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CAUT Bulletin Archives

November 2009

Academic freedom defence inconsistent

CAUT president Penni Stewart speaks of CAUT’s “mandate and role in defending colleagues whose (academic) freedom has been infringed” (Bulletin, October 2009) and insists, rightly, that “we must pay serious attention to each incident, because each potentially esta­blishes precedents that pave the way for dangerous … change.”

More problematically, she finds in the statement of York University president Mamdouh Shoukri that universities are “obliged to ensure the respectful exchange of ideas based on research” — something that “hints ominously at the curtailment of academic freedom.” Does she advocate the disrespectful exchange of ideas based on personal political predilection or delusion?

Stewart’s call to arms is pitched towards CAUT’s ongoing condemnation of Gary Goodyear, minister of state for science and technology, for his intervention with SSHRC regarding a conference on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. CAUT deems this problematic intervention a politically motivated assault on academic freedom.

Even leaving aside, however, that the speakers at the conference in question included the foremost leader in a movement to impose an international boycott on Israeli academics — i.e., a movement to utterly suppress the academic freedom of a certain group of scholars solely on the basis of their nationality — we should note that CAUT’s own defence of academic freedom is extremely troubling in its selectivity.

A few years ago, when academic associations worldwide, including the American Association of University Professors, vigorously defended aca­demic freedom by denouncing a proposed British boycott of Israeli academic institutions, CAUT declined to denounce this dangerous precedent despite specific requests to do so.

This inconsistency in the defence of scholars whose academic freedom is threatened raises the disturbing suspicion that CAUT’s ongoing call for Goodyear’s head is itself more a matter of politics than principle.

Eric Lawee
Acting Director
ORU-Israel & Golda Koschitzky Centre for Jewish Studies
York University

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