The Nexus Between Patriotism and Censorship: The “New Normal” for Academic Expression

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Texas Education Review


According to the ACLU (2005), “. . .at times of national stress -- real or imagined -- First Amendment rights come under enormous pressure.” So, too, academic freedom of expression for faculty, staff, and students has become a casualty in the post-9/11 world. Academics were criticized and reprimanded for not being patriotic enough. Using a conceptual framework that includes historical reanalysis, terror management theory, contradictory constructions of patriotism, and electronic discourse, this essay explores the nexus between patriotism and free expression in higher education. We examine historical trends in freedom of expression, analyze three higher education case studies (Chilling Churchill; 9/11 and Middle Eastern Studies; and Shunning Bob Jensen), and suggest why patriotism and censorship go hand and glove in times of national crisis. We end one a cautionary note, expressing concern about how easily words can be turned against academics, the very people who should have the highest level of protection for their words.

Nearly 20 years ago, Professor Pat Somers joined the faculty at the University of Texas at Austin bringing her trademark wit and her seemingly indefatigable energy to root out injustice. The paper below represents one such branch of her academic curiosity in response to a perceived injustice to a fellow member of the Academy. This paper was first presented as a draft manuscript at the American Educational Research Association and later submitted to a notable journal. Unfortunately, a second paper on academic freedom was already included in the edition, but the editors encouraged Pat and her team to pursue other publications. And then, as with many things, this paper fell to the side as Pat pursued a new branch of academic curiosity and stewarded her many doctoral students through the dissertation process. As you will note in the dedication, Pat was a deeply curious and pedagogically dynamic member of the Academy and this paper stands at the ready for updating and resubmission. We present it today unadulterated as a testimony to Pat’s prescience, her passion and her drive – a historical glimpse into the early days of a very real threat to academic freedom that persists today.



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