Phi Beta Cons

Sham Threats to Academic Freedom

All would be well-served to take a look at Robert J. Lieber’s “The Uses and Abuses of Academic Freedom,” in the November issue of International Studies Perspective (you can find it here). It offers a cogent tour of the spurious claims of censorship and intimidation so often heard from left-minded academics. Here’s a representative selection:

Not surprisingly, a good deal of professorial writing and speaking on these subjects has been subject to strong criticism, some of it from within the academy and a considerable amount from outside. In response, a number of Middle East scholars have complained about what they consider to be intimidation and threats to academic freedom. Their alarms are expressed in various ways. For example, an established Middle East expert, writing in a book for a top university press, voices such concerns in earnest but hyperbolic language: ‘‘The last several years of often vicious attempts to intimidate members of the academy, particularly the Middle East Studies community, have been both disturbing and angering.’’ The author refers to ‘‘grim’’ circumstances and declares a determination to pursue her scholarship, ‘‘as a protest against those who seek to curb the polyphony of the academy’’ in ‘‘saying ‘no’ to the trampling of free speech…’’ (Brand 2006:xiii). Still others add to the complaints about infringement of academic freedom by alleging a prohibition on criticism of Israel.
It is not at all evident, however, that anything like intimidation, the ‘‘trampling of free speech,’’ or the curbing of the ‘‘polyphony of the academy’’ has occurred. Indeed, much of the alarm about censorship is a reaction to having one’s words held up to critical scrutiny, both inside and outside the academy. For example, Martin Kramer’s (2001) thoughtful critique of Middle East Studies has elicited angry reactions among those he has identified for what he describes as analytical deficiencies in their work. But one need not agree with every single conclusion he draws to note that a very large part of his monograph consists of copious quotations from the words of the academic figures whom he critiques.



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