• September 2, 2015

Academic and Free-Speech Groups Join Criticism of Yale U. Press Over Cartoons in Book

Criticism continues to rain down on Yale University and Yale University Press for their decision to remove all images of the Prophet Muhammad from a forthcoming scholarly book, The Cartoons That Shook the World, by Jytte Klausen.

Now the National Coalition Against Censorship and a group of academic and free-speech organizations have sent a letter of protest to Yale's president, Richard C. Levin, and the Yale Corporation. "This misguided action established a dangerous precedent that threatens academic and intellectual freedom around the world," the coalition wrote. It said that the university's action "compromises the principle and practice of academic freedom, undermines the independence of the press, damages the university's credibility, and diminishes its reputation for scholarship."

Yale has said it pulled the images because of fears they would trigger violence.

The letter was signed by Joan E. Bertin, the coalition's executive director, on behalf of 11 other groups. They include the American Association of University Professors, the American Booksellers Foundation for Free Expression, the American Civil Liberties Union, the American Library Association's Office for Intellectual Freedom, the College Art Association, the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, and the Middle East Studies Association.


1. lslerner - September 16, 2009 at 07:14 pm

Four centuries after Giordano Bruno was willing to be burned at the stake for his ideas, the Yale University Press has shown unparalleled pusillanimity. Even if it were actually likely that a wild-eyed, scimitar-bearing imam might storm into the editor's office seeking vengeance, university presses and their officers have a duty to publish the truth as clearly as they can.
Shame on the Press and its editors!

2. greenhills73 - September 17, 2009 at 02:13 pm

Is it your press? Are you paying for it? No? Then it has no obligation to you and your opinion, or to politically-correct "academic freedom." They have the right to choose what they will and will not publish. Where does their freedom come into play? Has there ever been another book you didn't like for one reason or another? Get over it. If you don't like what Yale publishes, then don't buy it's books and find another publisher who will give you what you want.

3. michaelchamberlain - September 17, 2009 at 09:19 pm

greenhills73 - As a prof of Islamic history and supporter of academic rights of free speech I take a particular interest in these debates, please forgive the grilling. I'd be grateful if you could specify to whom your pronouns refer. If "you" and "your" refer to those who demanded that Yale publish the book, we disagree. If they refer to those who object to Yale's last-minute actions we part company. So please clarify - I'd hate to condemn an argument I was unable to identify correctly, though must say you've made it impossible to do so.

Assuming for the purposes of argument that your beef is with Yale's critics, you are arguing against a case no one has made, to my knowledge anyway. Yale is free to publish what it choses: who would argue with that. But once the decision to publish is made and the author's conditions accepted it is a breach of academic practice to withdraw or demand changes to what they've previously approved. As the reason for their change of heart appears to be outside pressure, or even worse some DHS-like paranoia about imagined Muslim responses, I would go further and call their decision what it is: a despicable abdication of responsibility.

Young scholars - particularly tenure-track authors - must have trust into their publishers. Many academics will know of cases when young scholars were jerked around due to changes in editors, cancellations of series, etc. I've never heard of a recent case, however, in which fear has jeopardized the publication of a book. Henceforth, no one writing on a religious topic can credit any promises a Yale editor makes.

Yale has also set a precedent for itself that fair-minded people should keep in mind. Whatever assurances Yale's editors make, whatever prior agreement they enter into, none should be accepted as made confidently in good faith. Yale has entered a new world in academic publishing: books on controversial topics may have had material removed by editorial fiat at the last minute. And now that Yale has given into one religious group, fairness rooted in precedent demands that it give into all. If Scientologists or the Church of the Presumptuous Assumption of the Blinding Light find any Yale publication objectionable, I'll be more inclined to come to their defense than to Yale's. Having put a new policy into practice, and shown they prefer to disfigure scholarship rather than give offense, other religions will rightly expect the same deference.

The question has been raised: who are these experts consulted? I've requested elsewhere that their names be made public or at the least that they take responsibility for their actions. Surely their timidity doesn't extend to fellow academics. If any of them would like to consult this Islamic historian confidentially or debate publicly my screen name is my real one and my institution History at Madison. All we've heard from Yale is tales of shadowy figures raising unspecified alarms. After all the brave talk applauding the refusal of the academy to be stampeded into the country's paranoia, here we are, our first chance, hiding behind the skirts of former government officials. And one more thing: you hordes of Muslim bombers who inhabit their fanciful imaginations can find this prof who endorses publication easily using the info above. One small request: please do make an appointment so I can invite just the right colleagues to the event.

4. michaelchamberlain - September 18, 2009 at 04:31 am

Oops - in the comment directed at Greenhills 73, the second sentence should read "If "you" and "your" refer to those who demanded that Yale not publish the book, we disagree. If they endorse the opinion of those who object to Yale's last-minute actions we agree." Sorry for what must have been a moment's befuddlement.

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