Balancing academic rights and responsibilities

This week in North Philly Notes, we repost Knowledge for Social Change co-author Ira Harkavy’s recent article that appeared in University of World News, an abridged version of a keynote address he delivered earlier this year.

In my judgment, there are two core purposes of higher education in the United States, and perhaps elsewhere. They are education for democratic citizenship and the creation of knowledge to advance the human condition, which significantly involves developing and maintaining a democratic society. These purposes can be powerfully achieved through university-community partnerships.

After a long period of disengagement, higher education leadership across the United States has increasingly recognized that colleges and universities cannot hold themselves aloof from their neighbors. The fate of the university and its local environment are intertwined. Given their resources, particularly their human capital (idealistic and able faculty, staff and students), higher education institutions can make significant contributions to the quality of life in their communities and cities.

The academic benefits of engagement have been illustrated in practice – and the intellectual case for engagement effectively made by leading scholars and educators. That case, simply stated, is that higher education institutions would better fulfill their core academic functions, including advancing knowledge, teaching and learning, if they focused on improving conditions in their societies, particularly their local communities.

Service-learning, engaged scholarship, community-based participatory research, volunteer projects and community economic development initiatives are some of the means used to create mutually beneficial partnerships designed to make a positive difference in the community and on the campus.

More broadly, a burgeoning higher education democratic civic and community engagement movement has developed across the United States to better educate students for democratic citizenship and to improve schooling and the quality of life.

Turning out informed democratic citizens

Given the current development of ‘illiberal democracy’, claims of ‘fake news’ and ‘alternative facts’ and attacks on science and knowledge itself, universities have an increased and pressing responsibility to contribute to both the education of informed democratic citizens and the advancement of knowledge for the continuous betterment of the human condition. For this to occur, academic freedom and institutional autonomy must be maintained and strengthened.

Stated directly, significant levels of institutional autonomy and academic freedom are necessary for intellectual creativity, free inquiry and progress. Academic freedom and institutional autonomy, moreover, are intertwined with academic and institutional responsibility.

In her speech at the American Association of University Professors (AAUP) 2019 annual conference, Joan W Scott, former chair of the AAUP’s Committee on Academic Freedom and Tenure and professor emerita at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, New Jersey, emphasized that academic freedom and institutional autonomy were needed to advance “the common good.”

She said: “The common good will not survive – and for that matter neither will individuals survive – without medical knowledge, knowledge of climate change, knowledge of history, knowledge of how structures of discrimination work at the economic, social, political and psychic levels to perpetuate inequalities of race, gender, sex and religion. Academic freedom protects the production and dissemination of that knowledge.

“It is that knowledge that nourishes and advances the common good. The future of the common good and of academic freedom are bound up together; the one cannot survive without the other.”

Threats to academic values

The interconnection of academic freedom and institutional autonomy with academic and institutional responsibility as well as the democratic purposes of higher education have been increasingly recognized across the world.

For example, in June 2019 a Global Forum was held in Strasbourg on Academic Freedom, Institutional Autonomy, and the Future of Democracy (co-organised by the Council of Europe, the International Consortium for Higher Education, Civic Responsibility and Democracy, the Organization of American States, the International Association of Universities, and the Magna Charta Observatory), involving participants from 41 countries across Europe, North America, Latin America, Australia, Asia and the Middle East.

The immediate background for this Global Forum was increasing concern that the values we have come to take for granted are now under threat in ways Europe and North America have not seen for at least three decades, since the fall of the Berlin Wall. While democracy has never been without potential for improvement, its basic premises are now questioned in Europe through nationalism and populism and attempts to advance ‘illiberal democracy’. Analogous developments are occurring in the United States.

There are, of course, differences. For example, the focus in the United States has largely been on academic freedom and its relationship to the right to free speech on campus.

In Europe, the focus has been largely on institutional autonomy. The traditional European emphasis on institutional autonomy concerns the legal relationship between public authorities and higher education institutions.

The different emphases in the United States and Europe should not be overstated however. The commonalities are much greater.

The interference of both the state and national governments in university affairs has increased significantly in the United States in recent years. The University of Wisconsin board of regents, for example, approved a policy mandating that students who disrupt speakers twice be suspended and those who disrupt three times be expelled.

Similar policies and legislation, while less punitive than those proposed (it was not approved by the governor) in Wisconsin have been passed in approximately 17 states.

Both houses of Congress have introduced similar bills that would apply to all public colleges and universities. The right-leaning Goldwater Institute has proposed and advocated for model legislation that has served as the basis of these bills requiring disciplinary policies for disruptions.

In a similar vein, President Donald Trump signed an executive order last March connecting federal funding to how colleges and universities enforce the right of free inquiry.

Needless to say, the instances cited represent increased governmental interference in university affairs, significantly affecting institutional autonomy and academic freedom. They also represent the weaponization of free speech for political and ideological purposes, which resonates with the use of laws in some European countries to limit academic freedom to support the ideology of the state.

