The US, India, Academic Freedom and the World

People are the same everywhere, I guess.

That cliche stared me in the face this morning, when I saw over 30 new comments on the statement we published signed by a long list of scholars on the upcoming visit by Indian Prime Minister Naarendra Modi to a Silicon Valley. Five more have appeared while I’ve been writing this. Most of them say the same thing: They call the statement “crap” or “BS” or something similar. Some even thanked this blog for gathering together the names of Modi haters–their own hatred seeping through every work. Only a very few comments grappled with anything approaching the substance of the statement.

One of the few positive statements includes this:

Any criticism against Modi is met with uncalled for abusive responses from his social media managers and from the followers of anti-democratic, anti-socialist Modisms in India (as can even be seen on this page). Glad that there will be voices from outside that will keep alive the injustices of this human being, even if he, as the head of this Govt., throttles freedom of press by buying them off and freedom of speech by imposing laws and regulations or simply threats and force.

Like their American counterparts, the critics of the statement don’t understand the importance of Academic Freedom to a democracy. Like too many Americans, they sweep aside any attempt at recognizing the importance of debate. Like the forces of anti-intellectualism in the United States, they deflect discussion into ad hominem attacks:

This is the standard response of known Modi haters that has nothing to do with facts. The article itself smacks of rabid hatred towards Modi. It’s a group of known Modi haters with leftist leanings carrying on with their ancient narrative that disregards the truth. The fact is the present political dispensation led by Modi is the most tolerant in the history of India where his detractors seem to have a freer run than ever before.

It’s a big world, and we’re part of it. No longer can we in the United States look at Academic Freedom simply domestically. No longer can we rely on the protections we have developed in this country. The attacks are coming from within, certainly, but there are plenty of attacks “out there” as well. They may not be directed at the US now, but the web of the scholarly community extends far beyond American shores. My own college boasts quite a few people from South Asia among the faculty, and we are not unusual in that regard.

We have long decried the lack of Academic Freedom in totalitarian societies–though not enough (witness the minimal concern when New York Universities sets up a branch in Abu Dhabi). What we haven’t done effectively enough is help universities even in other democracies establish Academic Freedom as one of the bedrocks of their scholarly activities.

Yes, Academic Freedom is under attack in the US. Perhaps one way of defending it is promoting it everywhere, helping academics around the world achieve what we believe is a necessity for successful academic pursuit.

We are all in this together, no matter where we may be in this mess of a beautiful world.

24 thoughts on “The US, India, Academic Freedom and the World

  1. This blog’s ongoing efforts to promote academic freedom are laudable. Thank goodness you are here to fight a very necessary fight. I wonder though if the problems we observe in India are more a consequence of systemic, sort of *bottom-up* drivers, opposed to *top-down* administrative dictates. I’ve also contemplated if the same effect occurs in the US, but for a different set of reasons.

    In 2012, the UN MGD program estimated there were 265 million Indians living on less than $1.25 per day. Obviously an even greater number survive on what we would consider a vastly substandard level of income. Thus it is the case that well over 50% of the Indian population not only is denied access to higher education, but anything beyond a basic 5th grade level, primary education. To these suffering individuals and families, something like a university education is as alien as it gets.

    Add to this the colonial rule of the Brits in the 18 and 1900s, when policies resulted in disease and starvation that killed untold tens of millions of people, and I think the systemic and bottom-up processes dwarf anything imposed by their current leader. When an outside, sophisticated, educated and supposedly democratic nation like GB subjugates and enslaves hundreds of millions of people, the long-term ramifications must at least include some level of permanent disgust for things like education. Overcoming those generational attitudes is anything but easy.

    It must be nearly impossible to muster any kind of majority support for something as abstract (but deserving) as academic freedom when the majority of your population exists on the very tattered fringes of life and never envisions any opportunity to become educated. To them, I imagine, the least of their worries is any professor’s freedom to publish on a controversial topic.

    While I have absolutely no experience in tackling such severe social issues, I wonder if putting any focus upon Modi nets any positive outcome for academic freedom in India. Like all leaders, his time in office will be relatively short. India has made tremendous gains in reducing poverty since about 1990, but they have by no means cured it. It seems more likely than not that expansion of the Digital India program, even in lieu of potential abuses to personal liberties, holds the promise of lifting more people out of poverty. So perhaps we should look at the forest instead of the trees and consider the potential that the benefits will far outweigh the costs to academic freedom over the short term.

