The Duck of Minerva

ISA Takes Strong Stand for Academic Freedom

31 January 2017

In a letter released today, the International Studies Association has taken a strong stand against Trump’s Executive Order closing US borders to nationals of several Muslim-majority states:

As a scholarly organization, ISA has a professional obligation to promote and protect the values of academic freedom. As such, the ISA strongly condemns any action by any government which prevents the free movement of scholars engaged in research on international affairs, or any other scholarly discipline. Indeed, the charter of the Academic Freedom Committee of the ISA includes the following language: “The Committee will document such violations as: government revocation of academic degrees; demotion or dismissal; denial of a petition to emigrate, travel abroad or return to one’s country of origin; and arrest, arbitrary detention, disappearance, and extrajudicial killing.”

This order, which has already been challenged in Federal Courts, is an infringement upon the academic freedom of scholars from those countries who wish to travel to the United States to conduct research, collaborate with colleagues, and engage in conferences and conventions. It will cause serious disruption in the lives of scholars and students who, prior to the issuing of the order, had already undergone the complex and time-consuming process for obtaining the necessary papers for travel. It may also violate the constitutional rights of scholars and students who are in lawful permanent resident status. Finally, it constitutes a serious disruption of the business of our upcoming 2017 Annual Convention, in Baltimore.

According to the ISA, this stronger statement was percolating through the ISA governing process even before ISA members began reacting in support of such a statement.  Former ISA President Robert Keohane collected 150 signatures on a letter to the Association yesterday speaking out firmly in the name of academic freedom.  A separate open letter was circulated on the #ISA2017 twitter feed.

In addition to strongly condemning the EO, the ISA leadership encourages attendance at two impromptu roundtables at the Baltimore conference where academic freedom issues will be discussed further. ISA members as well as the concerned public may attend these roundtables, Wednesday, February 22, at 10:30am and Saturday, February 25, at 1:45pm.

Meanwhile, there is much debate on Twitter among IR scholars about what else the Association might appropriately do to support colleagues trapped outside US borders in the run-up to the Baltimore conference. Many have emphasized the importance of working with the hotel to ensure all meeting rooms, including those for business meetings, contain audio-visual equipment for Skyping in scholars from overseas. Another suggestion I’ve heard is that, besides reimbursing / waiving any penalties for those unable to travel to ISA2017, ISA might consider extending the same courtesy to those who choose to boycott the conference. As Mara Pillinger tweets, “Boycotters shouldn’t pay a professional price for acting on principles.”

I am sure many of you have additional ideas and hope you’ll share them here in comments, on the #ISA2017 twitter feed or by contacting the ISA Academic Freedom Committee at academic- ISA also particularly requests scholars affected by this EO contact the committee at this email address.

Generally, I am heartened by these developments – not only the strong and swift response from the leadership today, but also the outpouring of enthusiastic support yesterday from so many ISA members, on behalf of our colleagues in other nations. This is human rights and democracy at work. Personally, I am planning to attend the Convention at this point, and encourage those who can to come and join a conversation about the role of responsible scholarship and scholarly associations in the new political environment.