Academics critical of pleas for civility

September 17, 2014

Recent calls from US university administrators for “civility” from scholarly communities have led to a backlash from groups who say that the term is being used to stifle academic freedom. Leaders at Ohio University, Pennsylvania State University, and the University of California at Berkeley each called for “civility” from faculty members in the wake of campus controversies, but critics say that demands for civility in effect censor academics who passionately express their opinions on controversial matters. “Uncomfortable ideas are what we trade in in the academy. That is our job,” said Katherine M Franke, a law professor at Columbia University. Some argue that faculty groups are over-reacting to what are actually innocuous requests; however, the controversy has likely been exacerbated in part by the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign's decision to rescind an offer of a tenure-track appointment to candidate Steven G Salaita over his comments on social media about the conflict in Israel and Gaza. The Chronicle of Higher Education