Academic Freedom and Academic Lives A Cluster for Biography: An Interdisciplinary Quarterly

deadline for submissions: 
January 15, 2019
full name / name of organization: 
Biography: An Interdisciplinary Quarterly
contact email: 

Academic Freedom and Academic Lives


The concept of “academic freedom”—always contested—has been muddied, polarized, and done violence to in recent years. This special cluster of Biography: An Interdisciplinary Quarterly invites contributions from a variety of perspectives that seek to illuminate the politics of academic freedom and censorship in the face of rapidly escalating racist, xenophobic, anti-semitic, Islamophobic, sexist, misogynist political currents. Essays connected to personal experience, or that situate questions of academic freedom within the problem of experience as a category of scholarship and public knowledge, are particularly welcome and encouraged.


The goal of the cluster is to think about academic freedom in university settings as part of the rise of the alt-right and attacks on professors and students who wish to contest white supremacy, xenophobia, sexism and transphobia, among many other problems. Since academic freedom is not an abstract conceptualization of either freedom or of the academy, but a concrete expression of the freedom of scholars to express ideas without censure, this cluster takes as its starting point the connection of academic freedom to ideas of personhood. The problems and promises of academic freedom reveal themselves through the stories of academic lives, of activist lives, of lives lived inside and through political questions about who gets to express ideas in public, and who does not. We particularly invite essays that consider academic freedom within the discourse of testimony, either from the author’s own experience, from the story of particular political struggle involving academic freedom, or from a consideration of auto/biographical accounts of academic freedom, and what has been done, by and to individual professors and students, in its name.


When members of the new alt-right use academic freedom as an explanation for hate speech, who in particular is wounded by those words? When BIPOC academics deploy their scholarship or public work to speak out against racism, sexism, or xenophobia, why is academic freedom not enough to protect them, as academic persons, from censure or public castigation? What is a radical life of the mind worth, if the life of the mind is not protected within the University?


We welcome contributions that connect academic freedom to the representation of or the experience of academic life around the world. In the United States and Canada for example, academic freedom appears to be under attack, as the election of Donald Trump was followed by a series of online attacks on academics—most of them women and people of color, most of them progressive politically—for deploying in their scholarship or social media writings anti-racist, anti-sexist points of view, while “academic freedom” became a rallying-cry for new alt.right, fascist and semi-fascist forces who invited openly white supremacist and xenophobic speakers to North American university campuses.


In Brazil, newly elected Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro has instructed students to videotape professors critical of him, and report them. In India, Prime Minister Modi’s election to Prime Minister was followed by street thugs who pledged allegiance to his BJP Party rampaging through leading university campuses, attempting to intimidate—and expel—students opposed to his government. In Hungary, the Central European University has been forced out of the country after President Orban, using anti-semitic tropes, accused the University of being a front for progressive billionaire George Soros, a Jew. Questions of “academic freedom” and censorship have also hovered around the #metoo movement. In high-profile cases in the United States and Canada, students who have brought credible and substantiated allegations of sexual harassment against faculty have been subject to public recrimination and lawsuits meant to intimidate victims from coming forward.


These are only some examples of attacks on and in the name of academic freedom: contributors are invited to contribute others. Questions that could be addressed include:


  • How are universities in particular susceptible to attacks on researchers and teachers in the name of academic freedom, given escalating currents connected to the alt-right?
  • How and why are individual academic lives under threat in universities around the world in the name of “academic freedom”?
  • How are academic activist lives narrated? How are alt-right lives narrated?
  • Classic ideas about liberalism and freedom underwrite much lifewriting scholarship. Do current attacks on academic freedom put these ideas to the test?
  • How do these currents affect ideas of academic freedom and censorship?  
  • How may individual faculty members best define and deploy academic freedom to avoid discipline and censorship?  
  • What is the relationship between universities and states that often seek to target the University as a site for building political power and hegemony?
  • How are students and faculty of color, Muslim and immigrant faculty, Palestinians, women, and LGBTQ faculty and students differently affected by traditional definitions of academic freedom, and attempts at censorship?  
  • How and why are faculty and students acting as advocates for particular political points of view—for instance, the support for the international Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions Movement against Israel—especially vulnerable to censorship?   
  • What role can academic unions and academic associations play in defining and protecting the rights of faculty and contract instructors?


We seek abstracts of up to 300 words for a special cluster of Biography addressing these issues. Abstract due-date is January 15, 2018. Abstracts accepted for inclusion will be the basis of finished essays of 5,000 words, due to the editors February 21, 2019. Editing and revision of the essays will take place through April, 2019.

Please email abstracts and queries to Professor Julie Rak, Department of English and Film Studies, University of Alberta at <> and Professor Bill V. Mullen, American Studies Program, Purdue University at .