Last Friday, Yeshiva University professor Ellen Schrecker addressed the problem of academic freedom in a post-Sept. 11 world in the "Academic Freedom in the Age of Permanent Warfare" conference hosted by NYU's Frederic Ewan Academic Freedom Center.
President John Sexton began the day with his thoughts on academic freedom. He explained that the freedom of academics "calls us to be listeners instead of speakers."
However, not everyone at the conference agreed with Sexton.
Graduate student Susan Valentine said graduate students were present to show the community that NYU has not always made the right decision in instances of academic freedom. She referenced the university's firing of 20 graduate students who went on strike in 2005 and 2006. The university can't fire graduate students for engaging in their political rights, Valentine said.
The political line was drawn when the keynote speaker, Roger Bowen of the Woodrow Wilson Visiting Fellows Program, said, "academic freedom has been pummeled over the last few years by the rabid right."
Bowen gave four examples of enemies of academic freedom: the elderly, the uneducated, Republicans and conservatives.
The conference encompassed a variety of issues, including politics and academic freedom in higher education compared to high schools. The issue of academic freedom and the question of Israel and Palestine were also brought up.
NYU Middle Eastern studies professor Zachary Lockman said there is an "ideological straitjacket on what can be taught in the classroom."
He spoke of the danger graduate students face, stating "anything they say could be used against them in a most vicious way." Lockman referenced groups that monitor Middle Eastern studies and said this problem is "much bigger than allowing people to have their constitutional right to free speech, but there is a coordinated effort to slander specific views."
CAS freshman Sophia Tarabicos spoke of the importance of students to be sensitive to the question of academic freedom in their classes.
"This question could change the academic structure of our university so students should be aware. Students should be concerned about how they go through the academic process, and this could affect them," Tarabicos said.
Academic freedom is an issue that is just beginning to receive scholarly attention. But as Bowen said, "academic freedom has more attraction as an idea of inspiration," rather than a policy put into practice.