Barbara Weinstein & Waskar Ari: The risks to academic freedom in a 9-11 world

Historians in the News

Barbara Weinstein made a stand Thursday night by calling for the prevention of government intervention in the academic community.

Weinstein, a history professor at New York University, spoke as part of the sixth annual Carroll R. Pauley Memorial Lecture at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, calling out restrictions set by the government on records, visa applications and other limits to academic freedom.

Her lecture was followed by a response from Waskar Ari, UNL professor of history and ethnic studies. Weinstein spoke about the need to value academic freedom in an age of increased security regulations.

The suppression of academic freedom also includes what Weinstein refers to as the withdrawal of government records.

Weinstein said this was a problem because laws already exist that classify documents for national security reasons and felt the latest executive order was only meant to protect the lives of the privileged and powerful.

In a post Sept. 11 world, she said, the government has interfered with academic life, specifically regarding the denial of visas.

Much of the discussion featured examples from Ari's experience. Ari was not issued a U.S. visa for more than two years despite having previously residing in the United States.

"Perhaps someone in a position of authority finally realized it was ridiculous to deny a visa to a man who had already lived, taught and worked in U.S. territory," said Weinstein.

Weinstein discussed restrictions the U.S. government put on several other professors, who, like Ari, were never given a reason for not receiving a visa.

"We won't ever be given a legal explanation (for their denial into the country)," Weinstein said.

She said this was especially dangerous because once the government decides who is too dangerous to enter the country to teach, doors open to the government censoring ideas.

"Once the government shifts to restricting ideas, we should all worry," Weinstein said.

Ari responded to the comments Weinstein made in her lecture.

"There are circumstances beyond your control, (but) you can't let it stop you or keep you down. I learned no matter what, we can still make it a better world," he said.

Ari said during the 10 years he lived in the United States prior to 2005, he had come to think of himself as a trans-national scholar, someone who could travel and communicate ideas and culture beyond borders.

After receiving his visa, which lasts for 10 years, Ari is thinking to the future.

"I will keep teaching with the same love and care."

Read entire article at Daily Nebraskan (Student newspaper)

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