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I am a Third Order Franciscan of the Province of the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus.

Wednesday, October 12, 2005

Fordham, abortion, Irish studies and academic freedom

From a report of the New York Newsday:

Fordham University is re-inviting Irish activist Ivana Bacik to appear at the Jesuit-run institution to quash allegations that she had been blackballed because of her advocacy of abortion rights.

Because we certainly wouldn't want advocacy of abortion rights to be an issue at a Jesuit-run institution.

Bacik's formal complaint that her academic freedom had been violated -- and the withdrawal in protest several days later of the next speaker in the series, Irish cultural critic Fintan O'Toole -- were the subjects of an emergency meeting Wednesday afternoon of the executive committee of the university's Irish Studies Institute.

Because academic freedom means being able to speak wherever and whenever you want.

"We investigated what had happened and we don't find there was any intent or effort by Fordham or by the [Irish Studies] Institute to censor Professor Bacik for her pro-choice stands," Swiontkowski [Director of the Irish Studies Institute] said. "If anything, the sin was bending over backwards for a donor."

Yes, that's the sin.

There is so much wrong with this decision, but I want to address the issue of academic freedom. Academic freedom doesn't give Bacik the right to speak at Fordham and not speaking at Fordham certainly didn't threaten her position at an Irish institution. Ideas have consequences and it's disappointing that while many academics seek praise and adulation for their ideas, they immediately cry foul at the first sign of opposition. While Bacik should have the right to speak at Fordham in the name of academic freedom, Fordham should not have the right to not have Bacik speak in the name of that same academic freedom. It seems to me that once someone is being forced to listen to another's ideas we are no longer talking about freedom - at least as its commonly understood.

But perhaps we can use this to our advantage. I could certainly use a few more speaking engagements and would like to get the financial benefits that come from this - so I am going to start writing universities demanding that they allow me to speak there. If they refuse, I will declare that my academic freedom is being violated until they submit. At least it should work at Fordham.


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