On Myths, Straw Men and Academic Freedom: A Response to the “Readers Respond” section of the AAUP Journal of Academic Freedom, Volume 4

By Rima Kapitan

Demands for viewpoint balance frequently arise in response to discourse in defense of human rights in Israel/Palestine. So, when Issue 4 of the Journal of Academic Freedom published 6 papers supportive of the academic boycott of Israel and one paper in opposition, controversy ensued. Some critics accused Editor Ashley Dawson of abandoning ethical editorial practices to further a personal political agenda, the sum total of their evidence being that he has expressed opinions on the topic.

Some critics also demanded that the Journal’s Issue 4 be amended to render it more “balanced.” One of them, Ernst Benjamin, finds it “difficult to understand why the Journal published a ‘roundtable’ on academic boycotts that included only one essay in support of AAUP policy.” Although there was a simple explanation for this perceived imbalance (the Journal simply did not receive many submissions which reflected an anti-boycott perspective), the Journal decided to solicit essays “in opposition to an academic boycott of Israel to add to the current issue of the online journal.” According to Founding Editor Cary Nelson, “By the time this is finished . . . it is going to look like a very balanced issue.” To my knowledge, no similar critique was raised about the lack of diversity of opinion with respect to the articles regarding adjunct professors and the commercialization of higher education, no demands were made that the journal should have included opposing views, and no revelations about Dawson’s opinions with respect to adjunct labor were revealed. Moreover, the issue’s critics employed a reactionary and reductive interpretation of “balance;” the original essays addressed the topic from different approaches and angles, approaches which are less prevalent in American discourse than those which the issue’s critics sought to impose on the issue. An organization whose raison d’etre is free academic speech should vigorously oppose demands that controversial scholarly opinions only be published if they are tempered by equal and opposite viewpoints. Although there is nothing wrong with the Journal’s publication of responses to our articles for the purpose of continued exchange (in fact I support continuing the discussion), it should have made clear that it had no obligation to treat Issue 4 differently than any other.

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