The American Association of University Professors criticized the Yale University Press on Tuesday for its decision not to reprint controversial cartoons attacking the Prophet Muhammad, calling the decision a compromise of academic freedom.
The statement came in response to Yale University Press' August decision not to reprint controversial cartoons satirizing Islam and the Prophet Muhammad because of the possibility that their publication could lead to violence. The so-called "Muhammad cartoons" were to appear in "The Cartoons That Shook the World," a book by Brandeis University professor Jytte Klausen. The 12 cartoons were published by Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten in 2005 and set off a wave of protests in Islamic countries around the world in 2006 that resulted in scores of deaths.
The rest of the book will be published as planned and will be released late in December.
The AAUP said the press' decision to not include the cartoons, though reluctantly agreed to by the author, compromises a commitment to the free exchange of ideas.
"The incident at Yale … casts serious doubt on their, and our, commitment to freedom of expression in general, and academic freedom in particular," the statement said. "The failure to stand up for free expression emboldens those who would attack and undermine it. It is time for colleges and universities in particular to exercise moral and intellectual leadership."
In an official statement, the press, which is affiliated with but financially autonomous from Yale University, maintains its support for the book but said it consulted several experts before coming to a decision to ultimately not print the cartoons. The group said the decision had nothing to do with avoiding a political backlash but rather a fear of causing real violence.
"The press would never have reached the decision it did on the grounds that some might be offended by portrayals of the Prophet Muhammad," the press said in a statement.
"Indeed, Yale University Press has printed books in the past that included images of the Prophet. The decision rested solely on the experts' assessments that there existed a substantial likelihood of violence that might take the lives of innocent victims."
UT College of Communications lecturer David Donaldson said Yale has the right to legally remove the cartoons from the book, just as Klausen has the right to have it published elsewhere.
"One side of the equation is that if [the book has not] been published, the authors get to decide whether they want to accept those changes," Donaldson said. "If it's a smart decision for Yale not to print the cartoons because they have a proven propensity to cause violence, it is free to make those decisions one way or another."
Donaldson said he would like to have the cartoons printed in the book, but it is important to consider political sensitivity.
"I think in the overall context, in the teaching process, I would want to see and to be able to understand the political power of those cartoons," Donaldson said. "[But] I can understand Yale's decision that they don't want to do it that way. I didn't think they were that inciteful. Of course I'm not of that religious view, and I don't know what it means to them."