Judith Butler is an American feminist and philosopher who in October 2017, unbenownst to herself, became the topic of a heated controversy at Lund University, Sweden. The issue at stake was not really Butler but rather academic freedom. Or, to be more precise, the right of university teachers to teach their own courses in their own fashion. I strongly defended this right. Most students and faculty members at Lund U seem to have disagreed. We ended up having a discussion about it.

The whole brouhaha concluded in a most unexpected fashion. Judith Butler herself -- the Judith Butler -- intervened to say that she strongly agrees with me. That's right. And not ambiguously either, but with zest, gusto and emphasis. Judith ex machina!.

By now newspapers all over Europe have written about the story, including Le Monde and Züddeutsche Zeitung. Read more here. Below are my two main contributions to the debate.

So, whose side are you on?

Erik

Sunday, October 29, 2017 Erik 48 Comments

In the social science faculty at Lund University there is a rule of thumb which suggests that at least 40% of the articles on the reading list of a course should be written by women. This is necessary, say the advocates of the system, in order to give female academics a more prominent voice. BS, I say. The system is a threat to the university and to academic freedom.

Let me give you an example of how it works. Take my course on the rise of right-wing ideas, and eventually fascism, at the turn of the twentieth century. What interests me is the possibility of a connection between the spread of global markets in the course of the nineteenth-century and the subsequent swing to the right. If we once again are living in a period of globalization and if fascists once again are on the march, it is difficult to conceive of a more urgent topic. Besides, it is bound to be a topic on which students have a lot to say. Excited by the idea, I submitted a proposal to the relevant course committee....

Monday, November 13, 2017 Erik 3 Comments

 

The Swedish government wants to make universities into gender neutral institutions. Employees and students should have the same rights and opportunities regardless of whether they are men or women. What could be more praiseworthy? Who could be against that? Yet the government policy is a threat to academic freedom and thus to the whole point of the university.

Reading the government’s proposal you learn nothing about the way the good intentions are translated into practice, how they work in the classrooms. For example: all around the country academic departments have adopted quotas for the literature to be used on reading lists. A commonly used rule of thumb says that at least 40% of the texts should be written by female authors. Since the reading lists are legally binding documents, teachers who fail to follow them are in breach of contract.

It is obviously important to include women’s perspectives in the university curriculum, but this is the wrong way to do it. The value of a ...