Error Has No Rights Award
Announcing a new prize: the Error Has No Rights Award, given to someone who denounces freedom of speech or dissent because people who are wrong should be silenced in the name of Justice. The first winner is Miss Sandra Y.L. Korn, a Harvard undergraduate identified by the Harvard Crimson as “a joint history of science and studies of women, gender and sexuality concentrator.” Miss Korn’s prizewinning entry advises:
In its oft-cited Statement of Principles on Academic Freedom and Tenure, the American Association of University Professors declares that “Teachers are entitled to full freedom in research and in the publication of the results.” In principle, this policy seems sound: It would not do for academics to have their research restricted by the political whims of the moment.
Yet the liberal obsession with “academic freedom” seems a bit misplaced to me. After all, no one ever has “full freedom” in research and publication. Which research proposals receive funding and what papers are accepted for publication are always contingent on political priorities. The words used to articulate a research question can have implications for its outcome. No academic question is ever “free” from political realities. If our university community opposes racism, sexism, and heterosexism, why should we put up with research that counters our goals simply in the name of “academic freedom”?
Instead, I would like to propose a more rigorous standard: one of “academic justice.” When an academic community observes research promoting or justifying oppression, it should ensure that this research does not continue.
It is tempting to decry frustrating restrictions on academic research as violations of academic freedom. Yet I would encourage student and worker organizers to instead use a framework of justice. After all, if we give up our obsessive reliance on the doctrine of academic freedom, we can consider more thoughtfully what is just.
Help! Help! It’s repressive tolerance all over again!
The Harvard student and reader of this blog who sent this story writes that “this is the logical outcome of the ‘safe space’ business.” Exactly.