Real Academic Freedom Requires Academic and Legal Accountability

As a lifelong, now retired, professor of psychology and counselor education specializing in professional ethics and  standards, as well being practicing  clinical mental health counselor, I strongly believe in and am a huge defender of free speech and academic freedom. People should be able to say anything they want to say, no matter how challenging or egregious it may be to others. Having difficult discussions and needing to hear and cope with sometimes distasteful and hurtful perspectives is frequently necessary to arrive at understanding and achieve resolution. Facts, perspectives and feelings need to be shared and clarified if resolution is ever to be achieved. And yet, there must be consequences for using rhetoric and behaviors to incite violent and discriminatory resolutions against non-combatant and innocent civilians solely on the bases of national origin, which is the sole intention of academic Boycott Divestment and Sanctions (BDS), currently being reflected in a growing trend in academia.

In a democracy, “academic freedom” is defined pretty much by the rule of law and the binding power of contractual agreements and policies between educational institutions and their employees (faculty), as well as the policies and standards that faculty and institutions choose to invoke with accreditation bodies that create standards for institutional and program accreditation as well, in many instances faculty certifications. Most of the laws and policies regarding employee relations, institutional and program accreditation and certification of faculty have clauses dealing with either the illegal, unethical or improper nature of discrimination based upon national origin, all of which constitutes issues of “moral turpitude,” which in most universities is grounds for dismissal, even for tenured full bulls (professors).

Yet more and more of faculty colleagues share a very different view and believe, with both arrogance and impunity, that an academic affiliation entitles them to say and act out on anything they want, about any subject, at any place and time with guaranteed protection by their institutions, academic disciplines and unions in the name of academic freedom and freedom of speech.

With complete disregard for: 1)  “moral turpitude, “behavior unbecoming” or defaming the institution, the accreditation or certification body or other such accountability clauses in employment and accreditation agreements; 2) anti-discrimination policies and laws based on both law and operational and accreditation policies and; 3) quite possibly in violation of not-for-profit  tax status of specifically chartered academic institutions, associations and accreditation bodies, faculty will engage in highly political and discriminatory rhetoric, practices and behaviors they believe are protected, by law, policy and practice to engage in activities using their institutional and organizational affiliations as cover. Actually these actions are very sanctionable as matters of law and policy violations. Simply put, a professor is not hired to use their title, position and university resource as operational, non-academic political activism of a non-academic and discriminatory nature, which violates condition of employment and possibly puts the institution at risk.

Such behaviors include, but are not limited to: using university resources such as communications and facilities, students and travel funds to pursue their political agendas such as BDS at professional association meetings or staging areas for particular political causes.

While educational institutions and academic associations are created, charged and attempt to advance learning, teaching, research and new knowledge, they were not incorporated and chartered to be political headquarters for political agendas subsidized by tax-exempt institutional support.

Yes, public debate about difficult issues is encouraged, but groups on campus that promote discriminatory, often with genocidal  agendas, where the rhetoric and behaviors are designed to incite , intimidate and be disruptive to the primary mission of the university should be challenged.

To those who would say that the college and university setting is a place where previously held life long personal beliefs are confronted and challenged, there is no argument as challenges to belief and understandings is part of the mission of a university. However it is objectionable and actionable is when chartered and funded student or faculty groups establish a beachhead in a university to promote any activity that is both discriminatory and frequently genocidal on the basis of national origin. The function of BDS is not peace, equal opportunity, national recognition or justice for Palestinians, but the discrimination against and elimination of Israel for merely existing and an expression of frustration after continually losing its 70+ years of declared war to make the region Jew-free.

The premise of BDS lacks academic integrity and its adoption is “academic malpractice” and “academic dishonesty”- a “moral turpitude” issue which can and should result in being released from the institution.

Scholars of good will, in both their academic associations and academic institutions, in tackling issue of BDS, must examine the long-established academic principles that make  BDS antithetical to principles of academic freedom, integrity, excellence and accountability and the local, state and federal laws regarding scope of acceptable covered behaviors in not-for-profit corporate charters,  agreements of employment and policies governing  acceptable and non-acceptable behaviors for employment retention and finally,  definitions of what is and isn’t permissible scope of practice, behavior and expertise to advocate for academics within a discipline and institution.

The days of “anything goes needs” to be challenged by peers and institutions, both intellectually and legally,  with enforcing the old and creating new measures of accountability. A good hard professional, ethical and legal look at responsible and accountable behaviors vs. irresponsible, perhaps ethical, moral and illegal behaviors by faculty needs to be undertaken to stem the rising tide of discrimination, intimidation and demonization of others as a perceived academic freedom is necessary.

About the Author
Retired College Professor, President Emeritus & Co-Founder Scholars for Peace in the Middle East. Founding Publisher and Editor Kol Central Pa; Philadelphia JCRC; Academic Engagement Network, Residing in Huntingdon Valley, Pennsylvania
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