Threats to academic freedom and institutional autonomy, of course, come from many sources, not just government. Private funding has been given with specified conditions that have influenced the content of study and the hiring of faculty.

Equally troubling is funding from private sources that subvert the core values of the university. With the rise of the so-called neoliberal entrepreneurial university, profit for the sake of profit too often appears to be the primary purpose of institutions of higher education. This, of course, has negative impacts on both research and education for the public good.

Rights and responsibilities

Academic freedom and institutional autonomy are mediated rights that come with responsibilities. Working with and contributing to their local communities are essential if colleges and universities are to function as responsible institutions. In my judgment, it is also an institutional responsibility for universities to work in democratic partnership with their community, demonstrating openness, transparency, responsiveness and accountability.

One of the best ways to practice academic freedom and institutional autonomy as well as academic and institutional responsibility is to engage locally. Local participatory democracy is necessary for the development of a democratic culture that goes beyond the crucial act of voting and extends to all areas of life.

The benefits of a local community focus for colleges and universities are manifold. Ongoing, continuous interaction is facilitated through work in an easily accessible location. Relationships of trust, so essential for effective partnerships and effective learning, are also built through day-to-day work on problems and issues of mutual concern.

In addition, the local community provides a convenient setting in which service-learning courses, community-based research courses and related courses in different disciplines can work together on a complex problem to produce substantive results. Sustained local partnerships of this kind foster the civic development of university students while advancing their academic learning and knowledge.

The local community is also a democratic real-world learning site in which community members, academics and students can pragmatically determine whether the work is making a real difference and whether both the neighborhood and the institution are better as a result of common efforts.

As colleges and universities work collaboratively with their neighbors on locally manifested universal problems, such as poverty, poor schooling, inadequate health care, environmental degradation and climate change, I believe they will be better able to advance knowledge, learning and democracy.

In so doing, they will also satisfy the critical performance test proposed in 1994 by the president of the University at Buffalo, State University of New York, William R Greiner – namely, that “the great universities of the 21st century will be judged by their ability to help solve our most urgent social problems”.

Higher education should, indeed must, stand for core universal values, including tolerance, diversity and inclusivity, open inquiry, democracy, human rights and the rule of law. Academic freedom and institutional autonomy as well as academic and institutional responsibility are necessary for universities to realize these values and to contribute to developing and sustaining fair, decent and just democratic societies for all.

Ira Harkavy is associate vice president and founding director of the Barbara and Edward Netter Center for Community Partnerships at the University of Pennsylvania in the United States and Chair of the International Consortium for Higher Education, Civic Responsibility and Democracy. This is an edited version of his keynote to the Council for Higher Education Accreditation International Quality Group Annual Meeting: A Global Quality Forum on 30 January.

Redefining Toxic Masculinity in Trump’s America

This week in North Philly Notes, Cynthia Barounis, author of Vulnerable Constitutions, writes about “anti-prophylactic citizenship,” and Trump’s rhetoric.  

When I first began to develop the concept of “anti-prophylactic citizenship” five years ago in my research on queerness and disability, I did not anticipate how explicitly its opposite would take shape in the campaign, election, and presidency of Donald Trump. To say that Trump ran on a platform of racial exclusion and xenophobia is to state the obvious. But less frequently do we invoke the word “prophylactic” to describe Trump’s obsession with closed borders. Our discussions of prophylaxis tend to center, more progressively, on preventative medicine and public health. Against the puritanism of abstinence-only education, safe sex campaigns advocate the availability of prophylactic barriers to minimize the risk of STIs. And against the autism panic of anti-vaxxers, immunization records in schools are a commonsense strategy for protecting children against preventable outbreaks of contagious diseases.

And yet this primarily medical term also cuts to the core of the Trump administration’s attitude toward those populations he has named as threats. Indeed, there is perhaps no greater symbol for national prophylaxis than Trump’s promise to “build a great, great wall on our southern border.” A prophylactic barrier is designed to preemptively seal off the body from foreign invaders. While Trump has not succeeded in erecting his wall, his administration has enacted more insidious forms of border security since he took office, from the discriminatory Muslim Ban to the mass detention of asylum seekers and the unconscionable separation of parents from their children at the border. Even as I write this, Trump is making new headlines in his refusal to admit Bahamian climate refugees into the U.S. in the wake of Hurricane Dorian because they contained “some very bad people and some very bad gang members and some very, very bad drug dealers.” To make America “great again,” in this worldview, is to safeguard the imagined purity of an American “us” against infection and contamination by a supposedly un-American “them.”

Recognizing Trump’s rhetoric as fundamentally prophylactic allows us to more easily see the ableism that motivates his fixation with closed borders. During an interview with NPR last month, Trump’s acting head of Citizenship and Immigration Services, Ken Cuccinelli, took it upon himself to rewrite Emma Lazarus’s famous poem, etched onto the Statue of Liberty. Quoting the iconic lines, “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,” Cuccinelli improvised an extra addendum: “Who can stand on their own two feet and who will not become a public charge.” More than just an ableist metaphor, the requirement that immigrants be able to “stand on their own two feet” and not request assistance sends a clear message: sickness and disability have no place within Trump’s America. To what extent does the nostalgic rallying cry “Make America Great Again” resemble the rehabilitative pressures that demand that certain individuals become able to “walk again”?  More importantly, what would it look like to refuse that demand, requesting care instead of cure and demanding access rather than quarantine? What would a model of anti-prophylactic American citizenship look like?

