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What We’re Reading: April 2024

In focus this month: universities respond to student protests and mounting public scrutiny. Plus: professors share their perspectives on diversity statements, student activism, and viewpoint diversity.

Campus Happenings

College Republicans and Democrats Agree: Defend Speech That Hurts Feelings
Maragaret Talev and Noah Bressner | Axios | March 14, 2024

An Axios Vibes survey found that 68% of college students “argued for pushing the limits of speech on campus even if there’s some risk of violence.” Furthermore, “85% said their institutions should make them feel safe sharing their opinions on tense social issues and global conflicts, and be a safe haven for free speech for the student body.” Notably, the survey found no difference between Democratic and Republican students.

Student Sit-In at Vanderbilt Over Israel-divestment Vote Ends Wednesday, Students Arrested
Angele Latham | The Tennessean | March 27, 2024

A student sit-in at Vanderbilt University over business divestment from Israel ended with four student arrests and three expulsions. A controversial moment arose with the arrest of a reporter on the scene. The incident received pushback from the local community, including a letter from 20 Metro Council members. Vanderbilt President Daniel Diermeier defended the university in an opinion piece in the Wall Street Journal.

Colleges Are Lawyering Up to Avoid Becoming the Next Harvard
Hailey Fuchs | POLITICO | April 3, 2024

As conservative lawmakers become increasingly involved in “the fight against perceived liberal bias on campus,” colleges and universities have turned to law and public relations firms for legal representation and crisis communications. Following the December congressional hearing on campus antisemitism, institutions are seeking to shield themselves from similar scrutiny.

New Alumni Free Speech Alliance Calls for Penn to Adhere to First Amendment Speech Protections
Ethan Young | The Daily Pennsylvanian | April 9, 2024

The Penn Alumni Free Speech Alliance has called on the university’s administration “to adopt a public commitment to free speech” as well as to “freedom of speech and academic thought.” The group was formed last winter to “[advocate] for free speech on Penn’s campus” and “model what free speech looks like” for other colleges and universities.

State and Federal

House Republicans Float Bill to Require Free Speech on Campuses
Kathrine Knott | Inside Higher Ed| March 18, 2024

The latest bill sponsored by the House Education and Workforce Committee Chairwoman Rep. Virginia Foxx (R-NC) seeks to address the “long-standing and pervasive degradation of First Amendment rights” at colleges and universities. The bill “will address the issue by ensuring students are educated about their rights and requiring concrete, transparent campus free-speech policies.” Should colleges fail to meet the bill’s requirements, they would become ineligible for federal financial aid.

Abbott Signs Executive Order to Combat Antisemitism at Texas Universities
Lexi Lonas | The Hill | March 27, 2024

Gov. Greg Abbot (R-TX) signed an executive order on March 27 that “requires colleges to add a definition of antisemitism to their free speech policies and ensure those policies lay out clear punishments for antisemitic speech.” He describes the measure as “immediate action to protect Jewish schools, synagogues, and other key locations.”

Opinion and Thought Pieces

A Conservative Thought Experiment on a Liberal College Campus
Rachel Slade | Boston Magazine | March 19, 2024

For a profile on Tufts University professor Eitan Hersh, the reporter attended Hersh’s classes to provide insight into his approach to teaching. Hersh believes that open inquiry and frank dialogue, as well as “access to a full range of ideologies and perspectives” builds student resiliency and develops their capacity to grapple with tough questions.

Mandatory DEI Statements Are Ideological Pledges of Allegiance. Time to Abandon Them.
Randall L. Kennedy | The Harvard Crimson | April 2, 2024

Harvard professor Randall L. Kennedy argues that mandatory diversity statements for hiring and promotion harms academic freedom. Requiring diversity statements fails to address “invidious social discriminations in academia” and imposes an “ideological litmus test” that “implicitly discourages candidates who harbor ideologically conservative dispositions.”

Student Activism is Integral to the Mission of Academe
Amna Khalid and Jeffrey Aaron Snyder | The Chronicle of Higher Education | April 2, 2024

In response to recent criticisms of student protests as detracting from the university’s academic mission, professors Khalid and Synder argue that universities have a responsibility to prepare students to be “informed, engaged citizens.” They argue that student activism and protest play a crucial role in this preparation and that universities “must protect their right to protest.”

Florida Abandons Free Speech Principles to Combat DEI Excesses
Jacob Mchangama | Fort Myers News-Press | April 7, 2024

As Florida’s Individual Freedom Act, also known as the Stop WOKE Act, faces mounting legal challenges, Jacob Mchangama argues that both diversity, equity, and inclusion programs and the Republican legislative efforts to ban them have undermined free expression. He argues that lawmakers’ “support of punitive laws… is merely the distorted mirror image of illiberal DEI policies.”

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