Academic Freedoms, or Lack Thereof

Rashid Khalidi is a man whose brilliance, fairmindedness, and decency I can personally attest to. He is the director of the Middle East Institute at Columbia University, and a highly respected scholar. Recently, in a disgraceful but unfortunately typical show of pro-Israel political muscle-flexing by the New York City government, he was banned from lecturing to city teachers.

Joyce Purnick writes about it in the New York Times:

Khalidi_rashidEarlier this month, Schools Chancellor Joel I. Klein barred Rashid Khalidi, director of Columbia’s Middle East Institute, from again lecturing to city teachers enrolled in a professional development course because of “a number of things he’s said in the past,” said Michael Best, the department’s general counsel. Asked if the department had verified those purported remarks, Mr. Best did not answer directly: “He’s denied saying certain things; he has not denied saying others.”

Set against the backdrop of a simmering campus dispute over Jewish students’ charges of intimidation by pro-Palestinian teachers, the Khalidi affair has inevitably been linked to the larger controversy. “In this feeding frenzy for finding culprits, he sort of got lumped in with others, and it’s been unfair to him,” said Ari L. Goldman, dean of students at Columbia’s journalism school…

There are no known complaints about Professor Khalidi from the schoolteachers, and he has won student praise at Columbia. In fact, Charles Jacobs, who heads the pro-Israeli group that first raised complaints of intimidation in Columbia classrooms, said Professor Khalidi “was not at all criticized. Students said he was the opposite of the people they were complaining about.”

More here.

And while we are on the subject, Frank Furedi writes in Spiked:

Since the nineteenth century, the ideals of university autonomy and the liberty of those involved in higher learning to teach, research and express their views have been formally upheld in many societies. In some countries – Austria, Estonia, Finland, Germany, Spain, Sweden – academic freedom is affirmed by the constitution. This should not be seen as some eccentric, outdated right. Everyone benefits from the exercise of this freedom; it helps promote the development of science and knowledge, which benefits the whole of society.

Sadly, contemporary academia takes academic freedom for granted, and treats it as no big deal. Some seem to view it as a redundant privilege, not worth making a fuss about. One reason why academic freedom is not taken so seriously today is because attacks on it are rarely formulated in explicit and self-conscious terms. Although individual politicians sometimes criticise an individual lecturer, governments rarely attack academic freedoms as such. And yet, a closer examination of the workings of higher education suggests that academic freedom is threatened from both within and outside the university.

More here.