At the end of December we reported on how Chris Hedges was disinvited from speaking at the University of Pennsylvania after likening ISIS to Israel. Yesterday, the organization California Scholars for Academic Freedom sent the following letter to Penn in support of Hedges.
8 January 2015
Akhilesh Goswami President
International Affairs Association
University of Pennsylvania
Dear Mr. Goswami,
California Scholars for Academic Freedom, an organization devoted to defending academic freedom, writes to express our concern that Chris Hedges was disinvited as a keynote speaker because he expressed views critical of the Israeli government.
California Scholars for Academic Freedom stands against the intimidation of scholars and institutions, whether on the basis of their open advocacy of unpopular or politically targeted positions or simply on the basis of the fact that their scholarship has been understood to challenge conventionally accepted political perspectives. Over the past five years we have, accordingly, spoken out against various forms of censorship, sanction, or restriction of academic freedom of speech, whether in the form of the denial of tenure, proposals to defund institutes or departments, or restrictions of the freedom of students to engage in non-violent protest.
When your group decided not to follow through on its invitation to Chris Hedges, it may have been unaware that its decision was part of a larger issue.
For several years, groups that support the Israeli government have waged a concerted campaign on and off university campuses to discourage and prevent speaking invitations and academic events viewed as either critical of Israel or supportive of the Palestinian struggle for their rights under international law. Even when these efforts to interfere with free expression fail, the campaign itself diverts attention from the message to the messenger, and thereby defeats the main educational purpose of exposing university audiences to a range of views on controversial questions of public policy.
Beyond this, the extra effort required to oppose such a campaign also often discourages campus groups in the future from inviting speakers who would arouse controversy. The overall chilling effect is to deprive students, faculty, and the wider community from the sort of presentations that are so badly needed on sensitive issues of public concern. Part of the educational responsibility of academic communities is to encourage engaged citizenship, which depends on access to a range of viewpoints in the marketplace of ideas.
We would very much appreciate it if the International Affairs Association of the University of Pennsylvania would keep in mind the deleterious effects of this campaign as you make your final selection of speakers for your Peace Conference. We would ask further that the IAA consider re-including Chris Hedges in this conference in order to make a strong statement against the kind of intimidation and narrow thinking that always stands in the way of peace.