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Forum addresses scholarly dissent disscu

The John Hope Franklin Humanities Institute kicked off a series of events about academic freedom and dissent with a symposium Thursday entitled "Intellectual Dissent: Past and Present."

Ian Balfour, associate professor of English at York University, delivered a presentation called "Almost Epic: Stories of Empire and the Resistance of Intellectuals." The other speaker was Jacqueline Bhabha, adjunct lecturer in public policy and lecturer in law at Harvard University and the executive director of the Harvard University Committee on Human Rights Studies, whose speech was entitled "Scholars at Risk: An Urgent New Role for Ivory Towers."

In his speech, Balfour discussed how various literary thinkers throughout history have conceived of empire and epics. He said overextension was the most commonly cited reason for the collapse of empires.

His remarks touched upon a theme explored by his introducer, South Atlantic Quarterly Editor Grant Farred, who said we live in "a moment of unfettered imperial ambition" in which the U.S. War on Terror is "little more that the terrorization of others" in an effort to consolidate the "Bush-Cheney-Wolfowitz empire."

Bhabha also addressed current events in the world, by describing her work in hosting at-risk scholars at the University of Chicago and Harvard. Intellectuals can be targeted for what they do or who they are, she said, and are especially at risk because they are often not organized as other professions are. She said the situation for dissenters in academia is getting worse, especially in unstable countries and in the humanities and social sciences.

The symposium and other events in the series commemorate the 100th anniversary of the Bassett Affair, in which Duke professor John Spencer Bassett published a piece in the South Atlantic Quarterly called "Stirring Up the Fires of Race Antipathy" in which he praised Booker T. Washington as a "great and good man" and compared him to Robert E. Lee. Amidst the considerable firestorm that followed, Bassett agreed to resign if asked by the Board of Trustees. The vote was 18-7, in favor of retaining Bassett.

The Bassett Affair's impact on the University has been considerable, as it affirmed that the University would be committed to academic freedom. Last month, President Nan Keohane said that she did not believe "any of us would be here today" had the Bassett Affair not gone the way it did.

Srinivas Aravamudan, director of the John Hope Franklin Humanities Institute and associate professor of English, said in his opening remarks at the symposium that the anniversary is a "convenient springboard" for the exploration of various issues pertaining to dissent.


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