It is not an understatement to say that the world is infuriated with the policies and presence of President Donald Trump: from the 4.8 million participants in the Women’s Marches worldwide to the thousands in the UK protesting his banning of refugees and nationals from Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, and Yemen. The hope that Trump’s campaign was overly aggressive to get votes, and that this would not translate to the oval office, has has proven to be unfounded. Trump’s presidency is hurting those most vulnerable not only in the USA, but the whole world.
In response to these bans, over 3,000 academics in the United Kingdom have signed the Educators not Informants boycott, including fifteen from the University of Exeter. Their reason is to “take action in solidarity with those affected by Trump’s Executive Order by pledging not to attend international conferences in the US while the ban persists.” The boycott means standing in solidarity with academics from the banned countries, and questioning the intellectual integrity of American academic spaces.
However, this boycott seems ignorant to one crucial fact: Trump’s presidency already seeks to destroy academia. American academics in all fields are facing the destruction of their professional integrity in this post-truth presidency. Abandoning conferences entirely and removing support from higher education in any capacity will do nothing more than make Trump’s quest to destroy the value and integrity of higher education institutions easier.
Scientific research has been tossed aside…trump deems academic expertise has no value.
Trump has never explicitly declared war, but from listening to his rhetoric presented in speeches and interviews, it is evident that academia and the value of research is under siege. Trump regularly uses exaggerated statistics, un-verified sources, and favors “alternative facts”. The most obvious example of this can be seen in his approach to global warming. You need only look at his Twitter feed to see his absolute ignorance on the topic. He has exclaimed global warming was “created by and for the Chinese” to reduce the USA’s productive capacity. He disparaged that ‘“our country still [is] spending money on the GLOBAL WARMING HOAX?” Ignorance has now become active policy, with Trump vowing to withdraw from the Global Climate Pact and removing every mention of climate change from the White House website. Scientific research has been tossed aside, for Trump deems academic expertise has no value.
Furthermore, Trump has no interest in supporting academia. His appointment of Betsy DeVos as Secretary of Education shows what he wants: less research and universality, more business-run education. Trump’s campaign website claimed he would work to “reduce the cost of college and student debt”, but appointing DeVos contradicts this. Aside from being wildly unqualified for the position, DeVos is disconnected from the unbearable weight of college debt, admitting during her congressional hearing that she never went to public schools or took out a loan. How can she relate to the average American college student graduating with $48,172 in debt? DeVos also intends to increase privatization, which given that the yearly tuition for private colleges is $33,480, means colleges will be even more unattainable for middle and working-class citizens. The more colleges becomes about money, the less they become about academic integrity and education. As we have seen with the recent firing of acting attorney general Sally Yates, if you disagree with Trump, you will pay for it. How will the fare for academics publishing research that are critical of his policies or administration?
Arts and humanities are particularly at risk with Trump as commander in chief. Trump’s new budget reportedly plans to remove the National Endowment for the Arts alongside the National Endowment for the Humanities. The little support academics in these fields get from the government is likely to be scrapped during his tenure, and academics in these fields will suffer. If Trump’s presidency thinks so little of the arts and humanities, it is not unthinkable that the American psyche will mould alongside his views. It is no coincidence that he wants to cut funding to these fields – if students studied history they would see the frightening parallels between his government and those of Hitler and Mussolini. They would see the death and destruction caused by turning away refugees who fled Europe under Nazi Germany. The arts has long been home to expression of resistance, and given that Trump can barely hear the word “protest” without taking personal offense, it is unsurprising he seeks to defund anything that could potentially represent disdain.
Academia will suffer under Trump. Boycotting conferences as a whole will only add to this. Academics communicate, they co-publish, they work together to progress their fields forward. Conferences are a hub for discussion as well as presentation of papers, where people learn, share opinions, and debate. They allow for a public space where ideas can be realised and explored in study. Trump has already started his attack. If the world abandons the American academic community, most of whom are staunchly opposed to Trump and his policies, he will continue on this path destructing the integrity and freedom of academia.
An all out boycott is counterproductive, and certainly, this is not the aim of all participants. Some have tweeted that they will use online media to give papers, that this will not prevent them from all academic dealings with the USA. However, this boycott is targeting one of the strongest anti-Trump communities in the USA. The petition for British academics to boycott Israeli institutions over perpetuation of violence against Palestine did not even reach 400 signatures in 2015, a fraction of the numbers who have signed to boycott the USA. If conferences in the USA are ignored, what happens to academics currently already inside from the countries who have been banned? They will be unable to go for fear of not being allowed to return. If Trump attempts to make academia in his America nothing more than a validation for his policies, the last thing academics in the USA need is isolation.
do not abandon academics in the USA when they most need OUr support.
There are more productive ways to organise resistance in the field of academia. If conferences are being held at pro-Trump universities, or by institutions who take a passive role in holding the new administration accountable, boycott. If conferences are sponsored by companies affiliated with Trump, boycott. Pressure conferences to place an emphasis on discussing and debating this Presidency, what it means for the field, what it means for academic integrity as a whole. Give talks about equality, educate Americans and peers about the dangers of letting Trump go unchecked on his egomaniacal crusade. Recite papers about global warming, facism, populism, Japanese internment camps, the holocaust, and make a point to relate them to the policies of today. Join in protests, write papers, lobby higher education institutions to take a stand, and support academics from all seven countries actively and loudly. Do it from the ground. Fight the fight in the flesh.
Yet at a time when Trump is threatening public education, when he seeks to mould the American educational system into a factory to boost his own ego, do not abandon academics in the USA when they most need our support. They are about to face four years of having their career delegitimized by the commander in chief. They are at war and cannot be abandoned. Education can fight ignorance, or it can amplify it; more than ever the USA is in need of facts, truth, and academia to fight the growing ignorance that got Trump elected in the first place.