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Sunday, April 21
The Indiana Daily Student


OPINION: IU’s denunciation of pro-Palestinian speech is an affront to academic freedom


Alfred Kinsey was all set. After eight years of study at the IU Institute for Sex Research, he and his team gathered over 11,000 unique personal sexual histories, according to a report from University Historian James Capshew. By 1948, they were ready to publish their first book and the culmination of their work, “Sexual Behavior in the Human Male.” 

Herman B Wells, the president of IU at the time, sent a memo to the university’s Executive Committee months before the book’s publication, detailing his belief that the work was bound to stir up controversy. As president, he felt it was within his duty to outline the administration’s response to the research. But far from a condemnation of the contents held therein, Wells reiterated the imperative of intellectual and academic freedom. 

“It seems to me it is essential that we stand firm in our support of the book and the research,” he wrote in the memo. “We are not called upon to endorse the findings, but are called upon to stand firm in support of the importance of the project and the right to publish it. Any less than that would be fatal.” 

The work was a sensation, selling more than 200,000 copies in two months, according to Capshew. Kinsey was hailed by some as a sadistic pervert and, by others, a paradigm of social progressivism. Time Magazine noted, “Not since ‘Gone With the Wind’ had booksellers seen anything like it.” It was in 1953, when his team published “Sexual Behavior in the Human Female,” that Kinsey would appear on the cover of that same magazine. 

This follow-up work, comprising the second half of the so-called “Kinsey Reports,” proved, again, to be controversial in its frank discussion of sexuality. Once again, Wells stood firmly in his support. 

“The University believes that the human race has been able to make progress because individuals have been free to investigate all aspects of life,” he wrote in a statement. “It further believes that only through scientific knowledge so gained can we find the cures for the emotional and social maladies in our society.” 

*  *  * 

On Dec. 15, 2023, IU suspended Professor Abdulkadar Sinno following his involvement with an unauthorized Palestinian Solidarity Committee event. Just five days later, the university canceled a major exhibition by Palestinian artist Samia Halaby, who has been outspoken on social media on the human rights abuses happening in Gaza. 

Despite the rap sheet the university has attempted to pin on Sinno — the decision comes down to, the administration claims, him incorrectly filling out a room reservation form — it seems clear to me that the suspension was a result of his association with pro-Palestinian student organizations. I’m not alone in this assumption either: a student/alumni petition in his support has, as of my writing this column, 256 signatures, and a faculty letter has 401. 

Indiana is far from the only university dealing with such student organizations unfavorably: Columbia University, for example, suspended two this past November. Clearly, the IU administration feels it’s time to enter the media circus and perform its own acts. 

While reactionaries are heralding these gestures as unequivocal denunciations of alleged anti-semitism, I feel the truth is much more dire: they’re an infringement on students’ right of speech and on the ability of students and faculty to engage in academic activity that further the cause of human knowledge and behavior. They are an infringement on the very notions of academic and intellectual freedom. 

This is especially true in the case of the Eskenazi Museum of Art canceling Halaby’s exhibition. This redaction of artistic expression is blatantly unethical, seemingly a response to a perceived wrong idea on Halaby’s behalf. It begs the question of whether she would’ve been censured had she been actively campaigning for the Israeli Defense Force.  

The elephant in the room is the limit of academic freedom; after all, if we’re advocating for the freedom of professors and students and all in academia to express their ideas freely, couldn’t this do more harm than good? And this is a legitimate concern. For example, we must condemn all who use their platform to express reprehensible ideas like xenophobia, racism, sexism, transphobia and all other forms of prejudice. This sort of behavior must remain intolerable and must not be defended in the name of intellectual progress. 

It must also not be an excuse to peddle blatant disinformation, like COVID-19 or climate change denial. None of these things — prejudice, disinformation or otherwise harmful views that serve no progressive purpose for the collective society — are worthy of being a part of our academic settings, and students and professors who express them should be condemned appropriately.  

But criticism against the Israeli government falls into neither of these categories: we must not equate such rhetoric with anti-semitic disinformation. Unlike those who feel the need to stamp out pro-Palestinian speech, I do not condone merely censoring beliefs I disagree with. College campuses must be bastions of diversity in thought, because that is the only way to learn and to further our knowledge of the world around us. Debate surrounding the Israel-Hamas war is imperative, and there must be a variety of views represented. 

Halaby’s artistic exhibition must go through as planned. Sinno must be reinstated in his position as teacher and organizational adviser. Palestinian student groups must continue to be given a platform as they express the bleakness of the actions pepetrated by the Israeli government — actions that, on Dec. 29, 2023, the South African government, in a case before the International Court of Justice, condemned as genocide. 

Thus far, the university administration seems only to be interested in condemning the actions of Hamas, an explicit attempt to take a side on the conflict that only further raises the question of whether their motive is to simply silence speech they disagree with. 

*  *  * 

I opened this column with the story of Alfred Kinsey because of the notion it represents: a university standing behind the research of its staff, regardless of the feelings it may invoke in the general public. Kinsey, to this day, remains a controversial figure — he was thrust into the spotlight again this past year when the Board of Trustees discussed seperating the Kinsey Institute from the university.  

But, even if just performatively, IU is proud of Wells’ commitment to Kinsey’s research, even going so far as erecting a statue of him on campus in 2022. And, frankly, this only makes their recent actions against Sinno and Halaby all the more sickening. 

Kinsey’s work was vital to advancing sexology as a legitimate scientific field and for ushering in the eventual sexual revolution of the 1960s and ‘70s. His research was, with time, proven to be on the right side of history. One of these days, as we look back on the anti-Palestinian actions of IU and so many other universities, we’ll find that those affected are on the right side as well.  

Joey Sills (he/him) is a junior studying English and political science. 

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