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

  • Great point. That's why there is a responsibility attached to academic freedom. A responsibility to use one's academic freedom to adhere to professional and ethical standards (including transparency about whether a statement is backed up by evidence). And a responsibility to refute assertions made by others claiming academic freedom protection when those...

  • We will be looking at the agency issue-- that is, who gets to decide if a question is protected by academic freedom-- in later sessions...

  • Stick with us Digital B, we will be discussing academic freedom as a human rights in later sessions of the course...

  • Can you clarify B.M? A "perceived lack of safety" FOR WHOM? The academic? Students? The public? For whom?

  • Thank you Marjolijn for your kindness and solidarity with our Afghan colleagues! The situation is terrible, especially for women and girls, but individuals actions like yours and help from your university are making a big difference for hundreds of Afghans, maybe more. Thank you!

  • I appreciate your sharing your view here Antonio, but let me push a little-- is academic freedom really the freedom from ANY consequences? Or are their ever negative consequences that are appropriate? For example, if a scholar writes a really poor quality article, shouldn't there be some consequences?

    (Another way of asking this is, are there any...

  • Thank's for raising the difficult question of self-censorship, defined as when scholars or others impose limits on what they research, publish, teach or say for fear of some kind of negative retribution. In our work at Scholars at Risk, we know it happens, but struggle to find effective ways to measure the scope of self-censorship, and to develop more...

  • So maybe the issue is not "what is the question?" but "what factors/conditions make an otherwise safe question dangerous to ask (and dangerous for whom?)

  • 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...