Distinguished Lecturers should not be vetoed by the US

I attended the IEEE Information Theory Society (ITSOC) Board of Governors meeting at ISIT in Paris this week and found something gnawing at me afterwards from the presentation about the Distinguished Lecturer (DL) program. The presentation said that “IEEE denied the selection of a DL based in Iran due to U.S. sanction.” The name of the particular DL nominee does not appear in the public record.

Why can IEEE deny the selection of a DL? In part, there are requirements for DLs now:

DL should visit IT Society local chapters. DL program pays for airfare and travel. Local chapter pays for local expenses (hotel). If traveling to a different continent, visits to two locations are required. DL lectures should be freely accessible to the public (i.e. no registration fees).

A DL from Iran cannot be reimbursed by IEEE because the IEEE is based in the US and has to abide by US law. By the new rules then, scholars from Iran are automatically disqualified from the DL program.

Being a DL is an important recognition: it is arguably an award. It certainly bestows a certain level of prestige. Acceding to this intervention by IEEE sends the message that “if you are from Iran, you can’t get an award.” Once we go down this road we might as well ban conference submissions, membership, and participation in the academic community for scholars from Iran. Why not go whole hog and become a tool of the US State Department? It’s ludicrous.

ITSOC should not sit by and passively accept this “veto” from IEEE: it’s an assault on academic freedom that devalues scholarship on purely political grounds. To not even name the nominee erases the honor to which they are entitled. In fact, they should be given the honor/award with the stipulation that they are exempt from the reimbursement. It is possible to take a stand without violating the law: recognize this scholar and take a public stand against the encroachment of American foreign policy onto an international academic community.

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