Academic freedom?





To address the title, this isn’t an issue of academic freedom. University stupidity, yes. But nobody’s academic freedom has been violated, at least not in the sense of the AAUP and its 1940 statement and various clarifications since then.

It’s not? Is organizing public discussion on topics of interest to the public not part of our job? And is canceling an event because of a political views not an attack on her work as a scholar, even if it’s not directly related to her scholarship? A superstar like Davis can bring a lot of attention to issues that should be of general concern to us as American tax payers, after all.

There’s the narrow interpretation of the concept of academic freedom, which means that you can chip away at the public profile of academics who are well known without technically violating it, but it has the same effect. I doubt Dr. Davis will be shut down by this, but because a small group of students found her political position distasteful (which, btw, is a perfectly legitimate position to hold), the university caved and canceled the event (and gave a different reason for doing so). This would be more chilling for an academic not so nearly well-established.


The message sent is unquestionable: “There are political views which will not be tolerated on this campus, and among those is that the Palestinian people are actual, fully realized human beings.” I am no expert on defining academic freedom, but that is the definition of authoritarian censorship. I can see the counterargument, “Would you support Richard Spencer speaking?” No, because I can see a difference between advocating for recognition of the humanity of others and arguing against the humanity of certain groups. That’s my position anyway.


China seems to be doing its very best to associate criticism of the PRC with being anti-Asian such that complaining about the treatment of the Uyghurs is equated with the Atlanta shootings for example. In doing this they seem to be following the very successful strategy that the modern state of Israel and organizations such as AIPAC have followed in declaring that any criticism of the state policies of Israel is inherently anti-Semitic.

I know a word that I would say means that the interests of the state and the interests of a given national identity are identical such that criticism of that state is prejudice against that national identity.


Part of the mission? Yes. What we should do? Yes.

The AAUP does say that:

Incidents in which colleges and universities have rescinded invitations issued to outside speakers have multiplied in recent years. Because academic freedom requires the liberty to learn as well as to teach, colleges and universities should respect the prerogatives of campus organizations to select outside speakers whom they wish to hear. The AAUP articulated this principle in 1967 in its Fifty-third Annual Meeting, when it affirmed “its belief that the freedom to hear is an essential condition of a university community and an inseparable part of academic freedom,” and that “the right to examine issues and seek truth is prejudiced to the extent that the university is open to some but not to others whom members of the university also judge desirable to hear.”1

[italics mine]


This principle has come under growing pressure. Citing an inability to guarantee the safety of outside speakers, or the lack of balance represented by the invitation of a college or university group, or the danger that a group’s invitation might violate Section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code, college and university administrators have displayed an increasing tendency to cancel or to withdraw funding for otherwise legitimate invitations to non-campus speakers. Committee A notes with concern that these reasons for canceling outside speakers are subject to serious abuse, and that their proper application should be limited to very narrow circumstances that only rarely obtain. Applied promiscuously, these reasons undermine the right of campus groups to hear outside speakers and thus contradict the basic educational mission of colleges and universities.

and also:

As part of their educational mission, colleges and universities provide a forum for a wide variety of speakers.

But in the end it’s all wishy-washy. “Should respect” and “should be limited” and “applied promiscuously.” This is quite unlike their statement with regard to faculty:

  1. Teachers are entitled to full freedom in research and in the publication of the results, subject to the adequate performance of their other academic duties […]
  2. Teachers are entitled to freedom in the classroom in discussing their subject, but they should be careful not to introduce into their teaching controversial matter which has no relation to their subject.[…]

[Italics mine. And, even then, circuit courts have generally held that academic freedom lies in the institution, not the individual. Academic freedom as a concept hasn’t made it to the SCOTUS, as far as I know.]

With this case, should the university have let her speak? Yes, for sure. It was stupid to cancel this talk. Did they cancel her talk because of pressure from interest groups? I would assume so. And by doing so they’ve brought more attention to it than if she’s simply given her talk. But their reason is that the paperwork wasn’t filed correctly. So, the group file the correct paperwork and try again. If the university says “no” or obstruct, then I think there might be an argument for academic freedom.

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From the article, it seems like the excuse they gave was a fig leaf. According to her people, the event was outright canceled, while they’re saying it was merely postponed.


Yeah, it’s a shitty thing to have done. My bet is that the university got scared and cancelled, then scrambled for an excuse. “Paperwork” is easy to say, because it could be that you spelled a name wrong, or phone number wrong, or whatever.

Looking forward to Alan Dershowitz and his “anti-cancel-culture” brigade taking up arms. /s


I’m just doubting filing again will solve this issue, as they will likely find another excuse.


I’ve heard Davis speak, and I love her, and absolutely a serious university should not have cancelled her. The illiberal habit of universities deplatforming speakers who might offend students ought to stop. (University deplatforming in the US goes back at least 80 years, though the excuse of protecting students’ sensibilities seems to be a 21st century phenomenon. When I was a kid it was mainly used against communists and other radicals, and nobody tried to pretend it was anything other than political suppression.)

That said, Davis retains her professorship at UC, and is free to research and publish there, so Butler is not in a position to threaten her academic freedom. The principal being violated is the one of universities – even private ones like Butler – providing a venue for serious discussion of issues, even contentious ones.

FWIW, I think the people on the right who decry “cancel culture” would agree that this is an example; their argument would be of the “good for the gander” variety. Though it will be interesting to see what (if anything) that new Academic Freedom Alliance has to say about this.


Indiana is one of the majority of US States that has passed a law prohibiting the state doing business with anyone associated with BDS. Indiana overwhelmingly approves anti-BDS bill - Israel National News
While Butler is private, whether they get funds from the state seems irrelevant. It’s bad press for them and you don’t mess with Israel in this country.

I find this cancellation odious and sad, but it’s no different than any other group crying loudly until someone with an opposing view is silenced. That’s how we roll in America these days, though I cannot stomach censorship in a supposedly free society, no matter how much I disagree with someone’s viewpoints or ethos. Of course we should stand up for those deserve to live outside apartheid, who want to be treated with dignity and respect for who they are, or to avoid the wrong end of a policeman’s baton, etc., but there are better ways to do it, IMO. Making something disappear does not refute or devalue it, but allows it to continue in the shadows.

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Unless you’re a white supremacist, then your views must be cherished and protected at all cost.


I can only assume you are kidding because I said nothing like that.

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I didn’t mean that you were saying that, I was saying that’s how it is. The right has a meltdown if you go after people who are promoting white supremacy, but clam up when it’s people like Davis. This is just another example of the hypocrisy of the right, as not a single right winger who regularly whinges about cancel culture will give a shit about this.


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