Monday, October 08, 2007

What is "academic freedom"?

It's great that a gathering of the high-brow anti-Zionist crowd is being called, "In Defense of Academic Freedom." I guess that sells more non-partisan Diasporic knishes than, "Damn, We Hate Israel," but as far as specificity goes, they might as well have called the event, "Puppies, Kittens, and Cotton Candy." Who's going to protest an event defending academic freedom?

Both sides in the Israel-Palestinian conflict are fighting in the name of academic freedom. Infringement on academic freedom was the reason many gave for their opposition to the British boycott of Israeli academics. As much as I'm sure many opposed to the boycott do care about free exchange of ideas, this was rarely the central concern with respect to the boycott.

Is there a definition of "academic freedom" that could be agreed upon across the ideological spectrum? And this is just one issue, one to which many academics in the US might well be indifferent. But how about the right-left spectrum? Are academics in the humanities any less 'free' if conservatives make up a mere 3.6% of our ranks? Or should we be shooting for 0% conservatives and thus freedom to invoke a "gender lens" (something, incidentally, that can make sense in some contexts even from a right-wing perspective) without a Lacoste-polo'd scoff emanating from the back of the room?

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