Twisting in Hot Air

Some news out there that is troubling for anyone concerned about intellectual freedom. The University of San Francisco Law Review edited out a section of an archived article when one of the parties in a lawsuit discussed in the article threatened to sue. The publisher couldn’t afford to go to court. The author couldn’t either. And the author’s institution – the University of Oregon – wouldn’t agree to foot the bill, even though there was a high likelihood of winning. Moral of the story? If you don’t like something an academic publishes, threaten to sue. Even if you don’t have a hope of winning, you might be able to edit the record just by being a nuisance.

Or just legislate it out of existence. In France, lawmakers have passed a law that requires textbooks to paint French colonial history in a positive light. In spite of recent events, parliament voted to uphold this la vie en rose approach to history. If you’re having trouble getting your legislators to pay attention, a little talk radio can help. A few years ago our own Congress voted to condemn an article published in The Bulletin of the American Psychological Assocation after a vigorous public campaign by Dr. Laura to discredit it.

More recently, one of the authors of that article had his article yanked from The Journal of Homosexuality when a right-wing group caught wind of its imminent publication. The press has since agreed to publish the other articles in the issue and even, apparently, to publish the offending article in a future supplement. Haworth’s Editor in Chief said delaying publication made sense because it “was unnecessarily controversial in the current social and political climate.” Um … isn’t then exactly when we need to talk about controversial things?

This seems to me to be an issue academic librarians need to follow closely. We believe in making many different perspectives available in our collections. But that’ll be difficult if those perspectives are never published.

Author: Barbara Fister

I'm an academic librarian at Gustavus Adolphus College in St. Peter, Minnesota. Like all librarians at our small, liberal arts institution I am involved in reference, collection development, and shared management of the library. My area of specialization is instruction, with research interests also in media literacy, popular literacy, publishing, and assessment.

One thought on “Twisting in Hot Air”

  1. And here’s another one: “U. of Kansas Professor Pulls Plug on Course Designed to Debunk Intelligent Design” in the Chronicle. Gee, whatever happend to teaching the controversy? Of course the professor was embarrassed when some intemperate e-mail messages he assumed were private and off the cuff surfaced, as they so often do. Which is a reminder that it’s a good idea to think of a wider audience whenever writing or speaking in the heat of the moment, and that goes double for us academics as public intellectuals (even when you think you’re in private).

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