For One College Librarian, Freedom of Speech is Under Fire
For one college librarian in Canada, his free speech rights are now under attack. Dale Askey, currently a librarian at McMaster University in Ontario, is begin sued by Edwin Mellen Press for comments he made on his personal blog, Bibliobrary. His post, since removed, criticized the publisher for substandard scholarship, with commenters offering their opinions including some in support of the publisher and some against.
Askey and McMaster University are being sued by Edwin Mellen Press for $3 million, with the publisher seeking redress for damages it says that it sustained from a blog article and follow up comments. Notably, when Askey wrote his article in 2010, he was working as an associate professor at Kansas State University. It wasn’t until February 2011 that he began to work at McMaster reports the The Chronicle of Higher Education.
The lawsuit has received much attention by academics and free speech proponents alike, with a petition gaining steam on the Change.org website, asking the publisher to drop its suit. As of last Friday, the petition was well on its way to reaching its goal of 2,500 signatures. That petition was placed by Martha Reineke, a Professor of Religion with the Department of Philosophy and World Religions at the University of Northern Iowa.
The petition notes that neither McMaster nor Kansas State University are providing legal support to Askey. McMaster, however, published a statement on Feb. 8 in support of Dale Askey, one that “…affirms the right of the academic community to engage in full and unrestricted consideration of any opinion.” The university noted that it has been pressured by Edwin Mellen Press to repudiate Askey’s professional opinions, something that is has said that it will not do.
Support for Askey has been spreading with college professors, librarians and academic associations joining the campaign to pressure the publisher to drop its suit. Last Thursday, the Association of Research Libraries and the Canadian Association of Research Libraries issued a joint statement in support of Askey. The Canadian Association of University Teachers, the York University Faculty Association and academics in the United Kingdom and elsewhere have also weighed in.
The Big Chill
Of concern to Askey’s supporters and free speech advocates everywhere is the chilling effect that such lawsuits can have should it succeed. Some have called the publisher’s response extreme with Association of College and Research Libraries president Steven J. Bell telling The Chronicle that it would be “…devastating for academic and intellectual freedom” if the publisher’s suit succeeds. Bell noted that such a suit is designed to threaten, silence and scare academics for airing their opinions.