Robert Quinn

Robert Quinn

Robert Quinn is a human rights lawyer and Executive Director of the Scholars at Risk, an network of higher education institutions dedicated to protecting scholars and promoting academic freedom.

Location New York University, New York, USA

Activity

  • Thank you for staying with the course this far.

    Remember that you can download Scholars at Risk's handbooks, which include a lot of the course content, and use them for reference in the future. The links are included in the additional course materials.

  • @AndrewBlair Take for example the situation of a country prohibits academics from entering a certain sub-territory in order to conduct research (presumably b/c the government does not want the possible results of that research known). It might be difficult to claim a free expression violation, because the academics never even get the chance to develop the...

  • @AndrewBlair thank you for sharing the link.

  • I think part of the difficulty is the label. To me, saying “no platform” — suggests that the ideas are off limits, and sets up a discussion — without clear lines of participation and authority— about what ideas can be prejudged.

    I would be more comfortable with discussion about “no violence” , which sets up a discussion about what is or is not an...

  • We know of course that there are differences in every country. But this course suggests that there are similarities within all universities— or at least there should be. Maybe we can build on these similarities, while discussing the differences in an open and respectful way.

    Thank you for joining the course and sharing your views. We hope more...

  • The points about complexity and the need for thoughtfulness are both very important. But I would distinguish between (1) the core values themselves (in this case, academic freedom), and (2) their implementation in a specific local context. We can assert the universality of the principle of academic freedom, even as we recognize that local implementation...

  • Thanks Peter! In this course one goal is to demonstrate that in many discussions of academic freedom, there is often an implicit, unacknowledged "drawing of lines" by stakeholders, and where each draws their line often impacts their respective understanding of whether conduct is or is not protected by academic freedom (as distinguished from (i) free...

  • Thank you Albert! We loved having you in the course and are very grateful for your sharing your views and experiences.

    If you or any other course participants found it useful, we would be grateful if you would share the course information with others, so they might experience the content in the course's next run in spring 2019.

  • I think many institutions (and scholars, administrators) have taken academic freedom for granted, and assumed that (i) academic freedom exists; (ii) is understood by all the same way; and (iii) therefore is not at serious risk. This course tries to expose that these assumptions might be false, especially (ii) the idea that even among people who all claim to...

  • Welcome to the course! It's not too late and we look forward to your further comments.

  • Thanks for the suggestions, we will look into them.

    Reminder to all that there are exercises and guidance for leading workshops available in the companion SAR publications to this course (a guide for discussion and a related workshop supplement), which are available for free download...

  • "Politics out of the classroom" is often said as a simple truth, but what do we mean by "politics"? Do we agree on what the term means?

    In an academic sense, the term "politics" can refer most broadly to any exchange of information or power between persons or groups of persons. For example, the "interpersonal politics" of male-female communication; "the...

  • @PiotrC Thanks for this. I agree academic freedom CAN BE, and often is, challenging to authority structures based on restricting freedom, especially freedom of information and dissent. But does it HAVE TO be? Are these restrictive authorities perhaps mis-diagnosing their own situation?

    Is it not plausible that authority structures based on restricting...

  • I appreciate the view that working together toward consensus is useful, but how do we decide which voices-- authorities, academics, student bodies, the public--should be included in that consensus building?

    Do professors in the economics department have to be consulted to know "where the line is" on appropriate research in a literature department?

    Do...

  • @WondwosenTamrat Note how the general definition of "equitable access" that is provided includes "active facilitation of access for members of traditionally underrepresented groups." So special consideration to history and context is built into the definition. Of course what consideration and how to implement any programs aimed at remedying historical...

  • @LesleyW. Of course it's not a direct comparison.

    As we said earlier -- this course is mostly about academic freedom, but we could in theory apply the same analysis and exercises to all five of the core values introduced. So within the framework of this course we can view your question (about who's "footing the bill") as asking "where is the line between...

  • You say "if they implement the academic freedom, they will lose their position." Why is that? Can you say a bit more?

    Even in closed societies, are there not small ways for authorities within universities to create some space for asking questions more freely?

  • @LesleyW. We did not talk about it much in this course, but remember one of the five core values we discussed earlier in Week 1 is "accountability," which generally has to do with the higher education sector demonstrating responsible use and accounting for public funding.

    So you are right, we have a responsibility to "those footing the bill". The...

  • I apologize for any difficulty and will raise the question with our technical partners on the course.

  • Felix and all colleagues, thank you for joining us in this course run. We are grateful for your contributions, and glad if you found the course material useful.

    Following Felix's suggestion that "the documentation could add incidents from other institutions," you will get an email from us inviting you to share examples or practices from your institution or...

  • OK, but how would you define "danger to society"? Who gets to define "danger"? Who speaks for "society"?

  • @LodewijkJanNauta Thanks for these posts, but let's go a step deeper:

    Case 2(1): "Organized by university members": Does it matter which member(s) of the university community? The Rector/President? A department/school chair/dean? A single professor? A single student? A member of the non-academic staff? Who has (should have) the power to invite...

