Who is afraid of Leloy Claudio? (Photo: Rappler)

Updated…

2nd update: June 7, 2019, 11:17 AM

Academic freedom or revenge?

Opinion

By Ted Alcuitas

Editor

A raging storm is engulfing Filipino academics from both sides of the Pacific over the pending appointment of Professor Lisandro ‘Leloy’ Claudio to the University of California Berkeley.

A petition has been circulated and sent to the university’s dean of Arts and the Humanities urging him not to hire Claudio, allegedly because of his red-tagging of students and colleagues.

Claudio, an unabashed liberal, is critical of both the left and the right’s political extremism.

In the current climate of fear under President Rodrigo Duterte’s relentless efforts to silence his critics, being tagged as a Communist is tantamount to being dead.

According to one columnist, the petition of over 400 signatures includes a virtual who’s who of leftist academia not only in the Philippines but in the U.S. and other countries.

The controversy first surfaced in an innocuous post by a Filipino-American academic who posted a rebuttal by Susan Quimpo, the author of ‘Subversive Lives: A Family Memoir of the Marcos Years.’

SUSAN Quimpo holds up a copy of “Subversive Lives” PHOTO BY ELIZABETH LOLARGA,Inquirer.

Quimpo revealed that a book tour she was planning was aborted because an unnamed professor from Berkeley objected to her “red-baiting”.

“Why must one cry “wolf” or “red-baiter,” or accuse another of “red-tagging” in a blatant attempt at political intimidation as in the case of this petition against Dr. Claudio’s hiring? Why can’t Dr. Claudio’s hiring or non-hiring depend squarely on the merits of his work? One may not share the same political ideology, but when one’s life’s work, one’s activism is evidence of genuine love for country, human rights and justice — shouldn’t we refrain from over-arching labels and damning accusations. There are so very few still willing to fight the good fight. Let us keep our eye on the real enemy.

I hope UC Berkeley hires Dr. Claudio. This sorry petition against him is overwhelmingly the best reason there is to hire him.”

Curiously, the controversy is not attracting media coverage from the Philippines and the only mention about it is from Rappler, who published opinion pieces by two prominent professors defending Claudio.

Professor Patricio Abinales, who coined the word “Philippine Ayatollah” to described Philippine Communist Party founder Jose Maria Sison, posed the question – “Who’s afraid of a petit-liberal?”

Patricio Abinales

The University of Hawaii professor says the petition are all based on speculation and the signers have sullied the principle of collegiality that informs such hiring decisions.

“It is really cheap and easy to just put your name down on a petition that you know is likely to have little or no impact on your own life and career (particularly if you are an American academic),” Abinales says.

Meanwhile, Professor Walden Bello, in an opinion piece for Rappler sees the controversy as an attack on academic freedom.

Walden Bello

“It is unfortunate that there are those who should know better who have allowed themselves to be seduced by a scurrilous petition authored by political forces external to the university. They who are contemptuous of academic freedom and are determined to hijack a great university’s hiring process in the service of their sectarian, extremist politics.”

U.S. academic Jody Blanco responded to Bello this way:

“I signed the petition without knowing the author or authors’ identity/identities. As for Professor Claudio, I know him hardly at all: we met once at a conference several years ago, and did not share any interaction or correspondence following the event. This is to say that, while we are anything but friends, he is certainly not my enemy.

I signed the petition on the content of the argument and the supporting evidence that Professor Claudio’s identification of students and student groups as extremist exposed them to added surveillance and possibly danger, given the current breakdown in the administration and enforcement of laws and individual rights and freedoms in the Philippines under the current government. That this allegation has come from students themselves raised an ethical concern that, I imagine, was shared by many colleagues who also signed the petition.”

Manila Times columnist Antonio Contreras wrote that “… it is frightening that an academic should be subjected to populist bullying by fellow academics for simply articulating his politics consistent with his scholarly inclinations”. 

Our email to the dean at Berkeley seeking confirmation of the petition did not receive a response by posting time.