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Acadpocalypse : When ideology suffocates academic freedom

June 15, 2019 - Saturday 4:06 AM by E.R. Nartatez

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“In academia, we fight by what we write. The best way to fight… is to write back and show the weakness of (the) arguments, or the lack of basis thereof, or the absence of evidence to support (the) conclusions.” -- Antonio Contreras

“The principle of academic freedom is the product of a hard-fought centuries-long struggle to protect the free exchange of ideas from being undermined by state intervention and contaminated by political partisanship.” -- Walden Bello

We Filipinos, have come a long way; we don’t just win beauty contests, we also bag esteemed academic awards. Recently the Association for Asian Studies announced the winner of the prestigious George McT Kahin Prize (an award given to an "outstanding scholar of Southeast Asian studies from any discipline or country specialization to recognize distinguished scholarly work on Southeast Asia beyond the author's first book", from the Association’s website). And the winner is Dr. Lisandro "Leloy" Claudio, for his book Liberalism and the Postcolony: Thinking the State in 20th Century Philippines (published by the National University of Singapore Press), “an exceedingly well-researched and thought-provoking work of political biography focused on 4 influential mid-20th century Filipinos: Camilo Osias, Salvador Araneta, Carlos P. Romulo, and S.P. Lopez,” according to Walden Bello.

Dr. Claudio earned his Ph.D. at the University of Melbourne's School of Historical Studies. He is Associate Professor at the Departments of History and Literature at De La Salle University, Manila (formerly Assistant Professor at the School of Social Sciences, Ateneo de Manila University). He is an intellectual historian and is known to be critical of both the extreme Left and the extreme Right of the ideological spectrum.

His credentials and his published works earned him recognition and qualify him for top professorial positions both locally and abroad. In fact, he is being considered for a tenure-track position at the University of California, Berkeley (particularly in the Department of South and Southeast Asian Studies).

But not all are applauding Dr. Claudio. When news of his application at UC Berkeley got around, Leftist ideologues began an organized and concerted effort to block his appointment.

A manifesto signed by 446 individuals (politically left-leaning thinkers, “a virtual who’s who of leftist academia not only in the Philippines but in the US and other countries,” according to Antonio Contreras) addressed to Anthony J. Cascardi, dean of Arts and the Humanities at UC Berkeley, calling for the disqualification of Dr. Claudio not for academic reasons, but on purely ideological grounds!

According to Walden Bello, “People connected with the extreme left in the Philippines are making a last-ditch effort to block his candidacy by circulating a petition against him. The aim is apparently to make his hiring appear so controversial that it would scare the department from appointing him.”

Antonio Contreras summarized the ‘manifesto’: “In a nutshell, the opposition is based on allegations that Leloy, an unabashed liberal who is critical of political extremism of both the left and the right, has engaged in the red-tagging of students and colleagues. They accuse him of naming and outing individuals, including students at the Ateneo de Manila University where he previously worked, as being communists. They also took issue with Leloy’s discursive style, labeling it as juvenile, even Dutertean, when he called communists ‘morons.’”

They argue that Dr. Claudio was supposedly endangering the lives of those he red-tagged since, in the Leftist narrative of the Duterte administration, this “can lead to actual harm, even death.” Thus, Dr. Claudio is guilty, however indirectly, of supporting the oppressive state under Duterte. And they call on UC Berkeley not to give Dr. Claudio a platform for his “dangerous” voice “that limits and endangers legitimate activism and protests which are already in dire straits in the Philippines.”

Good grief! This is just political fear-mongering paranoia par excellence. The Leftist narrative of this administration is just not credible. Political activism is very much alive and well here in the Philippines for crying out loud! Everyday anti-Duterte activism is read, heard, and seen in all sorts of media and platform. Is there political sword-clashing? Of course. That’s true for all administrations. Is Duterte more aggressively combative compared to other presidents? Sure. That simply is reflective of his personality. But is “activism and protests… in dire straits in the Philippines”? Absolutely not. They’re still demonizing the President every chance they get, and they’re still burning monstrous effigies of Duterte in the streets.

The whole thing is dripping with hypocrisy. They accuse Dr. Claudio of “red-tagging” and supposedly putting the lives of those he tagged in danger. Yet that’s exactly what they’re doing to Dr. Claudio; they’re tagging him as an extreme Rightist and thus putting his life under real threat from the armed group of the Left (everybody knows what they can do).

I’m sure these Leftist ideologues don’t have a problem when Dr. Claudio criticizes the politics of the extreme Right. But then they take serious offense when he aims his guns at those pushing hard Leftist politics. They simply want to shut him up.

They’ve also accused Dr. Claudio of McCarthyism. But Bello comes in defense of Dr. Claudio and argues that his actions are consistent with the activity of an engaged academic, in “the free expression of differences, intellectual jousting, sometimes with a comic and sarcastic touch a la Voltaire. That is stimulating, indeed enjoyable debate, not persecution.”

In a stinging rebuke, Bello hurls these strong words to those who would like to see Dr. Claudio silenced: “If there is anyone who can be called McCarthyite, it is those who seek to get Berkeley to disqualify Dr Claudio on political grounds. This is McCarthyism of the extreme left, which is just as despicable as McCarthyism of the right.”

And as Contreras put it, “it is frightening that an academic should be subjected to populist bullying by fellow academics for simply articulating his politics consistent with his scholarly inclinations.”

Mixing political ideology and academia is never good; it always ends up emasculating academic integrity.

Bello ends his article on an autobiographical note. “I continue to treasure the academic freedom afforded by the University of California at Berkeley, which provided me with a haven while I was in opposition to the Marcos dictatorship 40 years ago. I am confident that Berkeley, the birthplace of the famous Free Speech Movement, will not allow itself to be intimidated by the enemies of free speech.”

But if the recent violent riots caused by radical Leftist students and groups such as Antifa (a supposedly “anti-fascist” group that actually utilizes violent fascist methods!) to stop conservative speakers are of any indication, I’m afraid Berkeley may have already caved in.

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