College Should Remember Commitment to Intellectual Freedom

Anh Lê, Parent

To the Editors:

This has been an intense school year at Oberlin College.

Such is not a surprise. Oberlin is renowned and highly respected for its tradition and legacy of encouraging intellectual inquiry, free thought, rigorous debate and exchange of ideas.

I wish to offer my perspective regarding the situation and controversy surrounding Assistant Professor of Rhetoric and Composition Joy Karega. I acknowledge the strong passions and feelings of the individuals and groups on both sides — those who strongly support and defend Professor Karega, and those who denounce her.

First and foremost, we must show Professor Karega the full and complete respect that she deserves as a professor at Oberlin College and for her teaching and scholarly work and research. We must also remind ourselves that Professor Karega’s work and standing at Oberlin College is protected by Oberlin College’s adherence and commitment to the ultimate values of academic freedom, free speech and intellectual inquiry.

I understand that Professor Karega is an amazing, brilliant and outstanding professor and teacher. Isn’t that the ideal that students and professors at Oberlin College strive for: the full engagement between students and professors, significant and meaningful learning and discovery by both and — if fortunate and lucky enough — life-transforming experiences?

Besides her teaching, Professor Karega’s scholarly work and research is distinctive. I call on members of the Oberlin community to address the issues surrounding the recent controversy regarding Professor Karega with objectivity, rational discourse and analysis, integrity and fairness.

Professor Karega’s work and standing as a professor at Oberlin College must be evaluated based on her [position] as a teacher and scholar. Professor Karega’s scholarly work and research, and other endeavors — including several postings on Facebook which resulted in the controversy — are fully protected by Oberlin College’s own adherence and commitment to the values of academic freedom and free speech.

I also pose this question: Were the postings on Facebook just part of the archival research that Professor Karega’s scholarly work encompasses? Let us remember: Professor Karega is a professor of Rhetoric and Composition. Professor Karega’s research interests and teaching includes rhetoric and composition historiography, social justice writing and writing pedagogy.

I trust that cool heads will prevail regarding this controversy. Let us temper our passions with rational thinking. Let us be mindful of not only our belief in the values of academic freedom, free speech and intellectual inquiry but also the tenets of the American Association of University Professors regarding these values.

I also call on all of us to remember that discussions of different social, policy and political issues are vital to the Oberlin College community. Discussions of issues such as divestment from corporations doing business with Israel, criticism of Israeli government policy regarding Gaza, the West Bank, Palestinians and any other issues that may confront us as members of the international community are beneficial and should never be squashed.

Different members of the Oberlin community may have varying opinions on these issues. But we can, and we should, strive to be respectful with each other and also remember why we are at Oberlin College in the first place. I call on community members at Oberlin College to remember that a critical analysis of certain aspects of Israeli government policy should not elicit a knee-jerk reaction of labeling the critic as being “anti-Semitic.” Individuals and groups of people should not be labeled “anti-this” or “anti-that” just because they hold a certain opinion.

I appreciate and thank College President Marvin Krislov for his leadership at Oberlin College. Let us heed President Krislov’s sharing with all of us these words:

“I am … the son of a tenured faculty member at a large research university. My father instilled in me a strong belief in academic freedom. I believe, as the American Association of University Professors says, that academic freedom is ‘the indispensable quality of institutions of higher education’ because it encourages free inquiry, promotes the expansion of knowledge and creates an environment in which learning and research can flourish.”

May we continue to grow as scholars and human beings in a common and shared search for understanding, sisterhood and brotherhood, unity and humanity.

My family and I send our warmest and best wishes to the students, faculty and staff members of Oberlin College and to the townspeople of Oberlin.

Anh Lê