Building Education for the Commons

Mapping Another Attack Against Academic Freedom

Philosophy seeks to expose and make sense of the potential of radical innovation (revolution, invention, transfiguration) in every situation.
Alain Badiou,  President of The Global Center for Advanced Studies (GCAS)

Alain Badiou

Alain Badiou

Socrates said at his trial, which was immortalized in Plato’s dialogue,The Apology: “Be sure that if you kill the sort of man I say I am, you will not harm me more than yourselves.”  The one who speaks inconvenient truths to power is often targeted, repressed, materially or personally damaged even to the point, as Socrates was, of death.  The business of truth-telling is a dangerous one to be sure, and we must keep this crucial point in mind, which was part of the very birth of the Academy itself.  And make no mistake about it, this same tension remains inextricably bound-up in academic research in our time.

This explains why the Academy was founded on principles such as freedom of inquiry, protection to speak truths, facts, and findings that research may reveal.  This founding principle, “Academic Freedom” is not a license to say whatever a professor wants to say, which is why Michael Polanyi argued for the need for peer-review so that facts and research could be vetted for their truth content.

Screen Shot 2014-12-30 at 4.50.13 PMIn short, Professors need protection from external authorities, which is why, in the past, faculty formed colleges and communities we today call universities.  These communities are there most basically to protect students and faculty alike.  But when these protections are compromised, the entire Academy is compromised.

That power has a vested interest in controlling knowledge is to say nothing new.  In the Middle-Ages, for example, the church controlled knowledge.  In the Soviet Union, researchers were banned from exploring research that didn’t fit within the 5 year central plan.  As Christianity’s control over culture waned new universities were founded based on secular principles.  The paradigmatic case here is Thomas Jefferson’s university, The University of Virginia where a space was created in which students were given the freedom to design their own studies where ever they may have led.

But let’s not be naive, given how the universities function in the United States and in the United Kingdom today as more like a corporate business than like a faculty run “college” or community, it is safe to say that the question of academic freedom is as pressing today as it ever has been. If the point of the university in our time is to make money, then this drives what the curriculum is and how it’s taught.  If research doesn’t bring money in, or if it challenges the paradigm of how the economy or political structure works, then this will bring unwanted attention to the university (which might compromise the ability to bring students to their gates).  This neoliberal paradigm, we can say, has compromised the academy and the principles on which it stands.

This is why there is a necessity to create a new space in which academic freedom is uncompromising no matter what the results may be.  This space must not be compromised by external pressures such as making money, or being supported by a wealthy person who has an agenda.  This space must be created by professors and researchers willing to support the creation of this space.  This is what GCAS is about and why we aren’t supported by any corporation or interest group not committed to disseminating truths no matter how inconvenient they may be.  We are creating our own support internal to ourselves for the sake of preserving the fundamental principle of academic freedom.

Part of our mission in creating a new school is to name instances when academic freedom is compromised.  A recent example is what’s been happening in Macedonia.  You can see a letter signed by many academics who are all signaling the need to keep the authority to grant degrees in the hands of the academics and not stand silently by as the State of Macedonia imposes their own measures by which degrees are authorized.  The State of Macedonia, as I understand it, is imposing exams that students must pass in order for a degree to be granted.  There are many problems with this unilateral policy they are imposing not the least of which is that it steals from the academics their authority to teach knowledge independently of what the State might perceive as knowledge and this compromises the founding principle on which the Academy is based.  This is the principle for which Socrates died and many others besides when the Academy emerged in history.  It is important that the pursuit of knowledge and truth be pursued for its own sake regardless of apparatuses of power (the State, the Church, Corporations, even the Neoliberal University! etc.) that want to control knowledge in order to control people, social organizations, the economy, and other potentially dangerous regimes and networks of power.

Here is the open letter:

Open Letter from International Academics in Support of the Student Plenum
(signatures from Anidjar to Zizek)

Subject: Open Letter from International Academics in Support of the Student Plenum
December 25, 2014
Trajko Veljanovski, Speaker of the Parliament Republic of Macedonia pretsedatel@sobranie.mk
Nikola Gruevski, Prime Minister, Republic of Macedonia primeminister@primeminister.gov.mk
Tibor Navracsics, European Commissioner for Education, Culture, Youth and Sport
Xavier Prats Monné, Director General for Education and Culture
European Union, eacea-info@ec.europa.eu

We, the undersigned, scholars and professors from around the world, write to express our deepest concern about the recent actions taken by Ministry of Education and Science to amend the Law on Higher Education, and we wish to express our solidarity with the demonstrators of the Student Plenum and their supporting faculty members and Macedonian citizens.

