It appears that Sandra Y.L. Korn, a Harvard senior focusing on the history of science and studies of women/gender/sexuality, might have been sick the day they covered the “First Amendment” in her class.

That is, is any of her courses actually covered the US Constitution  (hat-tip, Captain Capitalism, Aaron Clarey).

…Yet the liberal obsession with “academic freedom” seems a bit misplaced to me. After all, no one ever has “full freedom” in research and publication. Which research proposals receive funding and what papers are accepted for publication are always contingent on political priorities. The words used to articulate a research question can have implications for its outcome. No academic question is ever “free” from political realities. If our university community opposes racism, sexism, and heterosexism, why should we put up with research that counters our goals simply in the name of “academic freedom”?

Instead, I would like to propose a more rigorous standard: one of “academic justice.” When an academic community observes research promoting or justifying oppression, it should ensure that this research does not continue.

…Over winter break, Harvard published a statement responding to the American Studies Association’s resolution to boycott Israeli academic institutions until Israel ends its occupation of Palestine. Much of the conversation around this academic boycott has focused on academic freedom. Opponents of the boycott claim that it restricts the freedom of Israeli academics or interrupts the “free flow of ideas.” Proponents of the boycott often argue that the boycott is intended to, in the end, increase, not restrict, academic freedom—the ASA points out that “there is no effective or substantive academic freedom for Palestinian students and scholars under conditions of Israeli occupation.”

In this case, discourse about “academic freedom” obscures what should fundamentally be a political argument. Those defending the academic boycott should use a more rigorous standard. The ASA, like three other academic associations, decided to boycott out of a sense of social justice, responding to a call by Palestinian civil society organizations for boycotts, divestment, and sanctions until Israel ends its occupation of Palestine. People on the right opposed to boycotts can play the “freedom” game, calling for economic freedom to buy any product or academic freedom to associate with any institution. Only those who care about justice can take the moral upper hand.

It is tempting to decry frustrating restrictions on academic research as violations of academic freedom. Yet I would encourage student and worker organizers to instead use a framework of justice. After all, if we give up our obsessive reliance on the doctrine of academic freedom, we can consider more thoughtfully what is just.