The Turkish Coalition of America’s federal lawsuit against the University of Minnesota raises intriguing questions about free speech and academic freedom, not to mention of historiography itself. Among them: May an academic department at a public university deem sources of information "unreliable" on its website? If so, does that label itself constitute defamation, and does it violate the speech of students who want to use those sources? Finally, to what extent does the teaching of history demand the cultivation of a certain historical narrative, however well-documented that narrative may be?
These are not questions the Turkish Coalition of America should be asking a federal judge. In its complaint against the University, the coalition even states that it does not question the academic freedom and discretion enjoyed by state universities to select pedagogical tools for instructing students and guiding professors. "Education," states the complaint, "should be left to educators, not federal judges." We strongly agree with that astute observation and urge the coalition to reconsider its lawsuit in the name of free speech for the academy.
Should the coalition press on with its frivolous lawsuit — the Center for Holocaust and Genocide Studies has already taken down the "unreliable sources" designation — the biggest loser will be the discipline of history itself. By extension, that also includes the right of the professionals who teach it to take a stand on how, through the conflicting and contentious narratives of our past, students are able to best unearth those narratives that meet the rigorous standards of accuracy that any academic discipline should demand.