  2. I’m glad, Aaron, that you responded to these troubling comments on the statement about the Modri visit. It is certainly the case that, as you say, issues of academic freedom are increasingly global and must be understood and addressed in that context. The AAUP does not claim that its principles, developed by scholars in the U.S., must be applied in all countries, although we certainly hope they serve as a useful model for scholars everywhere to emulate or learn from. And, if only for lack of resources, we make no claim to monitor and respond to violations of our principles in other countries. Scholars at Risk (http://scholarsatrisk.nyu.edu/), however, does a laudable job in that regard.

    What does directly concern the AAUP are issues impacting academic freedom at overseas campuses and facilities of U.S. institutions, such as the recent case of NYU professor Andrew Ross, who earlier this year was denied entry to the emirate of Abu Dhabi, where NYU has a campus (http://aaup.org/news/denial-entry-professor-troubling). Of concern as well are issues impacting the academic freedom of international scholars employed at U.S. colleges and universities. And this is the issue raised, I think, by the response to the statement.

    I know shamefully little about India in general and about the state of that country’s higher education system in particular. I therefore read the statement as a cogent presentation of one point of view on the issues it raised. Given the illiberal tone of the comments in response, however, I now see that point of view as more rather than less persuasive. But my point is that, while I recognized only a handful of names among the signatories, I am certain that many are not only of Indian descent but also Indian citizens employed in the U.S. Therefore my concern is with the possibility that the kind of response we see on the blog may escalate in ways that could place undue pressure on some of the signatories to limit or alter their scholarly and extramural expression. And such pressure may extend to or exerted by their employing institutions.

    Indeed, one can well imagine a well-heeled supporter of Modri and donor to or alum of an American university pressuring that university not to employ (or to summarily dismiss) an anti-Modri scholar. Could we see an Indian Salaita? Perhaps. And what of the possibility that the Modri government might pressure the U.S. government to deny a residency permit to an anti-Modri scholar from India?

    I don’t know if any of this is happening now or to what degree if it is, but the possibility is real. Therefore, I want to assure the signatories to this statement that if their academic freedom in the U.S. is in any way threatened because of their political activism, that the AAUP — which of course is neither pro- nor anti-Modri — stands ready to provide whatever support and assistance we can.

    • The AAUP is pro professor which means if the professorial elite come to agreement about what is true, the AAUP will defend its truth and oppose those who question its truth. Scholars making good living as experts on Hinduism don’t want their boats rocked especially by those they seem to view as inferiors. It is just standard American establishment self protection. Disciplines where there are objective results everyone agrees on are very different.

  3. Dear Aaron,
    Now the comments to the said blog have exceeded 200 and I do not see it ending soon. I guess the academeblog has taken on more than what it thought it would see. I am an Indian, living in the US for a while now. As Hank confessed, he does not know much about India, but is already biased about Modi (sorry Hank, it is not Modri). One must wonder why he is already biased. Perhaps because of the earlier blog or blogs like that. This is the exact reason why you are seeing a flood of responses.

    I would request you to pause and think why there is so much intensity in the responses. Indians feel (thanks to the actions of previous governments and some facts) that there has been a concerted effort to undermine and denigrate the current government (which had an unprecedented mandate from the Indian public) and generally anything associated with India and Hinduism, both internally and externally, mainly from liberal-minded intellectuals. They are genuinely angry and worried about the outsiders and what they see as lackeys of outsiders inside India. I am a STEM Phd and work at one of the Ivy leagues, but believe me, we have lost most Indians, especially the younger generations due to our own insistence on issues like banning visa to Modi and revoking it later and many many more things like that. The best we can do is let the Indians decide it for themselves through elections every 5 years. Poking our noses in other’s issues is not a great idea. We have learnt that on the military front. Should we learn it on the academic front as well? Believe me, Indians can see and feel things better than us because they experience it. They are not dumb-asses to be lectured to.

