging academic freedom, AAUP policy ignores other questions of human rights and the obligation to respect the rights of others.

Malini Johar Schueller and David Lloyd’s essay expands on some of the ideas articulated by Barghouti. They draw, for example, on Judith Butler’s analysis to suggest that AAUP policy is articulated from a position of geopolitical privileged, in that sense that it does not acknowledge that some subjects cannot lay claim to the discourse of rights itself. Like Barghouti, that is, Johar Schueller and Lloyd point to the thorny case of granting rights to people who inhabit a country under occupation. In such conditions, they argue, the AAUP’s tacit policy of letting all sides speak ignores that fact that what they see as a settler colonial state – Israel – cannot be equated with the inhabitants of an occupied land – the Palestinians. Their essay points to instances of the systematic denial of academic freedom to Palestinians by Israel, and discusses the campaign of harassment of critics of Zionism in the US, which is often conducted in the name of academic freedom.

Concluding Mullen’s dossier, Sami Hermez and Mayssoun Soukarieh’s article explores the impact of invocations of academic freedom by presidents of American universities in the Middle East. In such a context, they argue, ideas of free exchange ignore the ethical claims by Arab governments for a boycott of Israeli institutions, including universities. These ethical claims are of course predicated on opposition to the continuing Israeli occupation of Arab lands. To call for academic freedom in such a context, Hermez and Soukarieh argue, is to ignore the ethical precepts behind the policies of Arab governments.

The roundtable on BDS features two additional contributions, both of which arrived independently of the articles assembled by Bill Mullen. One, by Joan W. Scott, discusses the events that led to the 2006 AAUP decision against academic boycotts. Scott, who underlines that she agreed with the AAUP’s decision at the time, recounts the incidents that occurred around a proposed conference in Italy on the topic of academic boycotts. From the outset, Scott argues, a group of scholars in favor of Israel’s expansionist policies sought to block the conference on the grounds that it would include “illegitimate voices.” Given this history of silencing dissent, Scott wonders what it means to oppose the boycott campaign in the name of Israeli academic freedom, when, she argues, the Israeli state regularly denies academic freedom to critics of the state, the occupation, or, indeed, of Zionism, and when the blacklisting of its critics is the regular tool of state authorities against its own academic institutions. Scott insists that the BDS campaign is calling for an institutional boycott aimed not at individual scholars but at cultural and educational institutions that consistently fail to oppose the occupation and the unequal treatment of non-Jewish citizens in Israel. Now in favor of BDS, Scott argues that the campaign is a strategic way of exposing the unprincipled and undemocratic behavior of Israeli state institutions, and that it is precisely by virtue of one’s belief in academic freedom that one should oppose a state that so abuses it.

The final contribution in the roundtable is by Rima Najjar Kapitan, who offers a discussion of recent and historical legal decisions concerning boycotts. Kapitan looks in particular at the Supreme Court’s reaction to Yale law school’s boycott of the military on the basis of its discriminatory “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy. In this case, Kapitan argues, a boycott constitutes a form of constitutionally protected speech, even if, paradoxically, it entails some restriction of free speech. Kapitan also points to the AAUP’s critical stance in relation to Yale’s collaboration with the National University of Singapore. Kapitan argues that the AAUP’s censure of a university for establishing a branch in a country which violates human rights points not simply to expressive freedom but to the broader value of non-discrimination. The AAUP, Kapitan suggests, should encourage scholars to exercise their own academic freedom in a manner that promotes the rights of others, even if that freedom entails the choice not to collaborate with an academic institution that they believe systematically denies such rights.

This issue of the Journal closes with two essays that consider other aspects of academic freedom in the context of the global university. Michael Stein, Christopher Scribner, and David Brown look at the ways in which external forces such as assessment and accreditation have transformed the sovereignty professors once enjoyed in the classroom. Stein and his colleagues, echoing the work of contributors to previous issues of the Journal, point to the university’s permeation by a corporate ethos. Although the essay does not dwell at length on MOOCs, the increase of what Stein and his collaborators call “techno-fetishism” in teaching is a central concern of their essay.

Finally, Jan Clausen and Eva-Maria Swidler’s essay argues that since adjuncts are the new face of academia, concepts of academic freedom – and the organizing strategies that derive from them – need to be re-centered around the experience of precarious academic workers. Un-freedom, they argue, needs to be our baseline. We need, their piece exhorts, to explore adjunct marginalization in detail in order to gauge its impact on academic freedom adequately. Such an exploration might, they argue, alert us to important forms of resistance to the corporatization of higher education. Indeed, they suggest that by virtue of their marginalization, adjuncts often create autonomous spaces of radical knowledge production. While acknowledging the importance of such dissident forms of knowledge, Clausen and Swidler call for a campaign of structural change in academia. Returning us to the key theme of the entire issue, they point to the ways in which the globalization of academia is used to silence dissent. They argue that editorialists such as Thomas Friedman characterize education as a linchpin of the US’s campaign to survive in an increasingly competitive international knowledge economy, implicitly suggesting that to challenge the structure of academia today is to attack the nation. To transform academia in more egalitarian directions, Clausen and Swidler argue, we need to question this rhetoric of globalization. As universities such as NYU, Yale, and Columbia develop an increasingly large global footprint by expanding into countries with problematic human rights records, it is clearly time for institutions such as the AAUP to consider questions of globalization, academic freedom, and human rights in a more systematic fashion.