Global Terrain of Free Speech Conflicts (Spring 2017)

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A year after the un-hiring of Palestinian American scholar, Steven Salaita, turned our campus into a flashpoint of struggles over free speech and academic freedom in the United States, this conference reflects more expansively on these struggles in a global context. In the two years since the silencing of Steven Salaita, we have witnessed authoritarian administrations andgovernments censor speech on  university campuses in India and Turkey in addition to on-going efforts in western academia to silence pro-Palestinian and pro-BDS views. Across the world, authoritarian states have intensified their surveillance and censorship of the press, the blogosphere, and social media. Governments frequently appear more intent on censorship than on protecting the free speech of their citizens: the Bangladeshi government, for instance, has been unwilling to condemn the assassination of bloggers, editors, publishers, and academics for their secular views. Too often, however, discussions of conflicts over free speech, whether in the United States, Bangladesh, Russia, India, or China remain bound to local contexts. Consequently, the regional and international determinants and implications of struggles over free speech are underexplored. But the recurrence and growing salience of such conflicts worldwide point to conditions of our present that deserve sustained attention and comparative analysis. The upsurge of conflicts between free speech and censorship, authoritarianism and dissent, secularism and right-wing religious nationalism, across a range of national contexts offer fertile grounds for exploration, dialogue, and intervention. The international coalitions formed in response to these crises; the use of political instruments of redress such as boycotts, sanctions, and petitions; the centrality of new media in shaping the stakes and constituencies involved; the crucial role of artists, scholars, philosophers, activists, lawyers, journalists, and scientists; and the central role of the university in these battles invites fuller reflection and analysis. This conference draws on the vital resources of critical and creative thinking that are part of the tradition of the public university to build on the lessons of our immediate past by furthering engagement with of one of the pressing issues of our time.

Organizers: Susan Koshy (Director, Unit for Criticism) and Tariq Ali (History)

Dissent, Democracy, and the Crisis in the Indian University
Spring 2016

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 A discussion of the massive protests roiling Indian universities for the last few weeks. These are the largest student protests in India in over 25 years. The protests erupted over the suspension and subsequent suicide of Dalit student, Rohith Vemula, at Hyderabad Central University, and over the arrests of Kanhaiya Kumar and five other students at New Delhi's Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) on charges of sedition for raising "anti-national" slogans. The targeting of academics and students by the state and the struggles over academic freedom and free speech inside and outside universities in Turkey, Egypt, Bangladesh, India, Russia, and China raise important questions about dissent, nationalism, and education in a neoliberal moment.

In the days leading up to the teach-in, a group of UIUC graduate students will be organizing information sessions and setting up a dissent wall in the Main Quad (across from the Union).


From March 2-March 9 (weekdays only), 11-4 pm, UIUC graduate students will hold information sessions and set up a dissent wall in the Main Quad (across from the Union) for   those who want to write messages of solidarity. Please stop by to learn about the events and show support. 

Featured speakers include: Arvind Rajagopal (NYU), Tyler Williams (U of Chicago), Rohit De via Skype (Yale U), Siddharth Narrain via Skype (Lawyer, Center for the Study of Developing Societies, Delhi), and Tariq Ali (History), UIUC Graduate students, Via Skype JNU students

Organizing Committee: Tariq Ali (History), Anustup Basu (English/Media and Cinema Studies), Manisha Basu (English), Behrooz Ghamari-Tabrizi (History/Sociology), Susan Koshy (English/Asian American Studies), Sibin Mohan (Computer Science), Rini Bhattacharya Mehta (Comparative and World Literature), Shuddhabrata Sengupta (RAQS Media Collective, Sarai Media Lab)

Graduate Student Organizers/Participants: Roshni Bano (Biophysics), Setu Chakrabarty (Plant Biology), Purba Chatterjee (Physics), Sambarta Chatterjee (Chemistry), Utathya Chattopadhyaya (History), Susmita Das (Institute of Communications Research), Eduard Fanthome (Anthropology), Raj Iyer (Cell & Developmental Biology), Tariq Khan (History), Shikha Lakhanpal (Geography & GIS), Ranjani Murali (Biochemistry), Shruti Syal (Urban & Regional Planning), Apoorv Tiwari (Physics), Radha Venkatagiri (Computer Science)