    • Yes, my misspelling of Modi’s name may indeed reveal the extent of my self-confessed ignorance, but I prefer to think it was more a product of sloppy editing. I am not biased, however. I have no opinions whatsoever about the Modi government or the issues raised in the post; indeed, I have no desire at all to, as you say, “poke my nose into other’s issues,” although I will note my sympathy with Aaron’s main point: that “other’s issues” may well become “ours.” I do, however, believe that the signatories have the right to express their views, as do their critics, and given the tone and, frankly, the spirit of intolerance clearly pervading so many of the comments (for instance, calling people “curs”) — and let me point out that the AAUP through this blog is in fact providing a forum for both the signatories AND their critics — led me to fear that such hostilities might well lead to efforts that could threaten academic freedom. That is my concern. I have no opinions, much less a “bias” about any of the substantive issues debated in India or in the Indian-American community.

  4. AAUP members are of course right to be concerned about Academic Freedom. Academic freedom, like all freedoms and other rights, comes under threat for many reasons. One of them, relevant here, is that people grossly misuse it. Please note that those taking time out from their busy schedules to ‘respond’ to these “signed letters” etc are not doing it out of some imagined spite or hate. We happen to know the ground truth, from experience. The originators of that “Letter” are about as far from any respect for ‘freedom’ or democracy as can be imagined, no, you simply cannot imagine it. Try to imagine a professor sitting in America, concocting blatant lies whose effect is to cut off funding for a sanctuary of last resort for Leprosy patients in India. These did to of them: In 2002. To the Kushta Nivaran Sangh, which they maliciously described as a “hate organization”. Imagine an American professor deliberately using her Academic Freedom and credentials to kill funding to an orphanage that picks up abandoned toddlers off the streets and gives them food, shelter, love and hope. This gang, and I use the word after enough thought, did. 50 of them. In 2002. Imagine an American professor attending a Marxist Communist (Naxalite) terrorist meeting to celebrate the torture-murder of policemen in the Indian state of Bihar, probably funded by American funds. Several of these did. In the late 1990s. So PLEEEEASE! Don’t be so naive (I don’t want to call innocent people stupid, but your complacent predjudice is not a victimless crime) as to buy their whining as over a thousand knowledgeable people took time out to slam their lies inside a day. Those who responded have immediately been characterized as “Hindutva Modi supporters”.

    I am American citizen: I don’t vote in India. I don’t care who governs India as long as it is someone elected in free, fair elections by the people, not appointed by a Communist Politburo or a Caliphate, as this gang would wish. The same is true for many of those posting here. I call for the AAUP to investigate the record of the gang who hides behind “guest bloggership” and spouts this nonsense. Thank you.

    I am taking the time to post this on behalf of those who do not have that privilege. Such as the leprosy patients of the Kushta Nivaran Sangh and those who care for them. The orphans of the Vatsalya Trust and those who care for them. And thousands, tens of thousands like them whose last hope would have been crushed back in 2002 if my friends and I had not spent several months, practically 24 hours a day, fighting back the vicious attack by this anti-American, anti-Indian, anti-democracy, anti-freedom, gang. Thank you.

  5. And a brief note to Aaron Barlow, who I see is one of those who publishes blogs. Thanks for keeping an open forum for people to post their opinions. That makes you a rare exception to the censorship practised by the usual haunts of that “long list of SCHOLARS”. Oh, yes, that “S” word. As policy, I do not post my official credentials, publication history, awards etc to make my opinions known: I believe in the very strange and perhaps dead notion that one’s opinion is supposed to stand on facts, logic and truth, not on the Furniture that one boasts owning, or the corporate / Family entities who fund one’s furniture. And above all, I try to protect my students and colleagues and the institution from my personal opinions.

    Unlike this gang.

    The truth that “we” (those who responded in a less-than-adulatory manner to your Long List of Scholars) speak, is well-published on the Internet, and in books. You can use elementary Search Engine skills to look it up, should you wish to do so. We too can give lists of urls and references, in fact orders of magnitude larger than what these “Scholars” have, or can. And we can speak knowledgeably and honestly.

    You seem to have immediately equated those who criticized and rebutted, point by point, the nonsense signed by the Scholars, with some American equivalent who believe that the Earth is flat, the Moon landing was fake, Elvis is alive and Evolution is the Devil’s attempt to destroy Creation. Please consider that there is no equivalence here. We are most certainly **NOT** against free and open debate, but the shoot-and-scoot covert tactics of this gang do not lend themselves to any sort of openness. Oh! I forgot! That is because we are all presumed to be violent nutcases who pose personal threats to the gentle Scholars since we have nothing better to do.