Vulnerable ConstitutionsAs I was writing Vulnerable Constitutions: Queerness, Disability, and the Remaking of American Manhood, I discovered the answer to this question among an eclectic set of American novels and memoirs, from the canonical voices of William Faulkner and F. Scott Fitzgerald to the more explicitly radical writings of James Baldwin and Samuel Delany. Each of these writers rejected the prophylactic impulse to seal off the borders the body (and nation) against infection. In so doing, they rebelled against the medical wisdom of their day. Against doctor’s orders, they imagined a new form of American masculinity that celebrated the virtues of the viral. In their works, I was fascinated by the number of shapes these infectious visions took, from the risky intimacies cultivated among queer barebacking subcultures in response to the AIDS epidemic to the rejection of the sanitizing psychiatric labels and coercive therapies applied to gay men in the 1950s and 60s.

Rather than embracing an ideal of impenetrable masculinity, these writers believed that individual body, as well as the body of the nation, becomes healthier and more robust as it drops its defenses. They help us to envision an alternative form of manhood that dictates that the body remain open, incorporating and adapting to those elements that others identify as ‘threats.’ This alternative masculinity, of course, is not beyond critique. Its glorification of risk and resilience (“what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger”) might simply replace one masculine ideal with another. But by celebrating the value and even the pleasures of contamination, it is a masculinity that is “toxic” in the most positive sense of the word.

 

Examining the global migration crisis, human rights, and xenophobia

This week in North Philly Notes, Heather Smith-Cannoy, editor of Emerging Threats to Human Rights, asks, Do things really get better once forced migrants escape dangerous conditions? 

In September of 2015, the tiny body of a 3-year old Syrian refugee washed ashore in Greece. The gut-wrenching image of a small, innocent child trying to escape a brutal civil war with his family, only to drown in route to a better life, was not one that I could shake. Little Aylan Kurdi’s tragic journey struck me especially hard because he was the same age as my son. Until that day my research on human rights had always been about the impact of laws on people in far off places—women in Hungary, civilians in UN protected combat zones, and political prisoners in Central Asia. But the image of his small body, face down on the shore fundamentally changed the way that I think about human rights in a rapidly changing world.

Emerging Threats to Human RIghtsEmerging Threats to Human Rights is my attempt to look beyond the traditional boundaries that defined how I had thought about global human rights.  Rather than studying one group of people, in one particular county, Aylan Kurdi’s story showed me to that to wrestle with emerging threats to human rights in our world, I needed to look across the human experience to understand both the causes of flight and the possibilities for the fulfillment of rights after flight. In other words, do things really get better once forced migrants escape dangerous conditions?

In collaborating with the talented academics, attorneys, and activists that contributed to this volume, we arrived at three interwoven themes that capture a new way of thinking about human rights within a process of migration. When sea levels rise, for example, where will people who call small island nations their home go to seek refuge and what will be the status of their rights what they arrive in that new community? If violence erupts in one’s country of residence and they flee, do they have a chance to improve their lives in their new country? When governments dismantle citizenship rights, effectively stripping people of their legal status, what happens when they try to escape?

Collectively, this anthology examines three causes of migration—resource depletion, violence and deprivation of citizenship, which, to varying degrees compel people to leave their homes in search of safety and a better life. We find that violence generates more refugees than resource depletion and deprivation of citizenship but together these chapters show that escape is only the beginning of the story. When people escape dangerous conditions, their prospects for a full life depend critically on where they land and how they get there. Contributors Money and Western conduct a global macro analysis of rights fulfillment in one chapter. They show that the fate of forced migrants depends on three factors of the host state—governance quality, access to resources, and the availability of citizenship for new migrants.

Contributor Kerstin Fisk shows that when refugees from the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Ethiopia sought asylum in South Africa, they were instead subjected to organized xenophobic violence carried out with the support of the South African government. In the chapter I wrote, I show that as Rohingya refugees are stripped of citizenship by their government in Myanmar, they run for their lives to boats waiting at sea. Traffickers use the opportunity to exploit people desperate to escape genocide. The cover image of the book shows some of those Rohingya refugees who made it out of Myanmar successfully. That image comes from the largest refugee camp in the world, Cox’s Bazaar in Bangladesh.

In the time it took to put this volume together, the global migration crisis has only intensified. The UN High Commissioner for Refugees reports that as of September 2019, there are more than 70.8 million forcibly displaced people worldwide, unquestionably the worst migration crisis on record. I hope that Emerging Threats to Human Rights will start a conversation about the human rights and human dignity of the world’s growing migrant population and serve to counteract a rising tide of xenophobia.

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