  • I appreciate the link to the story about Professor Geras's article.

    In the framework of this course, the Professor's "dangerous" question appears to be (I have not read the article): "When is non-state, political violence justified?"

    Skipping over the answer he (presumably ) offers, it is easy to understand why this question would be perceived as...

  • Thanks for sharing this Michael.

    But may I push a little--for everyone reading, not just you-- What are the real world consequences of this proposition? That is, if we agree with the proposition that sometimes "our understanding of academic freedom" may be different from a prospective partner (institution or government) in another place, what should we...

  • Thanks to all for participating. And if you use any of the materials in your courses or at your institutions, please send us an email (scholarsatrisk@nyu.edu) and let us know what kind of feedback you get!

  • I would agree that there should be a presumption in favor of the ability to ask questions; that is, we might assume that there should not be a line-- in most cases.

    But this course also suggests this presumption must be married with an obligation to ask questions responsibly. This is why most major research universities today have internal "ethics review...

  • I agree. In one sense, academic freedom is all about protecting those who work in the "gray areas" of knowledge, for the benefit of society.

  • For all, regarding the original concern about conscious attempts to deny airing of some views ("no platforming"), I would flag that we will discuss elements of this in Week 3. We will offer some frameworks for exploring whether such conduct is appropriate, and then invite course participants (you!) to help decide what responses are appropriate in different...

  • Thanks for sharing this. I had not known of his case. Here is a passage discussing it from "FREEDOM OF SCIENTIFIC PRACTICE IN THE NETHERLANDS," Advisory Memorandum by the Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences", March 2018, page 10...

  • I am so sorry for what you, your colleagues and students have endured/are enduring. And I am grateful that despite the difficulties, you continue to be a voice for the values of higher education.

    For those who are not familiar with the terrible situation in Nicaragua and the student protests, it is included in our recent report, Free to Think 2018,...

  • @LodewijkJanNauta Let me also add for your consideration -- statements do not have to be true to be protected by academic freedom. By this I mean that academic freedom also protects scholars when they make mistakes in their scholarship. I am not talking about intentional, malicious falsehoods, but one of the main functions of academic freedom is it allows...

  • @SusanS There is no question that any of these concepts -- "academic freedom," "social responsibility", "professional standards" can all be misused. But our best chance to respond to that misuse comes from defending the freedom to ask questions and present contrary evidence (including about policies and processes within higher ed), and defending scholars,...

  • Sure! I think the main point here is that we tend to think of threats to academic freedom as intentional, violent or threatening acts. And that is certainly true in many cases (sadly). But there is a wide range of other conduct that can threaten academic freedom and other core values. Some of that conduct is intentional (e.g. protesting something or...

  • I think "Is there a line?", "Where is the line?" and "Have they actually crossed the line?" are to me all versions of the same question, namely, are there boundaries on academic freedom? What questions can (or cannot) be asked?

    In this step and throughout the course, we are suggesting that even more important than the question about whether there are...

  • I certainly agree on both points-- the causal relationships between the five core values discussed in this course, and the concept of a "compact" between society and universities.

    As to the causal relationship, some course participants might be interested in the report at this link which argues a connection between institutional autonomy and the security...

  • @SusanS Thanks for the added thoughts!

    Using the framework of this course, I would agree that the value of "social responsibility" has a contextual dimension, and that dimension needs to be taken into account when exercising academic freedom. How that happens is challenging.

    But at Step 2.4 we suggest that more important than how/where the line is...

  • @PatriciaHay There's a lot of interesting stuff in here! But let me clarify that this course is not arguing that some **people** get "extra rights" compared to other people (all human beings have (or should have) the same human rights).

    We are arguing that some **roles/functions** are so important to society/human rights, that those roles/functions are...

  • I agree! It is challenging to seek solutions/outcomes that seek genuine harmony between the five core values discussed in this course.

    In steps 3.9 to 3.16 we will offer tools that might provide the guidance you are looking for on "how to resolve disputes arising between values." In the case of the controversial speaker-- who extended the invitation? ...

  • @ErnestoMedina
    What if the protest was not about corruption, but about something more closely related to your professional expertise?

    (I don't know what kind of chemistry you do, but there are certainly chemistry-related concerns in protests about global warming/climate change, food safety, water/environment.)

    That case, some effort to indicate...

  • @LodewijkJanNauta

    Sorry for the difficulty.

    Could you share whether you are trying to see the results on your phone or on a desktop/laptop? And in what browser? I will then consult with the technical support team.

  • The question on whether and how to engage in places where academic freedom is limited is an important and difficult one.

    In considering it, I find it useful to remember first that academic freedom incidents can arise in every country and society-- even in places with very strong legal or cultural protections for academic freedom. Take this case from 2008...

  • Perhaps it would be helpful to look at the situation of journalism and press freedom today (which I think is indicative of one possible future path for academic freedom).

