In the constant buzz of news about Trump’s various and sundry evils, with their implications for the entire world–Syria, Korea, China, Russia–it’s easy to lose track of the fact that all of this crap has implications for the daily lives of millions of individuals, in ways both large and small. I came across the email that you’ll see below today while cleaning out my email inbox. Sent in February of this year, it’s a letter from the organizers of a scientific meeting that will take place in the US this summer. HPSG is Head-Driven Phrase Structure Grammar, an approach to modelling syntax that’s popular amongst computational linguists. In one of those small-world things, I took my second semester of syntax from Carl Pollard, one of its creators. He gave me an A-, which was much higher than I deserved. Along with my grade, I got a little note, which read as follows: You were willing to ask the questions that everyone else was afraid to ask. (Don’t get excited–my questions were primarily along the lines of What does X mean?)
Not being sure whether or not you’ll be allowed into the country to attend an academic conference is not nearly as bad as, say, the situation of a green-card-holding Persian friend of mine who went to the airport in Tehran the day that the first executive order was signed–and wasn’t allowed to come home to the United States. But, you heard stories like his on the news. Here’s a view of the crappy situation that you might not have run into. This is just one little linguistics conference–multiply it by…multiply it by a lot, and you get a view of just one of the effects of Trump’s un-American immigration-related crap. Obscure vocabulary items explained in the English and French notes below.
Dear HPSG Colleagues,
As you are probably aware, towards the end of January the US President, Donald Trump, issued an executive order which sought to suspend entry to the United States for all refugees for 120 days; to bar Syrian refugees entirely; and to block entry to the United States to citizens of Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen for a period of 90 days. This order has been widely condemned by academic and scientific bodies, including the Linguistics Society of America (LSA, see below), and the constitutional legitimacy of this order been challenged in the courts. It is not clear what the outcome of this challenge will be.
This is directly relevant to this community because the 24th annual HPSG conference is scheduled to take place at the University of Kentucky in Lexington, in the USA (between 7-9 of July).
The main implications for this community are: first that scholars and researchers from the affected countries may not be able to attend the conference; and second that scholars and researchers from countries not directly affected by the executive order may withdraw from the conference as a form of protest against it, and in solidarity with those who will be affected by it (e.g. by not submitting papers, not attending the conference, refusing to serve on the Programme Committee, declining invitations to be guest speakers).
Given this, the Standing Committee (whose primary task “is to see that the yearly conference is organized, preferably at accessible places”) have been discussing whether the location of the conference should be changed to somewhere outside the USA.
After considerable thought, and consultation with the Local Organizer, we have decided that it should not be changed. One reason is that simply moving the conference would not avoid the problems that the executive order raises (e.g. it will prevent citizens of the affected countries who are US residents from leaving the US, because they will not be certain of their right to re-enter the US).
We appreciate that this decision will be contentious, as would the decision to move the conference, because it raises the issue of how one should respond as an individual or an academic to the actions of governments that can be seen as violations of human rights and which have the effect of inhibiting open international dialog and which are therefore damaging to the whole scientific enterprise. Questions about whether one’s opposition should take the form of continuing to engage constructively, or of boycotting? Which is more likely to be effective in a particular case such as this?
These are questions for individuals, and we think it is unlikely that a consensus will be possible, even in a community such as this. We absolutely respect the right of individuals to respond to this situation as they see fit (e.g. by refusing to serve on the Program Committee, refusing to attend, etc.).
From a practical point of view, we will be exploring the possibility of providing remote access for any potential attendees who are unable to attend in person because of this ban.
Chair, HPSG Standing Committee
contentious: “causing or likely to cause an argument; controversial” (the definition returned by Google–I don’t know the source)
How it appeared in the post: We appreciate that this decision will be contentious, as would the decision to move the conference, because it raises the issue of how one should respond as an individual or an academic to the actions of governments that can be seen as violations of human rights and which have the effect of inhibiting open international dialog and which are therefore damaging to the whole scientific enterprise.
contesté ou controversé: potential translations for “contentious” (from WordReference.com)