Court decision a threat to academic freedom

The Pope had his Index of Forbidden Books, the Third Reich had its book burnings, and the University of MinnesotaâÄôs Center for Holocaust and Genocide Studies had its list of unreliable websites censored from student research. This one group of taboo websites was selected not because of scholarly shortcomings, but because they challenged the CHGSâÄô orthodoxy that Ottoman-Armenian deaths during World War I must be classified as genocide.
The Turkish Coalition of America website was listed as unreliable because it asserted, âÄúTo recognize âĦ Muslim suffering is not to diminish Armenian suffering, but to place the Armenian tragedy in its proper context of a violent independence movement that failed at a tremendous human cost to Ottoman Armenians and Muslims alike.âÄù TCAâÄôs website provided links to scholarship that examines the Ottoman-Armenian tragedy without a prejudgment of genocide. The University aimed to thwart student access to TCAâÄôs counter to the UniversityâÄôs genocide dogma.
Subordinating education and critical thinking to indoctrination and intellectual vassalage on campus fossilizes knowledge and history. Accordingly, the authors of this letter sued the University and the director of CHGS on behalf of the TCA and a University student. We alleged that the UniversityâÄôs prohibition of student research of educationally credible websites disputing the Armenian thesis to advance orthodoxy violated freedom of speech and inquiry protected by the First Amendment.
The âÄúblacklistâÄù was ordained anonymously and without notice or an opportunity to respond. Neither the CHGS director, nor the University president, nor any other University personnel had ever read and evaluated the reliability of TCAâÄôs information. Most of the books TCA recommended are available in the UniversityâÄôs library. None of the other 2,500 colleges and universities we surveyed thought it pedagogically sound to compile an âÄúunreliable websitesâÄù list to quarantine âÄúdangerousâÄù ideas.
The UniversityâÄôs academic freedom statement declares, âÄúAcademic freedom is the freedom to discuss all relevant matters in the classroom, to explore all avenues of scholarship, research and creative expression and to speak or write as a public citizen without institutional discipline or restraint.âÄù The âÄúunreliable websitesâÄù blacklist contradicted that pledge. The CHGS director aspired to âÄúdelegitimizeâÄù and ostracize viewpoints that disputed its Armenian gospel with âÄúscarlet letters.âÄù Students were âÄúwarnedâÄù against visiting TCAâÄôs website at the risk of unstated academic penalties. The student-plaintiff in the suit repeatedly asked the CHGS director whether visiting TCAâÄôs website would trigger retribution. The directorâÄôs evasiveness and body language were tantamount to a thundering âÄúYes.âÄù The educationally credible contra-genocide viewpoint has been de facto evicted from student research at the University.
On March 30, the United States District Court for Minnesota dismissed our complaint in TCA and Cingilli v. Bruininks et al. We think this will lead to state universities being able to prohibit student research of authors or viewpoints that contradict its dogmas by waving a counterfeit âÄúacademic freedomâÄù flag. Books authored by Jews, Muslims, Catholics, Republicans or Democrats could be censored to indoctrinate students in state-decreed orthodoxies. The dismissal mocked the idea that free speech and inquiry is most urgent on university campuses to avoid political or intellectual stagnation. It defied Justice Robert JacksonâÄôs sermon in West Virginia State Board of Education v. Barnette: âÄúIf there is any fixed star in our constitutional constellation, it is that no official, high or petty, can prescribe what shall be orthodox in politics, nationalism, religion or other matters of opinion or force citizens to confess by word or act their faith therein.âÄù
The Cingilli v. Bruininks dismissal is to education what the separate but equal doctrine of Plessy v. Ferguson (1896) was to racial equality âÄî more to be decried than imitated.