BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (WIAT) — The Claremont Institute, a conservative think tank, is calling the decision to cancel its in-person panels at a national political science conference “gutless,” but some academics have said their top professional organization has not gone far enough.
Political scientists from around the country have called for the American Political Science Association to fully sever ties with former Trump lawyer John Eastman and the Claremont Institute.
An open letter signed by 260 political scientists as of Monday stated the organization should “strip John Eastman of APSA membership” and “rescind the Claremont Institute’s status as an APSA related group.”
Eastman made national headlines this week following the publication of a memo he wrote that outlined a six-step plan to overturn the results of the 2020 presidential election.
“The main thing here,” Eastman wrote in that memo, “is that Pence should do this without asking for permission—either from a vote of the joint session or from the Court.”
Eastman had been scheduled to speak at APSA’s annual conference in October. The two panels he was slated to speak in, which dealt with the 2020 elections and the Supreme Court, were hosted by an APSA “related group,” the Claremont Institute.
APSA initially moved the two panels and the group’s in-person reception to a virtual format, a move the Claremont Institute has called “gutless.”
“APSA unilaterally and without explanation cancelled all of Claremont Institute’s (and only the Institute’s) in-person panels and moved them to virtual, which prevented our panelists from attending other in-person panels,” the group told CBS 42 Monday. “They also cancelled our in-person reception, nonsensically ‘allowing’ that to be conducted virtually as well.”
Although APSA has not provided a reason for moving the Institute’s panels to a virtual format, the organization said in a tweet that after the change, the Claremont Institute canceled the virtual panels themselves.
Please note various panel adjustments are still being made. After APSA moved the Claremont Institute in-person panels to virtual panels, Claremont elected to cancel all its panels, both in-person and virtual. View the updated program schedule. https://t.co/nyXcatgnZX— APSA (@APSAtweets) September 25, 2021
Some have speculated that the group’s cancellation of the virtual events was because panelists are not vaccinated or oppose APSA’s requirement that attendees provide proof of vaccination. The Claremont Insitute has disputed this claim.
“This had nothing to do with the COVID vaccine mandate, but rather appears to be APSA leadership’s gutless response to calls for it to cancel Claremont’s panels because some APSA members do not agree with the views of some of our panelists,” the group said. “We are exploring all legal options in response to this unprofessional and rather egregious conduct by the APSA.”
Dave Karpf, a professor at the George Washington University who circulated the open letter, said he’s glad the Claremont Institute panels have been canceled, but he still wants to see APSA end its relationship with the conservative group altogether.
Political scientists who signed the open letter have been vocal in their criticism of both Eastman and the Claremont Institute.
Jennifer Victor, an associate professor of political science at George Mason University, said while there should be a diverse range of ideas that are fair game for academic discussion, there are a few exceptions.
“The marketplace of ideas should be pretty creative and widespread,” she said. “But I think it should also be consistent with some principles. And I think one of those principles is a version of democracy itself. Democracy comes in lots and lots of forms, but I think what Eastman is advocating for is in no way democracy.“
Dr. Thessalia Merivaki, an assistant professor in American politics at Mississippi State University, said that allowing Eastman or the Claremont Institute a platform at APSA would seem “hypocritical.”
“We’re teaching our students what democratic theory means and what it means to be respectful of democratic institutions and how to critically evaluate what is happening and study and observe political phenomena,” she said. “So it appears that we are we would be very hypocritical to provide a platform to individuals who are committed to the opposite of that. So what does it say about us as a discipline and an organization when we allow this to happen?”
Merivaki said that she doesn’t buy arguments that allowing individuals like Eastman or institutions like Claremont express their views is simply providing a balance of views.
“It’s not a matter of two sides, because one could argue that you have to provide a forum for the other side,” she said. “But in this case, promoting someone who aimed to, through his actions, overturn democratic institutions — that’s not an equivalent.”
Miranda Yaver, a visiting assistant professor of politics at Oberlin College, said preventing Eastman and Claremont from having a platform at APSA isn’t a partisan issue.
“The American Political Science Association is the main professional association for political scientists who represents about 11,000 members, give or take,” she said. “And we represent Democrats, Republicans, independents. We don’t have a partisan affiliation. But one thing that we do stand for is democracy.“
While APSA has not directly responded to the open letter about Eastman, it is not the first time the organization has been in the spotlight about controversial speakers. In 2011, scholars opposed John Yoo’s participation in that year’s annual meeting of APSA. Yoo was a lawyer for former Pres. George W. Bush who wrote documents outlining the alleged legality of torture techniques. In their response to members’ objections that year, APSA’s governing council said that it supported members’ right to protest Yoo’s presence “as we support the right of APSA members to produce panels and speakers on topics they think it important for the association to consider.” the organization said that supported “healthy controversy” within its ranks.
Yaver said that the controversy that arises from giving people like Yoo and Eastman a platform is not healthy, however.
“I think that we can I think we can do better in normalizing the author of torture memos,” she said. “I think we can definitely do better than normalizing someone who was undermining free and fair elections.”
Yaver said there is a major difference between policy differences and the issue here.
“We need to keep straight what is a partisan difference as opposed to a defense of democracy itself, she said. “I don’t think that that falls within the realm of healthy controversies.”
Multiple attempts to reach American Political Science Association for comment were not successful.