In the light of both the Gilley case
(“The case for colonialism”) and the Tuvel case
(“In Defense of Transracialism”) I’ve been thinking a lot about what an appropriate response would be to the originators (and signers) of the petitions that called for the retraction of their papers on the grounds that they were defending views that were “offensive”.
If you organize a mob to demand someone else’s work be silenced then you have horribly misunderstood your role as an academic–or else you just don’t care about it. (I think you’ve also misunderstood your moral obligations as a rational person, but I’m willing to accept that “activists” might have different duties in these cases than academics.) As I noted earlier
rather than attempting to silence persons you disagree with you should attempt to rebut their views. If you claim that you shouldn’t do this as this would “dignify” the view you disagree with then you have simply abdicated your role as an academic. In any case, refusing to engage with views you disagree with and demanding their retraction is a clear example of professional misconduct.
So, what to do about “academics” who try to silence those they disagree with? I have a suggestion–which despite the Swiftian title of this post is absolutely serious.
Institutions should require that faculty
who originate such petitions (and, perhaps, even those who sign them) to publish a peer-reviewed article rebutting the views they disagree with to be eligible for any future additional research support from their home institution. (I’d also suggest that the rebuttal should appear in a journal ranked the same or higher than that in which the “offensive” article appeared, and be at least as long as it was, so that “Response Notes” in low-ranked journals don’t count. The rebuttal should also be published in a journal in the same field as the article that is being criticized, not
in a journal in the field of the faculty member doing the criticizing, if this is different. Thus, if an English professor criticizes the work on an economist, published in an economics journal, then the rebuttal must also be published in an economics journal.) This requirement would have several advantages:
First, it would clearly indicate that the institution that imposed this requirement on its “activist” faculty took the free exchange of ideas very seriously.
Second, it would require that the critical faculty member demonstrate that his concerns are legitimate–and that they are recognized as such by the academic peers of the original author.
Third, it would impose some costs on those who demand retractions. The required article would be more time-consuming to write than a petition and would take time to pass through peer-review before acceptance. During this time the faculty member would receive no additional research support–no course release, no conference funding, no technology grants, no research assistants, no sabbaticals.
Fourth, this suggestion would not involve taking anything away from those guilty of misconduct. It would simply withhold (or, in some cases, withdraw) benefits. And the benefits withheld would be those designed to aid in the free exchange of ideas–an enterprise that the faculty member guilty of such misconduct has shown his- or herself unwilling to engage in. This response would this be a fitting one for misconduct of this nature.
Finally, the faculty members thus castigated could not claim that they are being “censored” or “shut down”. They are not. In fact, this approach is the very opposite of silencing–it’s requiring them to express their views in a manner coherent enough to warrant publication.