I am writing to show support to my Jewish colleagues in the face of the anti-Semitic speech by one of our colleagues. I appreciate President Krislov’s strong defense of academic freedom, even though it makes me queasy to have it applied in this situation. As someone who conducts research into and teaches about sexuality, I depend upon the protections of academic freedom to be able to navigate competing ideological positions in and out of the classroom, and to be able to play devil’s advocate as a mode for helping students to articulate and defend their own viewpoints. As an out gay man who supports queer politics, I also depend upon academic freedom for my ability to work and live openly and honestly by representing points of view that are not common or popular.
I’ve tried to imagine myself in my Jewish colleagues’ shoes, and it turns out it doesn’t matter to me whether I was the object of such conspiracy theories inside or outside the bounds of academic freedom. I would feel horrible if a colleague was conducting research protected by academic freedom on the best way to conduct anti-gay conversion therapy, or was committing research fraud in a failed attempt to show that gay parents cause harm to their children. I would feel equally horrible if a colleague was posting homophobic memes that equated homosexuality with pedophilia, that the Catholic sexual abuse scandal was caused by homosexuality, that the Third Reich was some gay plot, or that gays and lesbians adopt kids to rape them .
As these links show, these are contemporary viewpoints in circulation. A colleague has the right to hold and express any of these views, and academic freedom protects their right to conduct research that attempts to legitimize them. And I chose these examples because there are other topics that I feel are topics of legitimate political debate, but others might find unacceptably offensive (the desirability of same-sex marriage, the merits of hate speech legislation). Uncomfortable as it may be, we can support academic freedom and freedom of speech and still denounce viewpoints that are protected by them, including rank anti-Semitism.
I leave it to people smarter than I to determine the bounds of academic freedom. To be honest, it would be difficult for me to work in a one-to-one situation with a colleague who publicly espoused views that denigrated my people.
But if such toxic falsities were spread by a colleague, I would appreciate expressions of support from my co-workers and confirmation that such statements were bald bigotry. Belated and modest though this is, that recognition and support is what I offer here.