Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Limits of academic freedom (Netherlands)

Is this familiar?

After almost 40 years of lecturing at Utrecht University and with his eyesight failing, professor Piet van der Horst was looking forward to delivering his retirement lecture last summer. He decided to talk on the myth of Jewish cannibalism, a perennial anti-Semitic theme, and part and parcel of his field of expertise, Judaism in the Hellenistic period. As is customary in the Netherlands, he also decided to add a timely twist to his farewell lecture: the resurfacing of the myth of Jewish cannibalism in contemporary Islamic society [as evidenced by] the proliferation of anti-Semitic cartoons, TV-shows, sermons and the like ... particularly in Iran, Syria and the Palestinian territories.

However, Van der Horst was not to deliver his lecture. Flanked by three tenured professors, the university’s dean told Van der Horst that his lecture was academically sub-standard and would, if delivered, create an immediate security risk.

“It was the most humiliating moment of my life,” Van der Horst says. “I was grilled for one and a half hours by the dean and his co-conspirators. At some point I was so confused that I started to wander if they were right. That I had really gone mad. That was how intimidating it was.”
Did professor Van der Horst find solidarity among his fellow intellectual workers in Academe? In a word, no.
When queried by Dutch national daily newspaper, De Volkskrant, eight out of ten supported the decision, arguing that there are limits to academic freedom.
Funny how those limits are so selectively applied.

I have added it to the list.

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