Phi Beta Cons

Let’s Hear It for ‘Bright Lines’ in Academe

In a now widely broadcast video, Lincoln University professor Kaukab Siddique urged Muslims to rise up against this genocidal, terrorist, “hydra-headed monster which calls itself Zionism.” In e-mails, Siddique has also called the Holocaust a “hoax” and “invented,” and opines that Jews have “taken over America” by “devious and immoral means.” In an interview with Inside Higher Ed about his pronouncements, Siddique invoked – of course, what else — academic freedom.

Alex Joffe zeroes in at Pajamas Media on the Siddique and similar cases to ask:

What are the limits to academic discourse? Are lies and calumnies from academics protected speech outside the classroom, as well as inside? Does “protected” mean immune from criticism or from direct consequences? Are there distinctions between statements made within one’s “field of expertise” and those made outside? When do such distinctions become hairsplitting rationalizations or mere defensiveness, as opposed to valuable exercises in reasoning and in defense of a noble enterprise?

Joffe deconstructs how academic leaders, here Cary Nelson, president of the American Association of University Professors, writing in the Chronicle of Higher Education, respond to haters like Siddique.

The heart of Joffe’s nuanced critique? Nelson wants

to defend his profession and its workplace habits, including self-policing and privileged place above criticism, in the face of something indefensible.

Siddique [and countless others] point to moral and intellectual failings in American academia that are not easily addressed by academic tradition, university regulation, or outside law. They are insiders and will likely remain so.

Although Joffe commends Nelson’s clear rejection of Holocaust denial, he rightly judges the latter’s “diffidence” toward Israel and anti-Semitism “lamentable.” How loath the academy, Nelson observes, to paint for the world ”meaningful ‘bright lines’ regarding knowledge or propriety.”

While the lairs of mad hatred on campuses harm academe immeasurably, Joffe does not despair:

Israel and Jews are demonized in crude ways, and critics of this are accused of being infringers of academic freedom and Zionist propagandists. But the pairing of official diffidence and the disinhibition of anti-Semites in academia is ultimately opportune. The “higher education bubble” is already under scrutiny for grotesquely inflated costs and empty promises of useful skills. Closer examination of its localized cultures of hate, and attitudes of both entitlement and impunity, will not help its case.

Any draughtsmen of bright lines out there? Nelson, a re-take?


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