Executive Director’s Message: Stand strong in support of education, science, pursuit of knowledge

With the new administration in Washington, I anticipate that the scholarly community will face challenges unlike any it has seen before. The community’s skill at communicating scholarly findings and values, and marshalling public support for them, will be tested.

To cast a light on the immediate and long-term disruptions we are facing, I will focus on just one current policy controversy. As I am writing this message, only a few scant weeks into this administration, universities around the country have joined amicus briefs, issued cautionary advice to their communities, and taken other public stands against the President’s Executive Order banning most travel from 7 predominantly Muslim countries. And things are moving unnervingly fast. The ban has been temporarily halted by courts, but the ever-present threat that it will eventually prevail in court, or be reissued in revised form, creates a dampening effect on scholarly exchanges, while instilling fear and uncertainty among visiting scholars.

While it was in place, the ban had brief, but damaging effects on some scholars and students who happened to be traveling or about to travel when it was instituted. Students were barred from re-entering the country to resume their studies; conference speakers were not allowed to travel to their speaking engagements; and other scholars and students had to reconsider their plans to travel outside the US for fear that they would be barred reentry. Universities are also worried about longer term impacts on future admissions from outside the US or on their ability to attract world-class scholars to their faculty.

This is just one example of many recently enacted policies, promulgated hastily, apparently without much thought to unintended consequences on innocent individuals or vulnerable sectors of society. Not only are the policies themselves damaging, but the administration’s entire approach to governing – featuring the repetition of multiple falsehoods as the rationale for heedless policies, and ad hominem attacks on anyone who disagrees – produces dystopian effects that, I believe, directly impede scholarly work and values. At this time, more than ever in our recent past, the academic community needs to come together to assert the value of scholarly principles, and act to protect them. Principles such as:

  • Freedom of inquiry
  • Commitment to expanding human knowledge through fact-based discourse
  • Recognition that knowledge is iterative, and that multiple perspectives enhance and accelerate problem-solving
  • Devotion to precision of language as the best aid in communication, education, and discovery
  • Curiosity about other viewpoints with the goal of broadening discourse and knowledge

As a community, when we see threats to these principles, we must raise our voices in protest, communicate the negative impacts of proposed or enacted policies, and call on our representatives and political leaders to stand strong in support of education, science, and the pursuit of knowledge.

Mike Spinella
TAA Executive Director