Any political arrangement that seeks to be called democratic must allow for the autonomy of its institutions of higher education. It is in those institutions that critical reflection on the character of a society—its politics, its economic system, its arrangements of power, and its cultural production—can be performed in a rigorous and unfettered manner by those who are going to be participating in that society. When the institutions of higher education become subject to state control, critical reflection is held hostage to the dictates of those in power. No society can flourish under those conditions. Creativity is stifled, critique is muzzled, independent thought is diminished.

The proposed amendments to the Law on Higher Education, in addition to other recent actions by the Ministry of Education and Science, do not simply undermine the autonomy of universities; they eliminate it. The Ministry has proposed second and fourth year examinations in every course, to be overseen not by those who teach those courses, but by the Ministry itself through the National Board of Accreditation and Evaluation of the Higher Education. Thus the state is attempting to arrogate to itself the power of granting or withholding degrees. Macedonian higher education, both its content and its assessment, will, if these amendments are adopted, become subject to the desires of those who control the Macedonian political apparatus at the highest levels.

The stated goal of these amendments is to address issues of quality in the university system. However, as the Student Plenum has emphasized, the quality of university education must be addressed by its stakeholders, not by an outside power that has an interest in blunting the independence of its universities. Moreover, recent actions taken in response to professors joining the protests against the amendments tell a story not of quality but instead of suppression. The response to professorial involvement in the protests has been to propose that the Ministry must approve the composition of thesis committees and be involved in thesis defenses. This can only be read as an attempt to intimidate university faculty, since it serves no educational purpose.

We commend the Student Plenum and its faculty and citizen support and stand with those thousands of protesters who have marched in Skopje to retain the autonomy of Macedonian universities. Furthermore, we demand that the Ministry of Education and Science abandon its attempt to eliminate university autonomy and return control of the universities to those who educate and are educated in them.