    "Who is an academic?" is a lot like "Who is a journalist?"

    Does the answer depend on what kind of employer the person has? (e.g., if a university signs your paycheck you are an...

  • I would suggest that the "we've had enough of experts" position is about power--an attempt to achieve a goal, whether supported by evidence/truth or not.

    According to the framework in this course, the freedom to seek evidence/truth that is protected by academic freed carries with it two corresponding responsibilities:

    (1) a responsibility of academic...

  • This is interesting. Could you say a little more? Are you suggesting that there should be zones where questioning is off limits?

    Or are you saying that in defending the right to ask question, we need to guard against dishonest efforts? Efforts that appear to be asking questions in good faith, but in fact are using the questions to assert power over...

  • I agree that the five values could be plotted that way and it could be helpful for visualizing the intersections, supports and tensions across the values.

    One could also break out each of the five values into sub-elements that could also be plotted. See for example the impressive work of the European University Association on mapping autonomy: EUA...

  • What criteria is a good question. We all wear multiple hats in our lives every day. But in the case of academic freedom there are professional standards which can be a guide to determining (a) whether the actor in a professional role and (b) if the behavior in that role was appropriate. (Or at least this course argues there are!)

  • There is no doubt that there is a huge gap in implementation of protections. In Step 1.13 we touch on this, acknowledging "[b]ut remember, just because a question is protected by academic freedom or freedom of expression in theory, does not mean that members of higher education communities may not suffer harms in practice when states or others violate those...

  • Details on the Khan case in 2017 can be found here: https://www.scholarsatrisk.org/2017/04/pakistan-mob-kills-student-injures-two-others-blasphemy-allegations/.

    Scholars at Risk just released its annual report, Free to Think 2018, which sadly includes many such cases. The report and a summary video can be found here: ...

  • Hi everyone! I am Rob Quinn, one of the facilitators for this course. I thank you for spending some time with us exploring these important issues, and look forward to your comments, questions and discussions.

    So you know, I will generally be online between 8 AM and 9 AM EST (GMT-4 this week, GMT-5 following weeks), and off and on at other times. My...

  • This just in!

    On June 19, 2018, the European Court of Human Rights issued a judgment in Kula v. Turkey (application no. 20233/06), concerning a disciplinary reprimand imposed on a university professor for taking part in a television programme on the subject of “The cultural structure of the European Union and the traditional structure of Turkey –...

  • Yes, but remember that even under the traditional view, a scholar still needs to behave "according to ethical and professional standards of his or her particular discipline." Academic freedom doesn't protect fraud, falsification or other intentional misrepresentation, for example.

  • Good questions. Whether higher ed students enjoy academic freedom and to what extent often come up. In sum, there is broad consensus that for scholar's freedom to teach to have any meaning, students must at least have some freedom/protection for receiving and engaging with the material presented. This is articulated in the German concept of 'lernfreiheit',...

  • Thanks! Do send along any feedback from your meeting. We would love any suggestions for how to make the course better, or how to get the content to a wider audience.

    And FYI, we hope to be running the course again in October if any other colleagues want to try it!

  • There's a LOT in here, but let's focus on this line, since it seems to come up a lot lately and is directly on point for this course:

    "Does one try to discredit what might be deemed a reputable [scholarly article] through debate or discussion or just shout the speaker down with personal attacks and innuendo."

    From an academic freedom point of view, the...

  • Interesting. Why does the speaker being scholar or not matter? What else matters? Does it matter who invited the speaker? The university vice chancellor vs. a professor vs. a student group? Does it matter who finds the speaker controversial? Faculty in the same department vs. other departments vs. students vs. people outside the university community? ...

  • @StevenStone I would have to know more about each of the examples to know what to think. In what course was abortion discussed? Computer science? Theology? Obstetrics? Same for marriage and border wall. What scholarship (data, articles, etc.) supported the claim? For what academic or pedagogical purpose? If the topics came up in academically...

  • @MatthewFrench @JohannaTruijens I never saw the post either. The FutureLearn Moderators are not part of this specific course team. I will inquire, but generally they monitor for profanity or comments they feel target specific individuals or groups. (Matthew-- I am not saying you did either, just saying this is how FL describes the moderator role.)

    But...

  • @MatthewFrench But shouldn't we have a higher bar than what is "permissible"?

    Shouldn't academics, at least in their teaching, make efforts to find the most effective way of engaging with their students, pedagogically speaking? And certainly likelihood of offense is predictable in many cases. At least in those cases, shouldn't we factor in whether...

  • Here's a link to a story about other recent US cases:

    https://www.npr.org/sections/ed/2018/04/04/590928008/professor-harassment

  • Robert Quinn replied to [Learner left FutureLearn]

    Thanks S.A. We are exploring trying to translate some or all of this course into other languages.

    What course Step #s do you (or others) think would be most important to translate?

    What languages would you most like to see us translate it into?