Monday, July 10, 2023

Academic Freedom and Academic Failure

Naoko Shibusawa is a 20th-century U.S. cultural historian who studies U.S. imperialism and political culture with an interest in the ideas and ideologies that undergird the U.S. empire and foreign policy. I was surprised to see Asian American Studies scholar Naoko Shibusawa suspended from her faculty role. Certainly, with all the strange occurrences, Shibusawa's article, Notes on Solidarity From the Field is a must-read as it has sparked controversy within the academy. This is concerning considering the infringement of academic freedom. 

Just like many, I scratch my head wondering what atrocity from this piece led to the harsh impunity against Shibusawa.   Brown University came down hard on Shibusawa, but is this justified?   As one observer tells it:
 Certainly, while the essay (filled with anecdotes) is a reflection piece on the years of her personal frustration with the hurdles and anti-Asian racism in order to build Asian American studies, it doesn't take much imagination to believe that this was the last straw for a university administration that had enough of Shibusawa and was set on penalizing her and this seemingly innocuous article was just the smoking gun it needed. 

Shibusawa's ambiguity in identifying specific events and persons at Brown University makes it difficult if not impossible to disclose much about Brown University's internal politics and players to justify such punishment.    In fact, a number of her examples of bullying, pettiness, and microaggressions are pretty much a day at the office in the dirty business that is academia.  

As such, numerous organizations, such as the Journal of Asian American Studies, have issued public statements in support of Shibusawa.  The Ending the Korean War Teaching Collective has even proposed that Shibusawa's "ethos of solidarity and the tendency for institutional racism and sexism is actually entrenched under the guise of proceduralism of Brown University.   Some observers suggest that current and former students feel that Brown University's punishment is more a response to Shibusawa's record of campus advocacy, including her support of Palestinian rights, defence of staff of colour, and criticism of Charles Koch's donations to the university.  

Now, to be clear, Shibusawa's piece is a multifaceted and complex piece that requires debate and discussion, particularly around the issue of multiracial solidarity and the issues that arise with Asian American Studies and its relationship to other disciplines.   Rather, my concern as in unison with numerous others in the academy is the heavy-handed and unilateral sanctions that Brown University's administration has taken against Shibusawa.   The irony is sharp as Shibusawa illustrates in Notes on Solidarity From the Field the many transgressions that are gendered and ageist and takes forms that are not physically violent.   It sends a shiver down the spine of all academics who produce scholarship.  

Shibusawa leaves a few words of wisdom, foreshadowing perhaps a future in that she imagined she could again be punished for standing tall to remind us "to keep generating energy—to keep our eyes on the greater struggle, ongoing and ever more acute, that requires all the energy we can give."

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