Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Subtle Censorship?

I blogged earlier about UCSB professor William I. Robinson, who sent his students an email essentially saying the Israelis are the same as the Nazis. MuzzleWatch, if you recall, urged its readers to express support for the professor.

Here's a bit more on that.

A group at UCSB organized a panel to support Robinson, whose adherence to the school's ethics code is apparently being investigated by the school's Academic Senate. All of the panelists were united in opposing any investigation of the professor.

Here's what one Nobel Prize-winning UCSB professor said of this uniformity of opinions:

“It’s unfortunate that the constitution of the panel was one-sided,” [Walter] Kohn said. “I was wondering how four highly intelligent people who knew that they all had very similar viewpoints didn’t feel embarrassed to be up there without anyone from the other side of the argument.”

According to another observer,

All four panelists at the rally — sorry, “forum” — asserted that academic freedom requires the testing of ideas through dialog and intellectual exploration, yet there was little room for dialog or honest exploration on Thursday night. All four speakers agreed that academic freedom requires critical analysis of complex situations, but their talks were, for the most part, highly polemical. It is telling that they never once challenged or disagreed with one another on any point.

Valid points. But do I think this contrived, one-sided forum constitutes subtle censorship, as my headline might suggest? Not really. It is what it is: A one-sided panel meant not to challenge the audience by forcing them to weigh varying opinions, but to sway the audience to a particular point of view. It's certainly not academic freedom at its finest, but I'm sure all sides of all controversies sometimes do this.

I can only wonder, though, if this forum is the type of thing that MuzzleWatch, with their oversized and overactive "Muzzle" stamp, would label as a form of censorship if the panelists were all of the opposite point of view.

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