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  • Notes on an Illiberal Pedagogical Mode
  • Soo Ah Kwon (bio)

The University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (U of I) proudly advertised "its outstanding commitment to diversity and inclusion" for receiving the Insight Into Diversity magazine's Higher Education Excellence in Diversity Award four years in a row (from 2013 to 2016).1 This recognition is ironic given the award's overlap with the rescindment of Steven Salaita's appointment as associate professor in the American Indian Studies Program in 2014. His termination led to the censure of the U of I by the American Association of University Professors (AAUP) from 2015 to 2017 for a violation of academic freedom.2 Salaita's highly publicized case underscores the obvious—academic freedom in the United States and abroad is under attack. Yet instead of contemplating our defense against such grave and pressing attacks, Kandice Chuh skillfully asked the audience in her presidential address to critically think through the question of defense itself by "working in a pedagogical mode."

Chuh's eloquent address serves as a provocation, then, to not only attend to a long history of assaults on academic freedom (from Leo Koch to Steven Salaita) but also to think carefully about the seemingly "positive" work we do for our institutions invested in academic freedom. I focus here on the institutional labor that we are all called on to do in regard to the politics of promoting campus diversity. This includes our exertions to expose the institutional celebration of diversity and the ways in which the logic of liberal academic freedom found in institutional diversity abrades this work and may heighten our defensiveness. This attention requires us to take on Chuh's call to collectively develop and put into practice an illiberal mode of pedagogy, or "pedagogies of dissent."

To consider an illiberal mode of pedagogy, Chuh deftly provided a history of academic freedom and the problem it poses for extramural speech. Elaborating on the AAUP's 1915 Declaration of Principles and its 1940 Statement of Principles on Academic Freedom and Tenure, Chuh demonstrated how the logic of professionalization and a legacy of professional elitism have shaped academic freedom to affirm liberalism and legitimate capitalism and colonialism. The two Supreme Court cases that she cited, Sweezy v. New Hampshire in [End Page 173] 1957 and Keyishian v. Board of Regents in 1967, remind us that our professional expertise is of national value in so much that it is articulated as a "common good" bounded by the liberal state. Chuh's analysis of these cases demonstrated the twinning of US nationalism and liberalism and called on us to "defunction this epistemology." Her insights underscore the fact that as instructors and scholars we are professional workers and that the university is our workplace. Hence, it is in our position (particularly for those of us who are tenured) as academic laborers, which the legacy of professionalization has inculcated, that our rights to academic freedom are warranted along with their corresponding duties. In elaborating on AAUP's response to the 1960 academic freedom incident of Leo Koch, professor at the U of I, she importantly noted how civility was deployed as professional competence and respectability, especially in regard to extramural speech. Her account was not only illuminating but critical to our present-day struggle with the concept.

Chuh inspired me to consider how my own professional labor as a scholar and educator at the U of I may affirm liberal academic freedom and mobilize an illiberal pedagogical labor of dissent. In the face of continual racism, white supremacy, and durable social and racial inequities, I am deeply troubled at how those of us who toil to expose and challenge these injustices are also called on to do the work of advocating for diversity for our institutions. Especially as this institutional diversity that many of our universities purport to champion is often antithetical to the work of antiracism and can replicate existing power relations.

Diversity is a positive buzzword publicized by most universities and colleges today. It is found in university mission statements, policies, and programs. Take, for instance, my own institution's "Resolution on Diversity Values Statement." It claims: "As the state's premier public...


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pp. 173-177
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