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  • B e t w e e n C o e r c i o n

    a n d P r i v a t i z a t i o n :

    A c a d e m i c F r e e d o m i n t h e

    Tw e n t y - F i r s t C e n t u r y

    Beshara Doumani

    Academic freedom is facing its most serious threat since theMcCarthy era of the 1950s. In the aftermath of the attacks of Sep-tember 11, 2001, government agencies and private advocacy andspecial-interest groups have been subjecting institutions of higherlearning to an increasingly sophisticated infrastructure of surveil-lance, intervention, and control. This bold campaign of censorshipand intimidation comes at a time when the academy is in the midstof a transformation driven by the increasing commercialization ofknowledge. Buffeted between the conflicting but intimately re-lated forces of antiliberal coercion and neoliberal privatization,colleges and universities are more vulnerable than ever to the myr-iad ways outside political and economic forces are reshaping thelandscape of intellectual production.

    It is an open question whether the dark clouds hovering overacademic life in the United States betoken a passing storm withIslamic terrorism replacing Soviet Communism as the evil andthe source of fear or whether they are the harbingers of a struc-tural shift in the production of knowledge. Much depends onwhether a new contract among the academy, society, and the gov-ernment (both state and federal) can be configured so as to over-come the stifling and corrupting forces unleashed in times of warand privatization. In the meantime, much also depends on howeffectively and vigorously academic freedom is defended, for it is vital to a robust democratic public culture; to the pursuit of

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  • knowledge for the social good; and to the promotion of a publicculture of tolerance, justice, and understanding.

    Movement on both fronts depends, in turn, on the answers totwo sets of questions. The first has to do with the clarity of theconcept itself. Is academic freedom primarily an individual right,best based on the First Amendment to the United States Consti-tution, that guarantees free speech, as most have come to believeand expect since the 1950s? Or is it a professional privilege basedon a codification of a set of understandings governing employer-employee relations that allows faculty members to regulate theiraffairs according to their own standards? Can either of the abovebe truly considered academic freedom in the absence of fundamen-tal critiques of professional norms, national identity, and hierar-chal power relations?

    The jury is still out on these issues. So much so, in fact, that PartOne of this volume provides three carefully considered, stronglyargued, and not easily reconcilable essays that more or less reflectthe range of approachesmentioned in the previous paragraph. Takentogether, the chapters by Robert Post, Judith Butler, and PhilippaStrum constitute a solid platform for informed discussions of thelegal structures, philosophical foundations, and political dimensionsof academic freedom. The authors all committed defenders ofacademic freedom provide a sweeping overview as well as in-depth analysis of what is at stake. What deserves the greatest atten-tion is not the rhetorical home of these arguments but the carefulparsing of the issues involved as well as the points of conflict andagreement in the assumptions and positions the three authors take.

    The second set of questions has to do with the historical con-text and specific nature of the challenges to academic freedom.How has the institutional transformation of universities in termsof sources of funding, organizational culture, public mission, acad-emic programs, and the social demographics of the faculty and thestudent body shaped the ways academic freedom is understoodand practiced? And how have the relationships between the acad-emy, on the one hand, and private advocacy groups and the U.S.government, on the other, changed as a result of September 11?Kathleen J. Frydl addresses the first question through a richlyillustrated case study of the transformation of the University ofCalifornia into a multiversity following the Second World War.She forcefully reminds us that in the new configuration, the real

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  • front line of academic freedom is not who is fired but who is hired.In an understated but gripping narrative, Amy Newhall considersthe dilemma faced by the government when it seeks, at one andthe same time, to promote language acquisition and area studieswhile attempting to control the uses that this knowledge is put to.Finally, Joel Beinin draws on his long experience in the embattledfield of Middle East studies to analyze the techniques and goals ofthe self-appointed private groups attempting to police thought inthe academy.

    These six thoughtful and tightly argued essays lay the ground-work for informed discussion on a subject sure to occupy an evergreater space in public debates over the coming years. The au-thors bring insights from a variety of disciplines as well as geo-graphic areas of expertise. They also occupy different locations onthe front lines, so to speak, of the defense of academic freedom.Their differing perspectives and practical experiences make for arich yet cohesive conversation, for the authors respond to eachothers arguments and bring their expertise to bear on a commonset of examples. All the authors, for instance, ponder the implica-tions of their arguments for possible strategies for tackling cur-rent challenges to academic freedom, such as House Resolution3077, the International Studies in Higher Education Act, thusproviding the reader with clear points of comparison.1 What theyhave to say is crucial to rethinking the concept of academic free-dom, to developing the most effective and ethical means to pro-tect the free pursuit of knowledge, and to keeping the mission ofhigher education focused on service to the public good.

    In this introduction, I want to depart from the conventionaleditorial essay that summarizes and loosely strings together thechapters by the contributors. Instead, I will embed brief discus-sions of the authors contributions in a longer narrative that at-tempts to understand the significance and the exceptionalism ofthe post-9/11 moment when it comes to the roller-coaster his-tory of academic freedom. This narrative is divided into threeparts. The first argues at some length that the global war on ter-rorism is distinct from previous wars in ways that do not bodewell for the future of academic freedom; that the unprecedentedcurtailment of civil liberties following the passage of the USAPatriot Act in October 2001 has affected academic freedom struc-turally; and that unlike in the McCarthy era, private advocacy and

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  • special-interest groups are playing the lead role in national cam-paigns to undermine academic freedom by replacing professionalnorms with arbitrary political criteria. The second part steps backfrom the alarm-bell immediacy of the first yet casts an even moresomber gaze on the changing political economy and institutionalinfrastructure of higher education, which arguably pose the great-est challenges to the continuation of the academy as a semi-autonomous sphere of critical inquiry. The third considers thecontested nature of this concept in terms of its conflicting sourcesof authority and the compromises involved in pursuing variousstrategies of praxis, both of which raise difficult questions aboutwhat visions of academic freedom must be defended and aboutthe most effective ways of doing so.

    Academic Freedom after September 11Academic freedom suffered serious setbacks after September 11,2001. The hasty passage of the bill with the Orwellian name, theUSA Patriot Act, has compromised privacy protections, erodedcivil liberties, and chilled dissent, prompting civil libertariansfrom both the left and the right to loudly voice their concerns.2 Inaddition, several government agencies have instituted a series ofintrusive restrictions on the free flow of information, inspiringstubborn protests by scientists and university officials, among oth-ers. Major funding organizations, such as the Ford and Rockefellerfoundations, added new language about terrorism to contracts thatmust now be signed by all grant recipients, although several mod-ifications in response to pressure from civil-rights organizationsand elite universities have lessened the original impact of this lan-guage. Perhaps more pernicious have been aggressive take backthe campus campaigns by well-funded and politically connectedprivate advocacy organizations that mobilize politicians, donors,alumni, and the local and national press. These campaigns aim toinfluence the production of knowledge by promoting certainlines of inquiry while delegitimizing others. One outcome ofthese campaigns is the introduction of legislation on the federaland state levels that would impose political tests on faculty mem-bers and students although their possible passage and implemen-tation are still hotly contested. Meanwhile, some radical right-wing groups are using sophisticated techniques of intimidation,ranging from posting lists of un-American professors on the

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  • Internet to coordinating attacks on specific scholars, course offer-ings, and programs of study. While in the past such challengeshave been mounted in disciplines such as biology, history, andcomparative literature as well as gender, ethnic, and cultural stud-ies, they have focused with greatest intensity in the post-9/1