Trinity to hold conference on freedom of speech on the academic boycott of Israel

Professor Steven Salaita, who was denied a professorship over his views on Israel is due to speak at the event

Trinity College will hold a conference on the Freedom of Speech and Higher Education: The case of the Academic boycott of Israel this Monday and Tuesday. The conference will take place in the Synge and Robert Emmet lecture theatres.

The conference will be interdisciplinary, and will include law, the arts, social science and humanities. It will involve academics from Ireland and abroad with practical experience of the issues around freedom in higher education.

Speaking to Trinity News, Dr Conor McCarty, a lecture in English at the University of Maynooth and co-organiser of the event said: “The conference is about the problems surrounding the idea and practice of academic freedom in our era, an era where all Irish universities, including TCD, are run increasingly on corporate lines and with commercial or economic imperatives driving academic activity.  The question we want to ask is this: how does the principle of academic freedom survive in such conditions?  How does academic freedom survive a situation where increasing numbers of young scholars and academics are hired on temporary or precarious contracts?”.

McCarty also added: “What we hope to come from the conference would be a clear and bold airing of the questions hedging and surrounding dissenting activity of any kind on modern university campuses, whether that activity involves students, researchers or lecturers and professors”. “If we can show how far our universities have departed from the great models of Newman and Humboldt, then we will be pleased.”

Steven Salaita is due to speak at the conference on the “Freedom to boycott: BDS and the modern University”. Salaita was denied a professorship in University of Illinois due to his views on Israel/Palestine. Salaita’s offer of professorship was withdrawn after a series of tweets send by Prof Salaita which included “If you’re defending #Israel right now you’re an awful human being”.

Kathleen Lynch, Chair of Equality Studies at University College Dublin, will also speak at the conference on “Academic Freedom: New and old challenges.”

In a statement by Trinity College, the organisers said that the role of the public university in fostering academic freedom will be the dominant theme of the conference.

Earlier this year the Israeli ambassador to Ireland, Ze’ev Boker, was prevented from speaking in the university by a group called Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP).  Trinity Provost Patrick Prendergast condemned the incident.

Sarah Meehan

Sarah is a 2nd year German and Economics student.