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Juggling and Free Speech? Article for THES Dec 06

Juggling and Free Speech  

My son went to a ‘posh’ university.  You know the kind I mean?  Squares, lawns, masters and all that.  I recall that his graduation was a stunningly hot summer’s day.  And as I looked around at the brightest and the best from around the world, I wondered about the experience for him and reflected on my own, as a mature student, less than ten years previous.

So I asked him what he thought he’d learnt during his three years.  “Juggling”, he said, as he produced three small balls and demonstrated.

Now here am I, a decade or so later, still trying to juggle.

The difference is, I’m trying to juggle concepts of freedom, boycotts and speech.

Someone posed a question on this blogsite asking me about academic boycotts, and what my views are.  I have to confess that I have not found this an easy question to answer.

Does an academic boycott mean a constraint on academic freedom?  Does a constraint on academic freedom lead to an attack on free speech?  Does an attack on free speech result in …  it goes on and on and on.

Is an academic boycott different from a cultural or sporting boycott?

Is a boycott a sanction by another name?

What was it about apartheid that said a sporting boycott was acceptable?  Did the lack of international cricket, rugby and athletics really help bring about the end of the pariah status of South Africa?

And, moreover, is the question really about absolutes?  I don’t know.

What I do know is this.

If the argument against boycotts is that working-class people are impoverished, in one or more of those areas, then there has to be serious consideration.

However, if a boycott, of any kind, cultural, academic, sporting and, most importantly, economic, is not only designed to, but actually does help bring about change for the better, then “yes”, boycotts are valid.

It is an unanswerable question and I could only attempt to answer if the question was more expressly put.  

I have to admit, I’m having trouble keeping all my balls in the air.


December 19, 2006 Posted by | Academic Boycotts? | 2 Comments