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What We’re Reading August 2023

Investigations, resignations, and dismissals of faculty and administrators lead our selections, as conflicts over academic freedom create turnover in leadership and faculty ranks.

Campus Happenings

DEI College Director Fired for Not Being ‘Right Kind of Black Person’

Nick Mordowanec | Newsweek | July 17, 2023

After De Anza Community College fired a tenured professor who served as Diversity, Equity and Inclusion director, the former faculty member filed a lawsuit. The case alleges that the professor, “who is Black, stood up for free speech, academic freedom, humanism, and equal treatment for all students and faculty, regardless of race” and that the school fired her on ideological grounds, thereby violating her academic freedom and First Amendment protections.

Stanford Law Assistant Dean Embroiled in Judge’s Free-Speech Controversy Steps Down

Karen Sloan | Reuters | July 20, 2023

The Stanford Law School administrator who intervened in support of hecklers when a federal judge was shouted down at Stanford Law School has resigned. According to the law school dean, the administrator “intended to de-escalate the tense situation when she spoke at the March 9 event, [and] she recognizes that the impact of her statements was not as she hoped or intended.”

Texas A&M President Katherine Banks Resigns Amid Fallout from Failed Hiring of Journalism Professor

Kate McGee | The Texas Tribune | July 21, 2023

Texas A&M University President Katherine Banks resigned following a failed efforts to recruit Kathleen McElroy, a noted Black journalist and University of Texas at Austin professor, to its journalism faculty. While academic freedom principles assign a leading role to department faculty in hiring decisions, the journalism department head writes that “Banks injected herself into the [hiring] process atypically and early on,” and that race was a factor in the decision to water down the job offer.

LSU Fires Graduate Assistant Who Left Vulgar Voicemail for State Senator

Piper Hutchinson| Louisiana Illuminator | July 20, 2023

After a Louisiana State University (LSU) graduate student’s profane voicemail for a state senator was leaked to the media, LSU issued a statement affirming students’ “right to express their opinions.” However, the statement continued, this student will not be allowed a teaching assistantship as he failed to “exhibit the character we expect of someone given the privilege of teaching.”

State and Federal

A Texas A&M Professor Was Suspended for Allegedly Criticizing Lieutenant Governor

Dustin Jones | NPR | July 26, 2023

Texas A&M University System leaders investigated, briefly suspended, and censured a pharmacy professor after the professor criticized the lieutenant governor’s handling of the opioid crisis during a lecture at the University of Texas Medical Branch.  A student with “close ties” to the lieutenant governor relayed the professor’s remarks to state officials; the lieutenant governor’s office then contacted the A&M University System chancellor. Critics see it as political interference in academic governance.

Op-eds and Thought Pieces

Americans’ Confidence in Higher Education Down Sharply

Megan Brenan | Gallup | July 11, 2023

Confidence in higher education has plummeted from 57% in 2015 to 36% today. Republicans, those with no college degree, and those 55 and older exhibited the biggest drop. Among those with a college degree, only 47% have “a great deal” or “quite a lot” of confidence in higher education, indicating that trust is faltering even among alumni.

Misgendering Should Be a Crime, According to Millennials

James Bickerton | Newsweek | July 15, 2023

A survey of 1,500 eligible voters found that a third of Generation Z (33%) and plurality of millennials (44%) think that “referring to a transgender person by the wrong pronouns should be a criminal offense.”

SPSP Abandons Mandatory DEI Statements

Lee Jussim | Unsafe Science | July 17, 2023

The Society for Personality and Social Psychology will no longer require a DEI statement in proposals to present at its annual conference. Social psychologist Lee Jussim praised the move, arguing that “even if [DEI statements] might hypothetically be implemented without being compelled speech, they are, at best, a colossal waste of time and effort.”

2023 American College Student Freedom, Progress and Flourishing Survey

John Bitzan | NDSU Sheila and Robert Challey Institute for Global Innovation and Growth | 2023

In its annual survey of students about viewpoint diversity and free speech, a North Dakota State University research institute finds 79% of liberals and 59% of conservatives report being comfortable expressing opinions in class on controversial issues. Students report more worry about student peers’ than professors’ disesteem in the classroom. When it comes to faculty, students are censorious: 81% of liberal students and 53% of conservatives endorse reporting faculty for offensive speech.

Big Reads

Cancel Culture: Heterodox Self-Censorship or the Curious Case of the Dog-Which-Didn’t-Bark

Pippa Norris | Harvard Kennedy School Faculty Research Working Paper Series | July 2023

Political scientist Pippa Norris, drawing on global survey data, measured the “hesitancy of scholars to express controversial views in a variety of contexts within and outside academia.” Her findings: in Western countries, scholars who identify as heterodox were those most likely to self-censor in teaching, research, and public settings; in non-Western countries, “self-censorship was not predicted by a scholar’s social values or subjective heterodox status.”

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