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Tuesday, August 3, 2021

Self-Censorship in the University: A Breach of Academic Freedom

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Derrida’s thesis is simple: It is in the space of the “new humanities” that another concept of man can be elaborated. But this thesis also suggests a whole program, required by this profession of faith in the university and in the humanities of tomorrow. What institutions should be built to establish this unconditionality?

How can we understand these profound mutations in progress (globalization, virtualization techniques, “cyberdemocracy,” the status of sovereignty, the reaffirmation of human rights and performative advances)? It is up to the university, Derrida maintains, to cultivate this space of resistance and invention. It is within it that everything must be questioned, put at a distance, deconstructed.

This quest suggests the cultivation and protection of democratic freedoms: freedom of conscience, of teaching, of research, of creation, freedom for the professor to exercise his professorial functions far from given dogmas or doctrines. Indeed, nothing is taboo, hence the freedom to criticize society, institutions, doctrines, dogmas, laws, public policies, university policies….

Democracy and Relativism of Values

This ideal of unconditionality is now threatened by a creeping relativism of values carried by claims made in the name of equality, inclusion and respect for the various markers of diversity, within academic institutions. Proponents of this trend claim to be concerned that certain materials and activities at the university are likely to undermine the identity of certain communities. (See a related article, “Self-Censorship in Arab Higher Education: an Untold Problem.”)

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In an investigation of this phenomenon, the French newspaper Le Figaro noted in an article published on July  29, 2020, a number of cases of censorship, threats and violence that have posed obstacles to freedom of expression in French universities. Here is a non-exhaustive list of this difficulty of freedom of expression: a conference on Napoleon, canceled; an ancient Greek play, postponed; a course on the prevention of “radicalization,” also postponed.

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