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What We're Reading: March 2022

This month’s top 10 reads include an article on academic boycotts of Russia and articles on strategies by students, faculty, and academic leaders to address concerns about the campus environment for open exchange and legislative efforts to regulate classroom content.  

Campus Happenings 

Friends Student Has to Move Show About Censorship After School Donors Complain 

Emily Christensen | The Wichita Eagle | February 12, 2022 

Following complaints from staff and donors, a Friends University student was told to move her recital, which had been approved by faculty, “The Shows They Don’t Want Us to Produce: A Study of Censorship Throughout the History of Musical Theatre” to an off-campus venue. In an email message to the student, the university’s vice president of academic affairs and dean of the faculty asserted that promotion of the recital on the Friends University Fine Arts Facebook page suggested the university gave its imprimatur to the event. 

Here’s What Thousands of Students, Employees at Iowa Public Universities Said About Free Speech  

Cleo Krejci | Iowa City Press-Citizen | February 16, 2022 

The State of Iowa Board of Regents’ Free Speech Committee released a report on a survey of students and faculty at Iowa’s three public universities. Among the findings: “just 56% of students and 49% of employees agree their university environment ‘allows me to say things I believe.’” The Free Speech Committee, established in 2020, is charged with conducting biennial surveys, hearing complaints, reviewing policies, and implementing free-speech training. 

UW Returns $5M to Donor After Disagreement Over Professor’s Views on Israel 

Nina Shapiro | The Seattle Times | March 5, 2022  

In a case that raises questions about conflicts between commitments to donor intent and to faculty academic freedom, the University of Washington returned a $5 million gift to a donor after the donor was dismayed by comments expressed by the chair of the university’s Israel Studies Program. A university spokesperson said the school will revise its donor agreement language to avoid similar situations. 

Federal and State 

College Faculty are Fighting Back Against State Bills on Critical Race Theory 

Nick Anderson and Susan Svrluga | The Washington Post | February 19, 2022 

As more state legislatures consider bills to regulate curricular content on campuses, a new strategic response to these bills is emerging: faculty and university senate resolutions condemning the bills. The article describes how faculty leaders are developing these resolutions and coordinating with peers on other campuses, as well as some professors’ opposition to these resolutions. 

Op-Eds and Thought Pieces 

Pushback at Cancel Culture is Leading to New Educational Initiatives 

The Economist | February 26, 2022 

The author outlines three strategies for those who see an unwelcoming climate for open exchange on many campuses: student flight to colleges with an emphasis on the traditional canon; faculty-led reform with support by faculty organizations such as Heterodox Academy, and academic entrepreneur initiatives such as the founding of new academic institutions like the University of Austin. 

Understanding the Campus Expression Climate: Fall 2021

Zhou, M. Stiksma, and S.C. Zhou | Heterodox Academy | March 2022

Heterodox Academy’s second survey of full-time college students found that “60% of college students expressed reluctance to discuss at least one controversial topic” with “Republican and Independent students and white and Asian students being most reluctant.” The most common reason (56%) for this reluctance “was concern that peers would make critical comments to others after class.” However, this reluctance may be misplaced—when “asked what they would do if a classmate expressed an opinion with which they strongly disagreed, the overwhelming response was to ask questions to understand the other student’s opinion better.”  

I Came to College Eager to Debate. I Found Self-Censorship Instead. 

Emma Camp | The New York Times | March 7, 2022 

A University of Virginia student observes, “Students of all political persuasions hold back — in class discussions, in friendly conversations, on social media — from saying what we really think.” She argues that students alone cannot meet the challenge of self-censorship and calls on universities to adopt strong policies to protect free expression and promote a culture of viewpoint diversity. 

Do Academic Boycotts Work? 

Simon Baker | The Times Higher Education | March 9, 2022 

In the wake of the Russian invasion of Ukraine, academic boycotts of Russian scholars and institutions are being contemplated, or already imposed. The author quotes a range of scholars and academic leaders on the “fundamental questions about international research collaboration, academic freedom and the flow of knowledge” raised by academic boycotts. 

Campus Free Speech Can’t Survive Cultural Change 

David French| The Atlantic | March 10, 2022 

The author argues campus free speech advocates, in their recent focus on legislative efforts to constrain curricular content on campus, may be overlooking cultural factors, as “over time, the law tends to flow from the culture.” He suggests that student self-censorship and social media mobs indicate that student culture norms of “respect for free and open debate” have been eroded. 

Big Reads  

Free Speech on Campus: Countering the Climate of Fear 

John Hasnas | Georgetown Journal of Law and Public Policy| Forthcoming  

The author, a Georgetown Law School professor, argues that open inquiry can be upheld only by twin reforms: schools’ adoption of a safe harbor provision, which assures that controversial expression will not face institutional sanction, and the establishment of an organization to provide pro bono legal services to students and faculty whose free speech rights have been curtailed. 

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