Free speech not academic freedom

Article by Catallaxy Files /
June 06, 2017 /
Click here to view original /

QUT academic Brian McNair has gotten himself into a bit of trouble.

A Queensland university is in damage control after one of its ­academics, Scottish-trained media professor Brian McNair, described Islam as “a cancer on the planet”.

Here is the offending tweet.

I don’t know Brian McNair but I do regularly read his stuff at The Conversation.

Lauren Rosewarne raises some interesting questions:

“Numerous questions are plaguing me about this issue; questions QUT are no doubt similarly wrestling with.

Should a scholar’s personal condemnation of Islam be protected under academic freedom?

Do views articulated on Facebook or Twitter fall under the banner of work product? What part does possibly-fleeting red mist and posted-on-the-weekend play in all of this?

Do our audiences have any duty to distinguish between our weekday political musings and our weekend emotional outbursts if they’re delivered via the same media?

Generally I think censoring should be the absolute last resort. Just because I don’t agree with someone shouldn’t be grounds to gag them. It’s a courtesy I’d like extended to me.”

Now it isn’t clear to me that McNair’s tweet should be covered by academic freedom. Tweeting is not his job and his twitter account doesn’t belong to his employer. Indeed his employer isn’t even identified on his account. It should, however, be covered by freedom of speech.

Lauren makes some important points that I think people should reflect on more broadly:

“Brian’s words however, pointed the finger at people 1.6 billion people. I have Muslim friends. And Muslim students. And Muslim colleagues. I suspect Brian does too. So how can they all get tarred with the same brush as the London perps? Why are we expecting them to somehow police their brothers? Am I responsible for the crimes committed by every woman? Every white person? Every atheist? Every academic? What personal convictions do I need to renounce out of fear that a ragtag bunch of disenfranchised thugs might watch a Youtube video, misinterpret my beliefs, and decide to fetish our deaths?”

The old question – Am I my brother’s keeper? Unless you have just actually murdered your brother the answer must be “No”.