- Pedagogies of Dissent
That academic freedom is under attack is something of a commonplace observation, and understandably so. There is ample evidence to be drawn from across the world and more locally in support of such a claim. The Scholars at Risk Network's recent publication, Free to Think 2017, covers 257 reported attacks on higher education communities in thirty-five countries in just the past year.1 These include the violent suppression of organized student protests by state authorities in Venezuela, South Africa, Niger, Cameroon, Turkey, and India, as well as repression through travel restrictions in such countries as China, Turkey, Israel, Uganda, Thailand, and the United States. The report also includes legislative activities that threaten the autonomy and viability of higher education institutions, a phenomenon clearly notable in the United States. The consequences of all this, Scholars at Risk finds, run the gamut from killings and disappearances to restrictions on the content of teaching and research, and to fines, dismissal, and imprisonment. Other organizations and studies report similar repressive and suppressive activities, and importantly take note of the growing influence of private interests—corporations and overtly ideological organizations—on restrictions to academic freedom.2 In brief, there is no shortage of evidence that academic freedom is insecure, fragile, vulnerable.
In the United States, we know such vulnerability across all levels of education is produced through a wide range of state and state-authorized activities including the Arizona anti-ethnic studies movement and legislation; the enactment in ten states and the pending status of legislation in several others of "campus carry" laws providing for the possession of concealed weapons in public universities and colleges;3 the intensive defunding of public schools again at all levels;4 "bathroom bills" that regulate access to public facilities; the promised defunding of science and especially climate research; and the repeated attempts at both state and federal levels to enact laws that would refuse public funding or otherwise penalize individuals and institutions who criticize Israel in any way. Indeed, people who have mounted criticisms of Israel, or who have spoken out against racism or sexualized violence, have found themselves [End Page 155] targets of administrative censure and have faced aggressive harassment through online campaigns.5 The autonomy of both educational institutions and educators on which the principle of academic freedom is grounded, arguably always fictional, is these days aggressively challenged both by state activities and by unfettered incursions of the interests of capital, as well as by private, ideologically driven groups.
All this contributes to the sense that we are under siege, that public education in particular and especially higher education is in crisis, and that it and both its current and aspirational communities need defense. The question that has long been and currently resurges before us is the matter of how to respond—how to protect and defend colleges and universities from unwanted and unwarranted intrusion by nonacademic forces. It is this question I linger with in my remarks today. An enormous amount of literature already exists that details the conditions we currently face, including some that provide strategies for mobilizing against them.6 My remarks are somewhat differently skewed though similarly oriented. In this address, I take what I think of as a pedagogical approach to the question of defense, to raise some questions I believe necessary to engage in the formulation of responses to the current scene. For, it seems to me, there is work to do in sinking into the question of defense, or more precisely, to question defensiveness itself and the defensive posture that current conditions (try to) impose so strongly on us. This work is related to what we do as people committed to thinking hard together in our capacities as teachers, students, and scholars, oftentimes all at once. To my mind, while there is no question of the need to stand by and with people living the consequences of expressing dissent, there are many that arise in relation to the defense of academic freedom, a principle, or the university, an institution.7 I want to bring to bear how we fight against defensiveness—our own as well as our students'—in classroom settings, in...