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What We’re Reading: August 2021

This month, our readings include several items on efforts to protect faculty academic freedom and two “big reads” about social media.

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Campus Happenings

Faculty Senate Passes Motion for Update in Academic Freedom Language of Faculty Handbook
Grace Wu | The Daily Northwestern | July 15, 2021

Northwestern University’s Faculty Senate approved changes to its faculty handbook, including “extending academic freedom to tenure-eligible and non-tenure-eligible faculty as well as the work of faculty in publications and abroad.” Changes also include new language “granting employed instructors and researchers the right to criticize and seek revisions to University policy.”

Appeals Court Sides with Christian Group Deregistered by Iowa
Elizabeth Redden | Inside Higher Ed | July 19, 2021

“The U.S. Court for Appeals for the Eighth Circuit ruled Friday that University of Iowa administrators targeted religious organizations for discriminatory treatment and further found that administrators can be held personally liable for their actions.” The case was brought by InterVarsity Christian Fellowship, an organization deregistered during a 2018 administrative review of student organizations. The court found that “reviewers involved in the ‘Student Org Clean Up Proposal’ were instructed to ‘look at religious student groups first.’”

OU Coaches Say Players Can Be Disciplined Over Politics
Ray Carter | Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs | July 26, 2021

A former University of Oklahoma volleyball player has sued the school and her coaches after she was disciplined for her criticism of the documentary “13th,” a film about the 13th Amendment, that the team was required to watch. Now the team’s coaches have filed a motion to dismiss the lawsuit, arguing “they are allowed to discipline players for political opinions because political disagreements can disrupt team unity… [and] that athletes waive some First Amendment free-speech rights as a condition of scholarship acceptance.’”

NU President, Chancellors Oppose CRT Resolution, Uphold Academic Freedom
Zach Wendling | The Daily Nebraskan | July 21, 2021

“Nearly two weeks after University of Nebraska Regent and gubernatorial candidate Jim Pillen introduced a resolution opposing critical race theory across NU, top university leaders released a unified statement defending academic freedom… In [the statement], they say they write unified ‘in defense of freedom of expression for all members of the University of Nebraska community… As our policies and practices make clear, the University of Nebraska is strongly committed to academic freedom.’” On August 13, the Nebraska Board of Regents voted down the resolution 3-5.

Op-Eds and Thought Pieces

More Gen Zers Have Negative Views About Capitalism Than of Critical Race Theory
Eli Yokley | Morning Consult | July 8, 2021

A Morning Consult survey challenges the assumption that members of Generation Z are the primary proponents of the “cancel culture” trend: “The oldest and youngest generations hold very similar views regarding cancel culture. Half of baby boomers and 55 percent of Gen Zers (with little variation based on race or gender) expressed negative views about the cultural phenomenon that’s led to the ostracization of various figures for acts or statements the public considers unseemly. Millennials, at 36 percent, were the least likely to view cancel culture negatively.”

Safe and Free: Envisioning a New Guide for Speakers on Campus
Shira Hoffer | Harvard Political Review | July 21, 2021

An undergraduate writes: “First, it is important to remember that a university or student organization inviting someone to speak does not necessarily mean that the university is endorsing that individual’s views. Second, and perhaps more importantly, I would like to clarify that I am not suggesting that clubs or universities should go looking for white supremacists and anti-Semites to come speak on campus about race and religion just for the sake of it. (I believe the vast majority of students and universities would not do that, even if it were what I was suggesting). Rather, I am suggesting that the potential of a hateful speaker coming to campus—albeit a scary possibility—is less frightening than the potential for universities to become moral arbiters in deciding whose views are ‘safe enough’ to be heard on campus.”

Big Reads

The Psychology of Online Political Hostility: A Comprehensive, Cross-National Test of the Mismatch Hypothesis
Alexander Bor and Michael Bang Petersen | American Political Science Review| Forthcoming, Preprint July 17, 2021

The authors analyze “the hostility gap where online discussions are felt as significantly more hostile than offline discussions.” They conclude, “people do not engage in online political hostility by accident. Online political hostility reflects status-driven individuals’ deliberate intentions to participate in political discussions and offend others both in online or offline contexts. In large online discussion networks, the actions of these individuals are highly visible, especially compared to more private offline settings.” These findings may be important to the campus setting, where 58% of undergraduates report that social and political ideas are discussed mostly through social media.

Worldwide Increases in Adolescent Loneliness
Jean M. Twenge et al. | Journal of Adolescence | July 20, 2021

Survey data from high school students in 37 countries found that as smartphones became widespread, “Online interaction became more normative and in-person get-togethers less common and smartphones interfered with social interaction. Social media in particular may create an exclusionary culture.” In a New York Times op-ed, the authors draw out implications for campus discourse, quoting a student who wrote, “There is hardly a sense of community on campus and it’s not hard to see why. Often I’ll arrive early to a lecture to find a room of 30+ students sitting together in complete silence, absorbed in their smartphones, afraid to speak and be heard by their peers.”

BDS as a Threat to Academic Freedom and Campus Free Speech in the United States
Michael B. Atkins and Miriam F. Elman | Michigan State International Law Review | July 2021 | Vol. 29

The authors describe trends in addressing antisemitism on campus while protecting free speech rights and academic freedom: “First, universities increasingly are recognizing the value of adopting or strengthening mandatory antisemitism awareness training and educational programs for both their students and staff. Second, university leaders increasingly are exercising their own free speech rights not only to reject the adoption of BDS resolutions but also to call out and condemn BDS as an intolerant stance that is inimical to the academy’s mission and values.”

Big Listen

Ep. 51: Race, Leadership and Engaging with Contrary Viewpoints
The Key Podcast | Inside Higher Education | June 29, 2021

Ronald Crutcher, president of the University of Richmond and member of BPC’s Academic Leaders Task Force on Campus Free Expression, comments: “Not only are we polarized, but people in their various bubbles only interact with people in those bubbles and, worse than that, they vilify people in the other bubbles. But I see that as a tremendous opportunity for us in higher education to do what I think was one of the things we have been called on to do and that is to educate our future citizens to be effective and engaging participants in the democratic society.”