English Matters

ACCUTE supports the principle of academic freedom

The CAUT Bulletin (http://www.cautbulletin.ca/) reports that the Edwin Mellen Press is suing McMaster’s Associate University Librarian Dale Askey for defamation, and this because he blogged what he understood to be a “professional opinion” about the Press’s general level of achievement in scholarly publishing.  “The post, and comments following it,” says the report, “discussed various aspects of Mellen publications including cost of books, quality of binding and the scholarship of editing.”

Rendering professional evaluation is something all scholars in English Studies do on a daily basis.  It’s an activity so habitual to our mode professional lives that we take it for granted.  It begins in studentship – the assessment of claims by published writers and critics.  It carries forward into teaching — the grading of essays, exams, class participation, etc.  It is at the heart of the peer-review process for scholarly articles, books, and book proposals.  It manifests itself in our work as assessors of research applications to grant agencies, as writers of reference for students and colleagues, as assessors of job candidates and candidates for tenure and promotion.  We write reviews of other peoples’ work – this is a central commitment within our profession.  Doing that work honestly requires us at times to say things that others may not  want to hear.  And when we ourselves  bring forward our scholarly findings — in teaching, in scholarly articles, in books — we know that others will express their honest opinions not only about what we’ve achieved but also about what we’ve failed to achieve.  We know that our research will not get better without that sometimes harsh professional feedback.

The open expression of judgement is central to our professional life.  This is what “criticism” is, and we take it very seriously.  The freedom to voice that criticism without fear of reprisal is the sine qua non of our collective professionalism.  This lawsuit threatens that freedom.  ACCUTE takes no position on the merits of the Edwin Mellen Press.  But we do take a position against the use of the court action against the exercise of free academic speech.  We urge Mellen Press to withdraw this lawsuit.  We urge McMaster University to support Dale Askey in his defense of this lawsuit.  We urge scholars in English Studies across the country to speak out in support of the principle of academic freedom.

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