People are wondering how authoritarian the United States government will become under a Trump administration. There’s no way to know for sure. Perhaps the answer is: no more than it already is. Or perhaps Trump, who seems to be some combination of much less knowledgeable of and much less respectful of the limits of executive power than any previous U.S. president (even in this era of the “imperial presidency”), will attempt to pursue his illiberal aims via a wide array of means, including issuing directives to or putting pressure on the institutions and individuals of academia.
Under conditions of uncertainty, how do we identify the line between panicked overreaction and responsible preparation?
That’s a tough question, in part because preparation and precaution are almost never without costs or tradeoffs.
At the very least, we could look for and assess minimally costly means of preparation. One option along these lines is to try to mentally prepare ourselves to refuse to cooperate with illiberal or immoral government initiatives.
To that end, Rachel Barney, professor of philosophy and classics at the University of Toronto, has drafted an Anti-authoritarian Academic Code of Conduct—“to keep the bright lines visible” she says—which she wishes to share with philosophers and others in academia. I post it below, with some slight edits. Feel free to make suggestions for revisions in the comments, keeping in mind the purpose and limits of such a document.
- I will not aid in the registering, rounding-up, or internment of students and colleagues on the basis of their religious beliefs.
- I will not aid in the marginalization, exclusion, or deportation of my undocumented students and colleagues.
- I will, as my capacities allow, discourage and defend against the bullying and harassment of vulnerable students and colleagues targeted for important aspects of their identity (such as race, gender, religious beliefs, sexual orientation, etc.).
- I will not aid government or law enforcement in activities which violate the U.S. Constitution or other U.S. law.
- I will not aid in government surveillance. I will not inform.
- As a teacher and researcher, I will not be bought or intimidated. I will present the state of research in my field accurately, whether or not it is what the government wants to hear. I will challenge others when they lie.
- I will not be shy about my commitment to academic values: truth, objectivity, free inquiry, and rational debate. I will challenge others when they engage in behavior contrary to these values.
- As an administrator, I will defend my students, faculty, and non-academic staff. I will not allow the expulsion, firing, disciplining, harassment, or marginalization of individuals targeted for being members of disfavoured groups or for expressing dangerous opinions. I will speak up for academic freedom. I will insist on the autonomy of my institution.
- I will stand with my colleagues at other institutions, and defend their rights and freedoms.
- I will be fair and unbiased in the classroom, in grading, and in all my dealings with all my students, including those who disagree with me politically.
If you agree with enough of this, please share it with others at your school and in your social networks. Consider printing it out and hanging it in your office or on your office door.
And keep these ten items in mind, so if the time comes, you are a little more prepared than you otherwise might be.
Click on the image below for a PDF version:
(Note: no need to turn the comments section here into a list of people who plan to adopt this code of conduct.)
UPDATE (11/30/16): Inside Higher Ed covers the anti-authoritarian academic code of conduct.
UPDATE (12/8/16): A philosopher has made a larger version of the poster. You can have an 18 x 24 inch version printed at a copy shop. Click on the image below to download it.