Academic freedom and defense policy

Recently, there was some controversy following the dismissal of a prominent human rights activist from his teaching responsibilities at the Indonesian Defense University (IDU). Both the activist and university officials confirmed that the source of the acrimony was the former’s several newspaper opinion pieces criticizing the government’s weapons procurement plans.

Indeed, according to IDU rector Lt. Gen. (ret.) Syarifuddin Tippe, as quoted by The Jakarta Post, the activist, by being a member of the university, “had become [a member of] our defense community who should have consulted his colleagues here first before writing in the newspaper”. He added that what the activist had written was not entirely correct, and that he had previously been warned for his actions.

Meanwhile, those who rallied behind the activist argued, both offline and online via Twitter and Facebook, that the suspension suggested that the IDU was becoming increasingly “authoritarian”, and that the university should not infringe upon “academic freedom”. Others went so far as to say that if the university started punishing or dismissing people for voicing their academic opinions, then we should question the quality of their graduates. Others still argue that the IDU is not “military property”.

As emotions continue to run high, and despite some factual inaccuracies in this exchange, I am not aiming to be a judge here; I am writing this only to highlight the larger issues at stake.

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