Mark Alfano, Assistant Professor of Philosophy, University of Oregon, USA
Tariq Ali, Writer, UK
Meryl Altman, Professor of English and Women’s studies at DePauw University, USA
Gil Anidjar, Department of Religion, Columbia University, USA
Alain Badiou, Emeritus Professor of Philosophy, École Normale Supérieure, Paris, France
Una Bauer, Academy for Dramatic Arts, Zagreb, Croatia
Jeffrey Bell, Professor of Philosophy Southeastern Louisiana University, Hammond USA
Emanuela Bianchi, Assistant Professor of Comparative Literature, New York University, USA
Jelisaveta Blagojević, Faculty of Media and Communications, Belgrade, Serbia
Ray Brassier, Associate Professor of Philosophy, American University of Beirut, Lebanon
G. Anthony Bruno, Alexander von Humboldt Postdoctoral Research Fellow, Department of Philosophy, University of Bonn, Germany
Judith Butler, Department of Comparative Literature, University of California, Berkeley, USA
Ankica Čakardić, Assistant Professor, Faculty for Humanities and Social Sciences, Zagreb, Croatia
Samir Chopra, Professor of Philosophy, Graduate Center and Brooklyn College of the City University of New York, USA
Sharyn Clough, Associate Professor of Philosophy, Oregon State University, Corvallis, OR, USA
Simon Critchley, Hans Jonas Professor, The New School for Social Research, USA
Andrew Culp, Visiting Assistant Professor of Rhetoric, Whitman College, Walla Walla, WA, USA
Marina Cvetkovska, Post-Doctoral Research Fellow in Molecular Biology, University of Western Ontario, Canada
Vedrana Cvetkovska, Post-Doctoral Research Fellow in Neuroscience, University of British Columbia, Canada
Anna Cychnerska, University of Torunj, Poland
Jodi Dean, Professor of Political Science, Hobart and William Smith Colleges, Geneva, NY, USA
Tom Digby Professor of Philosophy, Springfield College, Springfield, Massachusetts, USA
Andrew Dilts Assistant Professor of Political Science, Loyola Marymount University, Los Angeles, CA, USA
Matt Drabek, Content Specialist, ACT Inc., Iowa City, IA, USA
Alex Dubilet, Department of Rhetoric and Program for Religious Studies, University of California, Berkeley, USA
Hajdi Elzeser, Lecturer at the Hochschule für Musik, Detmold, Germany
Andrea Feeser, Professor, Modern and Contemporary Art History, Theory, and Criticism, Clemson University, USA
Matthias Fritsch, Professor of Philosophy, Concordia University, Montreal, Canada
Johan Galtung, University of Oslo, Norway
Armando Gnisci, European Academy, London, UK
Christopher Grau, Associate Professor of Philosophy, Clemson University, USA
James Griffith, Ph.D., Department of Philosophy, DePaul University, Chicago, IL, USA
Andrej Grubacic, Anthropology and Social Change Department, California Institute of Integral Studies, USA
Peter Hallward, Professor of Modern European Philosophy, Kingston University, UK
Srećko Horvat, Independent Scholar, Croatia
Gordon Hull, Associate Professor of Philosophy and Public Policy, University of North Carolina, Charlotte, USA
Miroslav Izdimirski, Institute of Balkan Studies with Center of Thracology, Bulgarian Academy of Sciences
Igor Janev, Institute of Political Studies, Belgrade, Serbia
Leigh M. Johnson, Department of Religion and Philosophy, Christian Brothers University, USA
Jonathan Kaplan, Associate Professor of Philosophy, Oregon State University, Corvallis, OR, USA
Edward Kazarian, Department of Philosophy and Religion Studies, Rowan University, USA
Gal Kirn, Humboldt Research Fellow, Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin, Germany
Mark Lance, Professor of Philosophy and Justice and Peace, Georgetown University, USA
Jo Littler, Senior Lecturer in Culture and Cultural Industries, City University London, UK
Cathrine Malabou, Professor Of Modern European Philosophy, Kingston University, UK
Bill Martin, Professor of Philosophy DePaul University, Chicago, USA
Todd May, 1941 Memorial Professor of the Humanities, Clemson University, USA
Ladelle McWhorter, James Thomas Professor in Philosophy, University of Richmond, Virginia USA
Hugh Miller, Assistant Professor of Philosophy, Loyola University Chicago, USA
Joshua Miller, Professional Lecturer, Philosophy, George Washington University, USA
Lisa Miracchi, Bersoff Assistant Professor / Faculty Fellow, Department of Philosophy, New York University, USA.
Michael O’Rourke, Dublin, Ireland
David Palumbo-Liu Louise Hewlett Nixon Professor Stanford University Palo Alto, Califorinia, USA
Antonio Petrov, Assistant Professor of Architecture and Urbanism, University of Texas at San Antonio, USA
Robert Pichler, Institute of Slavic Studies, Humboldt University, Berlin, Germany
Liedeka Plate, Radbound University, Nijmegen, The Netherlands
Nina Power, Senior Lecturer, Department of Humanities, University of Roehampton, UK
John Protevi, Phyllis M. Taylor Professor of French Studies and Professor of Philosophy, Louisiana State University, USA
Jacques Rancière, Emeritus Professor of Philosophy, Université de Paris VIII (St. Denis), France
C. D. C. Reeve, Delta Kappa Epsilon Distinguished Professor of Philosophy, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, USA
Gabriel Rockhill, Associate Professor of Philosophy, Villanova University, USA
Steven Salaita, Independent Scholar, USA
Irena Sawicka, PAN,Warsaw, Poland
Svetlana Slapšak, Institutum Studiorum Humanitatis, Ljubljana, Slovenia
Shane Smalley, Adjunct Professor of Philosophy, Theology, Anthropology and Linguistics. Calvary Theological Seminary, Grand View, MO, USA
Anthony Paul Smith, Assistant Professor of Religion, La Salle University, USA
Henry Somers-Hall, Senior Lecturer in Philosophy, Royal Holloway, University of London, UK
James K. Stanescu, Professional Lecturer, George Washington University, USA
Alexander I. Stingl, Research Faculty, STS Center, Drexel University, Philadelphia, PA USA; and Visiting Researcher, Research Collaborator, Contract Lecturer, and Research Consultant, Social Science, Univ. of Kassel, CLWF VU Brussel, College of Leupana Univ. Lueneburg, Inst. for General Medicine UniClinic Erlangen
Barry Stocker, Department of Humanities and Social Sciences, Istanbul Technical University, Turkey
Namita Subioto, University of Ljubljana, Slovenia
Julia Sushytska, Ph.D., Philosophy, Independent Scholar, USA
Misko Suvakovic, Professor at Faculty of Drama and Arts, Beograd, Serbia
Silvo Torkar, SAZU, Ljubljana, Slovenia
Kiril Trpkov, University of Calgary, Canada
Gianni Vattimo, Emeritus Professor of Philosophy, Università degli Studi di Torino, Italy
Maurice Wade, Professor of Philosophy, Trinity College, Hartford, CT, USA
Kimberly Wilson, Department of Teaching and Learning, Temple University, USA
Santiago Zabala, ICREA Research Professor, Universitat de Barcelona, Spain
Slavoj Žižek, Birkbeck Institute for Humanities, UK

Creston Davis, Director of GCAS

December 30, 2014


2 comments on “Mapping Another Attack Against Academic Freedom

  1. discordion
    December 30, 2014

    Reblogged this on discordion {Artist Ian Pritchard} and commented:
    The one who speaks the inconvenient truth to power is often targeted, repressed, materially and personally damaged, even to the point of death.

    Liked by 1 person

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