Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Academic Freedom

"They want to gain hegemonic control over the universities, which have always been important in influencing the social and political atmosphere and which normally support pro-democracy rather than authoritarian forces."
-Abdollah Momeni, a student leader arrested in Iran.

The Ahmadinejad government is trying to crush dissent in the universities through various methods- replacing Deans with radical clerics, burrying the bodies of soldiers on campuses, sending in the police. You know, demanding "accountability".

Fundamental to the idea of a university is the idea that this is the one place that society allows for people to "hang back" and think things through for a living. Naturally, this is threatening to authoritarians of all sorts. However, I'm not sure that governments who try to force academics to adopt their political agendas are that far removed in spirit from department members within who do the same. (See also Columbia University)

Academic freedom includes the freedom for members of a society to think their way through that society's beliefs and even its existence, and choose to reject or accept them. And this includes the "academic society". In a very real sense, a critical education makes it impossible for one to commit to any political party or program in any serious way. However, healthy and democratic societies allow this because they realize that it is the same process by which they gain geniune legitimacy, and is actually the only way available to them in a democracy to do the same. People have to be able to choose otherwise in a democracy, and universities have to be open to considering all choices so that they don't become politicized "debate points" in an argument that will ultimately be decided by force.

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