From the Editor: Academic Freedom around the World

By Henry Reichman

Since the AAUP’s founders first articulated an American version of academic freedom, the Association has concentrated on defending scholars within the United States. But academic freedom has always been critical to higher education everywhere, and there are signs it is under mounting assault around the globe. From Ankara to Rio, from Beijing to Budapest, from Moscow to London, scholars have seen their rights abused through summary dismissal, restrictions on research and travel, and, increasingly, repressive state action, including arrest, imprisonment, and even violence.

Scholarship today is global. Nearly a fifth of all papers in scientific journals have authors from at least two countries. The picture is similar in the social sciences and humanities. The creation of overseas programs and exchanges, even whole campuses, by US universities has raised questions about how to enforce academic freedom abroad. It is thus no longer possible for US faculty members to disregard the struggles of colleagues elsewhere. Threats to scholarship outside the United States inevitably affect scholarship here.

This issue of Academe explores some of those threats. In several cases state power has been employed to silence, jail, or even murder critics of authoritarian regimes. But more subtle methods, ranging from harassment to forced conformity to official orthodoxies, have spread with alarming speed, even in formally democratic states. The essays herein suggest that many threats are similar to those we face in the United States. In Europe and Brazil the attacks on gender studies documented by David Paternotte and James N. Green appear frighteningly familiar. In the United Kingdom racism, Islamophobia, and the imposition of intellectually stifling academic “audits,” described by Lori Allen, resemble trends in the United States.

But we can envy our Canadian colleagues, who benefit from collective bargaining agreements that protect academic freedom through contract law, as David Robinson writes. Yet even these agreements can prove inadequate, as arbitrators may fail to recognize the unique character of academic labor. At the close of the twentieth century there was optimism about the expanding rights of professors in Russia and China. But recent years have seen troubling retreats, as Dmitry Dubrovskiy explains in his article about the internationalization of higher education in Russia. In China, as Jennifer Ruth and Yu Xiao argue, increasingly repressive policies may even trigger an “epidemic of self-censorship” among American China specialists.

Over the past twenty years Scholars at Risk has developed a network of more than five hundred institutions in thirty-nine countries to assist and defend threatened faculty. In a survey of the group’s activities, its executive director, Robert Quinn, provides essential context for this issue of Academe, advocating a socially engaged concept of academic freedom consistent with long-standing AAUP principles. Because educators are now more globally connected, Quinn concludes, “there has never been a better time to fight for academic freedom.” I might add as well that there has never been a greater need for the work of both Scholars at Risk and the AAUP.