    Please keep your forum open, and enjoy the fun. The Truth Shall Triumph, as we say. Even in American academia.

    • Unfortunately, I see little but bile and vituperation in the comments, and even threats against the signers. Little is there that argues against the points of the signers; most of it is simply anger. And that is sad. If you and the other commentators were really what you claim to be, you would have actually done as you claim, would have argued calmly and against the substance–and minus the threats and cruel comments. But you did not, so I cannot take your claims seriously. In addition, you hide your identities while those you attack willingly expose their own. How does that make you appear? Answer that for yourselves.

  6. Dear Mr. Barlow:

    There are over 140 comments on this series of 3 unsolicited Blogs that you have facilitated/authored on an event of little evident direct importance to the AAUP except as a good turn of events: the visit of an elected Prime Minister as a guest of the United States of America, to enhance trade, build job opportunities, and enhance friendship between free democracies.

    I certainly do not speak for anyone but myself, and endorse no comment that violates the stated guidelines of this forum. But I have been able to see plenty of calm rebuttals and repetitions of those rebuttals, to the original Blog – the Letter.

    I am sorry that you are unable to view or read those. Perhaps you should go back and try again.

    Words like “bile” and “vituperation” and “cruel comments” are certainly not “calm arguments” and they present no facts, so I cannot rebut them.

    They simply suggest that your blog post is not one of an unbiased observer, and your interest in the initial letter may not have been just as a publisher. The two “positive comments” that you highlighted were full of unsubstantiated words of violence, and generally false. I thought that was some innocent coincidence, refusing to jump to the obvious other conclusion.

    There is no “throttling of the freedom of the press” in India – please point to evidence if you have it. There is no censorship of anyone. The Indian Press is in fact wildly free, far more than in the US where a “wrong” editorial can get one banned from the White House for the duration of a presidency.

    You highlight and support the statement :”keep alive the injustices of this human being,”

    even though the Supreme Court of the nation, while under the previous government, sent its own Special Investigative Team, vested with the full powers of the Court, read their extensive report, and was satisfied that the allegations against him were false. Is this your understanding of the American Constitution and the concept of fairness, Mr. Barlow? “Guilty even if proven innocent by the highest court in the land”?

    At best, isn’t that blatant political grandstanding? Hate? Bitterness? Vituperation? Bile? And I am being kind.

    If you object to a government “imposing laws and regulations”, one has to ask why: Is the AAUP opposed to the imposition of laws and regulations by duly elected governments? As far as I know, the new government has had little success in passing new laws, so at best it is simply following those already on the books per the Constitution, as any government must do. Surely you are not arguing for those whom law enforcement makes uncomfortable? Nor arguing for anarchy?

    So you selectively highlight provably false claims, and claim to have seen no rebuttals. Interesting tactics from one so concerned about academic freedom.

    I am indeed disappointed. My comment to you was made in calm friendship and thanks for keeping an open forum. So far.

    • I quote from the comments: “Useless biased anti Hindu anti India bunch of low levels of intelligence and high levels of hatred for all original Indian ideas and cultural ethos. Terrified at the high level of penetration these dirt bags have managed in the the academia field in India and out of India. India needs to have a violent brutal purging of these elements. Hope pro Hindu organisations stop their love of Gandhian measures and start emulating hanuman Krishna chanakya and shivaji’s way of forceful elimination of traitors and antinationals.” This is a fairly standard example.

      The comments themselves are often an attempt to throttle freedom of the press. Many of them thank the signers, sarcastically, for providing their names. That’s a blatant attempt to kill discussion.

      By the way, why do you hide your name? What fear do you have? If you want to say you are disappointed, well, that means nothing if no one knows who you are.

      • There is substance in the remarks you talk about. The claim is that important organizations doing charitable work were wrongly attacked. That is serious. I can understand people being upset about it. I don’t know what the facts are and how the AAUP justifies what is alleged to have been done.

        • It seems to me, and I could be mistaken, that there is a tremendous cultural divide involved in this string of debate. I wonder to what extent the AAUP should be involved in the conflict. More broadly, charitable NGOs have failed in many nations, not because they did not have good intentions, but because they were culturally ignorant. Imagine, for a moment, having North Korea set up an NGO in the US, while having little to know knowledge of our cultural norms. It would be a disaster.

