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What We’re Reading: December 2023

In the spotlight this month: analysis of the House Education and the Workforce Committee hearing on antisemitism and free expression in higher education. Plus: governing boards and accreditors adopt new free expression and diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) policies.

Campus Happenings

Jury Rules Against Texas Professor Who Claimed Suburban Community College Retaliated Against Him for Political Speech
Kate McGee | Texas Tribune | November 14, 2023

A jury ruled against a Collin College professor who had sued the North Texas community college for allegedly violating his First Amendment rights in response to his criticism of the college’s COVID-19 protocol and his support for removing Confederate statues. The college had decided not to renew his contract for the 2023 academic year. Two other professors who had sued the college on First Amendment grounds settled with the school.

Iowa Board of Regents Tells UI, ISU, UNI to Eliminate DEI Positions Not Required by Law
Stephen Gruber-Miller | Des Moines Register | November 16, 2023

The Iowa Board of Regents voted to adopt a new policy that prohibits the state’s three public universities from hiring DEI positions not required by state or federal law or by the schools’ accreditors. The board also required schools to “standardize annual employee guidance for separating personal political advocacy from university business” and recommended that schools hire more ideologically diverse faculty.

Free Speech Requirement for Law Schools Moves Forward
Kathryn Palmer | Inside Higher Ed | November 21, 2023

The American Bar Association’s Council of the Section of Legal Education and Admissions to the Bar unanimously voted in favor of a new free speech policy that would shore up protections for faculty, students, and staff, and that would empower accreditors to enforce compliance with the policy. The ABA’s House of Delegates will meet in February to consider final approval.

Utah Colleges, Universities to Implement Resolution on Campus ‘Free Expression’
Ben Winslow | KTSU News | December 1, 2023

The Utah Board of Higher Education unanimously approved a free expression policy that requires the state’s public colleges and universities to maintain institutional neutrality, promote viewpoint diversity, and shore up free expression and academic freedom rights. The measure establishes a commission and requires institutions to develop new policies by June 1.

Squeezed by Politics, an Accreditor’s Annual Meeting Concludes with No Vote on a DEI Standard
Eric Kelderman | The Chronicle of Higher Education | December 5, 2023

In its annual meeting, the delegates of the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges declined to consider a new accreditation standard that would require member institutions to adopt DEI measures on their campuses. Though the other major accreditors have approved new DEI standards, the new SACSCOC standard would have conflicted with recent Florida and Texas state laws that bar state funding for DEI.

State and Federal

OCR Releases “Dear Colleague Letter” on School Responsibilities to Address Title VI Discrimination and Harassment
Brenton Villasenor | JD Supra | November 15, 2023

The Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights issued a “Dear Colleague” letter on November 7 reminding colleges and universities of their obligations under Title VI to protect students from discrimination and harassment. The Biden administration is taking action on a variety of fronts to address the rise of antisemitic and Islamophobic events on colleges and universities.

Op-eds and Thought Pieces

Everyone Just Shut Up Already
Stanley Fish | Chronicle of Higher Education | November 30, 2023

Stanley Fish, professor in residence at the New College of Florida, argues that institutional silence on controversial issues should not be confused with neutrality. College leaders refusing to take a position is essential to the academy’s mission “to advance the state of knowledge.” This endeavor requires robust academic freedom, which “is not a general license to say whatever you like on any topic under the sun. It is a limited freedom to follow where the evidence pertaining to an academic question leads.”

The Fallout: What the Antisemitism Hearing Could Mean for Higher Education
Katherine Knott | Inside Higher Ed | December 7, 2023

The presidents of Harvard University, the University of Pennsylvania, and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology testified before the House Committee on Education and the Workforce in a four-hour hearing on antisemitism and free expression. House Republicans interrogated the three presidents, whose responses generated widespread backlash—including from major donors—prompting the resignation of Penn President Elizabeth Magill. In this piece, IHE reached out to over a dozen thought leaders to get their reaction to the hearing and its implications for higher education.

What the University Presidents Got Right and Wrong about Antisemitic Speech
David French | New York Times | December 10, 2023

David French assesses Harvard, Penn, and MIT presidents’ congressional testimony and the situation on their campuses, which have seen “a mixture of protected antisemitic (as well as anti-Islamic) speech and prohibited harassment.” The presidents’ responses were troubling not for their legal insufficiency but their “stunning hypocrisy.” French says universities should adopt clear and coherent free expression policies and “absorb the fundamental truth that the best answer to bad speech is better speech, not censorship.”

We’ve Lost Our Way on Campus. Here’s How We Can Find Our Way Back.
Danielle Allen | Washington Post | December 10, 2023

Harvard professor Danielle Allen explores how colleges and universities can appropriately limit student protests and counter a culture of intimidation while protecting free expression and academic freedom. She argues that universities should gently correct students’ moral errors and teach them to improve their reasoning. Additionally, she contends that institutions should reform diversity and inclusion efforts to embrace mutual respect and viewpoint diversity.

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