April 9, 2014

Academic Freedom

In a private email from a friend, I received this link to a TED talk by Neal Katyal, former Acting Solicitor General of the United States, on the importance of accommodating and encouraging dissent for the effective governance of a liberal democracy:

Dissent - free speech - is the prime-mover of civilizational progress. Without dissent, archaic, wrong ideas - caste, homophobia, patriarchy, religion, slavery, and more - will flourish, and humanity will forever be mired in dark ages.

What of academic institutions? From the Boston Globe - Brandeis won’t give honorary degree to Islam critic:

In a pointed statement issued this afternoon, Hirsi Ali denounced Brandeis officials for bowing to critics who “simply wanted me to be silenced. What was initially intended as an honor has now devolved into a moment of shaming,” she wrote. “Yet the slur on my reputation is not the worst aspect of this episode. More deplorable is that an institution set up on the basis of religious freedom should today so deeply betray its own founding principles. The ‘spirit of free expression’ referred to in the Brandeis statement has been stifled here, as my critics have achieved their objective of preventing me from addressing the graduating Class of 2014,” she added.

It's a shame that an academic institution - the bastion of free flow of ideas - should bow to the forces of gender and religious and apartheid, and act to stifle dissent. That, too, in a nation that holds free speech in highest reverence - the first and the foremost in our Bill of Rights.

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