          Our perception of academic freedom is quite likely very different than that of many other cultures around the world. Shucks- the perception of academic freedom among non-academic US citizens is obviously quite different than it is among academic US citizens.

          Has the AAUP gotten involved in something that is better left to the people of India?

          • This blog has simply provided a forum for debate. The AAUP has no position on any of the questions presented. We do believe strongly in freedom of expression and debate. That is a close as we get to taking a position in the arguments surrounding the Modi visit.

            Also, academic freedom transcends national and cultural boundaries. In an era of globalization, no such question belongs to any one country alone.

      • “By the way, why do you hide your name? What fear do you have? If you want to say you are disappointed, well, that means nothing if no one knows who you are.”

        The choices seem to be connect with WordPress, Twitter or Facebook. I am using WordPress. My twitter ID @David1966 is also not my name and I prefer not to give WordPress my Facebook information.

  7. I, for one, applaud Dr. Barlow’s willingness to allow persons with opposing views, even when those views are expressed with vitriol, to speak on this forum. There are plenty of bloggers out there who simply block persons who express opposing viewpoints, even when they are expressed absent emotion. A blog ought to be about passionate debate, and I believe Dr. Barlow lives up to that standard.

  8. Two questions, but first a statement/request:

    It seems you choose to quote and engage with the bottom-of-the-barrel comments, and ignore the reasonable ones pointing out the hypocrisies and general untruths in the letters. Why else would my first comment comment have been deleted? Hopefully this one won’t be as well.

    1. In your other post “Responses to faculty statement…” you claim that Modi’s followers are responsible for the murder of MM Kalburgi. Where is your proof? Tweeting about one’s happiness for a murder, despicable as it may be, does not equate to having committed the murder. There have been several possibilities proposed for the murder, including a conflict within his community. If you have irrefutable knowledge pertaining to this investigation, please share it with the police immediately, or else remove your irresponsible statement.

    2. You bemoan the academic freedom in Modi’s India, but have you thought about the totalitarian attitude in humanities studies in US and India? I know several cases of PhD students being told to “get in line” and conform with their supervisor’s inevitably left-wing views, or else find another advisor. As a result, the Marxist bias in humanities studies is self-perpetuating. Is this not equally wrong?

    • “I” don’t claim anything about that murder. That comes from the people involved in the original statement.

      Your deflection by saying things are also bad elsewhere is not an appropriate argument. The attitudes in the humanities can sometimes be problematic and I am perfectly willing to post concerns about them–but that has nothing to do with this particular situation.

      • My comment about Marxist totalitarian control of humanities academia is as much a “deflection” from the issue at hand as a comment about Israel’s occupation of Palestine would be in response to news about a Palestinian boy throwing a rock at Israeli soldiers.

        Is throwing rocks wrong? Yes. Is online trolling of academics wrong? Of course. But both reflect a huge power imbalance. Humanities academia brooks little dissent which causes frustration in otherwise reasonable people who feel they are powerless and don’t have a voice. And in the end, those people know their vicious comments will make as much impact on the academics as the boy does on the tank running him over.

  9. Pingback: The Nastiness in the Weeds: Reactions to the Statement on Modi’s Upcoming Visit to Silicon Valley | The Academe Blog

  10. Freedom of Speech? Like the kind afforded to Modi when he was invited by Wharton India Economic Forum?

    The same set of “academics” that are behind this circus, were behind that muzzling of free speech and as such don’t get to claim the free speech moral high pedestal.

    Modi has been much demonized by an array of people and everything he does has been picked apart and micro-analyzed to death by his opponents in political parties, media circles, “civil society”, professional activists and of course the humanities academia.

    All these people had ganged up against him and worked hard to box him into a corner by acting as accuser, investigator, witness, prosecutor, defense, judge and executioner.

    Much to their chagrin, the man went to the people directly and the people elected him. Do a google on how lengthy his campaign road trail was, criss crossing the nation and you would realise why he chose to do such a brutally punishing campaign – that’s because he had no fair coverage in the media that is dominated by his haters. At least in the US, Obama has MSNBC on his corner to give him fair coverage. In India, there is NO right of center mainstream media. As such, it is Modi’s freedom of speech that has been curtailed so far.

    Regardless, Modi is going to be there for next 3.5 years and most likely another 5 years from the looks of his performance. Haters, please stock up on burnol or whatever it is that your neighborhood CVS or Walgreens has…

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