Authors and academics from around the globe have signed on to an open letter put forward by the United Kingdom’s Index on Censorship. They hope to bring attention to worldwide threats to academic freedom. This crucial freedom, they say, is being threatened on a number of fronts:
We the undersigned believe that academic freedom is under threat across the world from Turkey to China to the USA. In Mexico academics face death threats, in Turkey they are being threatened for teaching areas of research that the government doesn’t agree with. We feel strongly that the freedom to study, research and debate issues from different perspectives is vital to growing the world’s knowledge and to our better understanding. Throughout history, the world’s universities have been places where people push the boundaries of knowledge, find out more, and make new discoveries. Without the freedom to study, research and teach, the world would be a poorer place. Not only would fewer discoveries be made, but we will lose understanding of our history, and our modern world. Academic freedom needs to be defended from government, commercial and religious pressure.
The letter has garnered signatures from a diverse array of thinkers and writers around the world, many of whom have faced threats and censorship at their respective institutions or at the hands of government officials. From the U.S., some of the signatories include FIRE co-founder and Chairman Harvey Silverglate; FIRE President and CEO Greg Lukianoff; renowned Harvard Law professor and civil rights attorney Alan Dershowitz; former ACLU president and New York Law School professor Nadine Strossen; and noted First Amendment scholar and UCLA Law professor Eugene Volokh. Previous winners of the Jeane J. Kirkpatrick Academic Freedom Award Jan Blits and Donald Downs also joined their support.
The signees also include a number of American academics who have tussled with their institutions after expressing public opinions. Among them are Stand Up For Speech plaintiff Robert Bionaz and Laura Kipnis of Northwestern University, whose recent tangle with a Title IX investigation after publishing an essay on college sexual dynamics caused national headlines to explode. The State University of New York’s (SUNY’s) Stephen Kershnar also joined the letter. Kershnar was denied a promotion in 2006 after writing a column critical of university policies, and SUNY reversed course only after FIRE brought public attention to the case.
Professor Mike Adams —who won a seven-year-long legal battle with University of North Carolina Wilmington in 2014 when a jury agreed he was denied a promotion based on his conservative viewpoints—added his support, as did John McAdams, who was suspended from teaching in 2014 and threatened with termination by Marquette University after publicly criticizing a graduate student teacher on his blog. The university's removal of Professor McAdams was decried by FIRE, the American Association of University Professors, and others.
To follow the open letter, Index on Censorship will release the summer edition of its magazine in a few days, focused on the global threat to academic freedom. You can go here to read an introductory article to the full edition by Editor Rachael Jolley. Index will also host a “Silence on Campus” debate in London on July 1, where FIRE President and CEO Greg Lukianoff will be a panelist.