Free Speech, Academic Freedom and Neo-liberalism in Higher Education

November 07 '2019 5:00 pm – 6:30 pm

Stager 102 Stahr Auditorium

  • Joan Wallach Scott Joan Wallach Scott

A lecture by
Dr.  Joan Wallach Scott
Professor Emerita, School of Social Science, Institute for Advenced Study, Princeton, N.J.

The crises of higher education are multi-tiered and so, too, are any potential solutions. In her lecture, Dr.  Scott will invite us to think through the relationship between state power and higher education with a particular emphasis on the differences between the First Amendment right of free speech and the guarantee of academic freedom. In response to recent campus controversies over the politics of civility, Scott contends that while the implementation of academic freedom always falls short of its promise, it remains essential as an ideal of ethical practice. Academic freedom, which defends the pursuit of knowledge wherever it leads, is not an elitist activity but a practice vital for the exercise of democracy and the promotion of the common good.  Those values – knowledge, democracy, and the common good – must be reasserted in defense of higher education and against the resurgence of anti-intellectualism American society is experiencing today. If the production of knowledge is fundamental to progress, then the best answer to anti-intellectualism is intellectualism – not the watering down of ideas or search for popular consensus, not the notion that all ideas are worthy of respect, but the more difficult task of honing our critical capabilities, cultivating them in our students, and insisting on their value even in the face of ridicule, harassment, and repression.

Joan Wallach Scott is Professor Emerita in the School of Social Science at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, New Jersey. Scott’s groundbreaking work has challenged the foundations of conventional historical practice, including the nature of historical evidence and historical experience and the role of narrative in the writing of history.  Broadly, the object of her work is the question of difference in history: its uses, enunciations, implementations, justifications, and transformations in the construction of social and political life. Scott’s recent books have focused on the vexed relationship of the particularity of gender to the universalizing force of democratic politics.  They include Gender and the Politics of History (1988), Only Paradoxes to Offer:  French Feminists and the Rights of Man (1996), Parité:  Sexual Equality and the Crisis of French Universalism (2005), The Politics of the Veil (2007), The Fantasy of Feminist History (2011), Sex and Secularism (2017), and Knowledge, Power, and Academic Freedom (2018).  In addition to being a world-renowned scholar, Scott has long been active in the American Academy of University Professors and is a member of AAUP’s Committee A on Academic Freedom and Tenure.

This event is sponsored by the Departments of History, Religious Studies, Anthropology, French and Women's, Gender and Sexuality Studies; the Alice Drum Women's Center;  and the F&M chapter of the American Association of University Professors; with generous support from the Miller Humanities Fund.