An American Prophet in a Foreign Land

I haven’t read David Graeber’s new book, Debt, which is leading to him being praised as “a prophet of the Occupy Wall Street movement.” What’s most interesting to me is that today’s leading academic voice of the issues sparking the 99% Movement is an American who teaches in England.
And that’s because Graeber was pushed out of Yale University in 2005 in a prominent case that sparked protests because his political activism and anarchist views apparently played a role in Yale’s decision to dump him. The best any of Yale’s defenders could come up with was essentially to declare that Graeber probably wasn’t mistreated for his political views because all junior faculty at Yale are treated like garbage.

In two recent cases, at Roosevelt University and Harvard University, faculty have taken the lead in violating the academic freedom of instructors who said offensive things in or out of the classroom. It may be tempting not to defend the freedom of professors who say deeply offensive (or even horrifying and bigoted) things. But the danger when we start to allow exceptions to the protections of academic freedom is that brilliant scholars like Graeber are likely to suffer the consequences of a an academic regime where political dissent is squelched.

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