Eli Capilouto

Open Inquiry is Essential in Higher Education

Published: Jan 14, 2014

A college campus – perhaps more than anywhere else – is a cherished crucible for the free exchange of ideas and beliefs.

 

This is a fundamental characteristic when you consider that our faculty and staff are charged with developing new scholarship, and our students are at an age when their civic and personal philosophies are evolving. Over time, these necessary attributes of a campus have been challenged, debated and protected. Though honoring it can be demanding at times, our commitment to academic freedom, fostered in a safe and respectful environment, is at the core of our work in a university community. It is who we are.

 

Recently, I was reminded again of that fundamental tension as members of the American Studies Association (ASA) endorsed a resolution boycotting Israeli academic institutions for that country’s policies toward Palestine. The proposed boycott has elicited strong responses from other professional organizations in the academy -- ranging from the American Association of University Professors (AAUP) to institutional organizations such as the Association of American Universities (AAU) and the Association of Public and Land-grant Universities (APLU). Administrators and faculty -- individually and collectively -- at several colleges and universities also have engaged in the debate.

 

Their statements clearly indicate a national dialogue, one happening on college and university campuses like ours.  I disagree with the ASA’s resolution to boycott academic institutions in Israel.

 

The values of inquiry and discourse in American academia – applied within a scholar’s responsibilities as an academic – reflect the foundation and principles of our system of higher education.  

 

As institutions of higher learning, in particular, we are tasked with producing independent, testable scholarship, while educating the next generation of civic and business leaders. If we hope to advance our own understanding of the world around us, a scholar’s capacity to build a body of work in his or her field must run unimpeded by politics and external forces. At the heart of that process is the idea that many voices -- sometimes in harmony, sometimes discordant -- are critical to education and community.

 

Our capacity to foster constructive dialogue is at the core of what we do at the University of Kentucky. We should resist at all times temptations -- or voices -- that call on us to circumscribe or inhibit that dialogue. No matter where such temptation comes from, or however well-intentioned it may be, it is a self-defeating proposition.

 

We are better than that.

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