Academic Freedom and Publishing, Or: The ASA Police Never Sleeps...

Mathieu Deflem
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Published in Amici, the ASA Sociology of section newsletter, 11(2):10, Summer 2004.
Also available in PDF format.

Please cite as: Deflem, Mathieu. 2004. “Academic Freedom and Publishing, Or: The ASA Police Never Sleeps...” Amici, ASA Sociology of Law section newsletter, 11(2):10.

On March 9, 2004, the editors of ASA Section newsletters and other ASA publications received the following message from the ASA Executive Office:
ASA editors: 
As reported in the New York Times on February 28... and elsewhere in the press, the federal government very recently "has warned publishers that they may face grave legal consequences for editing manuscripts from Iran and other disfavored nations." 
This situation has emerged because of several new advisories from the US Treasury Department indicating that existing laws and regulations prohibiting trade with various nations are now being interpreted as extending to scholarly journals. That is, according to the Treasury Department, the mere act of reviewing or copyediting a manuscript from one of these nations is now being defined as "trading with the enemy," potentially subjecting editors and publishers to fines of $500,000 and 10 years in jail. 
Previously, the Berman Amendment to the Omnibus Trade and Competitiveness Act of 1988 that exempts "information and informational materials" from such embargoes has been interpreted by the federal government as exempting scholarly articles reviewed and copy edited by journals such as those published by the ASA. September 2003 interpretations by the Treasury Department's foreign-assets-control office (OFAC), however, changes this. In effect, it defines as exempt only publication of "camera-ready copies of manuscripts." This obviously changes dramatically the situation for all scholarly publishing in which this type of unreviewed and unedited publication is virtually unheard of. 
As you can imagine, publishers and scholarly organizations, including the ASA and its leadership, see this as an attack on scholarship and freedom of expression. 
The Executive Office is working with ASA's legal counsel as well as with our Association leadership and other professional societies and publishers to respond to this situation. We will keep you informed as our information grows. Members of Congress, for example, are beginning to respond to this situation and it is possible that it may undergo some change. 
In the meantime, we want to inform you about this matter as it currently stands. The disfavored nation list that is potentially involved includes the Balkans, Burma, Zimbabwe, Cuba, Iran, Iraq, Libya, Liberia, North Korea and Sudan. 
Request: This communication is to request that you inform the Executive Office immediately (myself or Karen Edwards) if you receive a manuscript from one of these nations or if you have such a manuscript anywhere in review process. The purpose of our request is to ensure we have the information we need to obtain legal advice about strategies we can all use to protect the review process of ASA journals and other publications. 
President Burawoy, President-elect Troy Duster, Publications Committee Chair Carol Heimer and I strongly support editorial independence. This communication is intended to help gather information necessary for us all to help the Association and our editors protect the process of unimpeded assessment and editorial judgments based upon the intellectual merits of materials submitted for publication. 
Thank you for helping us in this important enterprise. We will keep you abreast of developments as the Executive Office, Council and Pubs Comm continue to inform ourselves about changes in this situation and actions we can take to strengthen the vital principles of the freedom of scholarship and the independence of scholarly publishing.
Sally T. Hillsman, PhD 
Executive Officer

A related column by the Executive Officer has been published in the ASA newsletter Footnotes (April 2004).* Members of the Sociology of Law section may wish to know that the present newsletter editor responded to the Executive Officer’s email as follows:
“Considering the increasingly politically motivated actions by the ASA leadership, especially by its Council and Executive Office, most recently in the matter of the Iraq War resolution, I am of the opinion that the ASA can no longer legitimately claim to defend any attacks on scholarship. I therefore have to inform you that I will not obey your request to notify the Executive Office of any manuscripts coming from certain countries. 
I presently serve my final year as Newsletter editor of the Sociology of Law section. I am also website editor and council member of the Theory section and website editor of the Comparative & Historical Sociology section. Since the final issue of the Sociology of Law newsletter is already in the works and since as website editor I do not publish manuscripts, it is unlikely that I will be involved in editing manuscripts. Nonetheless, my decision is deliberate and purposeful. My decision also does not necessarily reflect on the sections for which I serve. 
John Dewey once wrote, "Majority rule, just as majority rule, is as foolish as its critics charge it with being... The means by which a majority rule comes to be a majority is the more important thing: antecedent debate, modification of views to meet the opinions of majorities." It is more than a shame that such noble (and —dare I say— authentically American) pragmatist ideals are lost on the ASA. 

Members of the Sociology of Law section should be ideally placed because of their sociological expertise to contribute to some of the critical matters addressed in this debate and I hope they will.

* In the meantime, the Chief of Licensing at the U.S. Treasury Department has referred to the ASA statement as a “misinterpretation” of Treasury policies (Letter, May 17, 2004).

See related writings on public sociology.