Some Thoughts on SBL Council’s Letter to Petitioners (part 2)

In my previous post, I outlined how SBL Council’s reply to our petition is in fact no reply at all, as it ignores the fundamental issue of discrimination against LGBTQ persons.

Now I want to turn to some of the things that Council’s letter does address.

2. SBL Council Subcommittee on Academic Freedom

SBL Council wrote:

The Council determined that SBL needs a Statement on Academic Freedom to help guide our work in a way that is consistent with the Society’s mission, values and policies as an international learned society. To this end, the Council named a subcommittee to draft a statement that defines academic freedom for SBL in an international context. The subcommittee will consult with SBL members in the course of its work and will present its draft for discussion and approval to the SBL Council at our next meeting in October 2016. The statement will allow Council to address specific points raised by the petition and to draw up a standard Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) that states explicitly the expectations SBL will have in place for potential host institutions, regional and international.

Formulating an official statement on Academic Freedom is, in my opinion, a good thing. And, obviously, this will require the formation of a committee to research the issue and draft the language of the statement. Thus far, all is to the good.  However, I have a number of concerns regarding this process.

a. The Subcommittee will consist solely of members of SBL Council.

I’m not sure I see the reason for this.  In particular, I think the work of this committee might be materially aided to a tremendous degree if it included SBL members who themselves have been involved in institutional conflict over academic freedom. There has been a number of high profile cases in recent years. I have no idea if any of these persons would want to sit on such a committee; however, I would think some of these individuals might have important knowledge and experience that would best be employed as members of such a committee.

b. The Subcommittee will consult with members.

Again, in principle this is laudable.  How will it actually proceed in practice?  With which members? In what manner? Will there be transparency in the process? I am becoming increasingly convinced that the current SBL leadership considers transparency in the decision making process to be a bad thing. Transparency is to be avoided.  Differences of opinion are to be hushed up, suggestions should be made in private, etc.

In my opinion, this is a terrible model and method.  Transparency can only be for the good. People’s positions and opinions should be sought and posted publicly.  A public conversation is the way to proceed, not ad hoc solicitation of an unknown number of opinions in private.

c. The Memorandum of Understanding will make plain expectations for potential host institutions.

This can mean different things.  It could mean: The MOU will outline what type of institutions the SBL and its Regions are willing to partner with. We will not partner with institutions that violate the stance on Academic Freedom contained in the MOU.

However, I strongly suspect (based on wording later in Council’s letter) that this is not what is meant.  Rather, I fear that the MOU will state expectations to be honored for SBL conference participants onlyduring the period of the conference.  In my opinion, this is unacceptable. Since it is in the next paragraph of Council’s letter that the type of requirements placed on potential host institutions under such an MOU are spelled out, I’ll develop this at greater length in my next post.


more to come….


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