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What We’re Reading July 2020

With most classes suspended for the summer, this month’s readings include three faculty members who have come under fire for classroom speech and blog posts. Controversies over statues and monuments became national news and reached the grounds of two public universities: the University of Mississippi and Fresno State University.

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Campus Happenings

Statement on Prof. William Jacobson and Academic Freedom
Eduardo M. Peñalver | Cornell Law School | June 7, 2020

The dean of the Cornell Law School responds to blog posts made by a faculty member, William Jacobson, critical of Black Lives Matter: “We can simultaneously affirm our commitment to diversity and inclusion and equal justice while employing someone who has written the sorts of things about the protests that Professor Jacobson has, because, as an institution of higher learning, we also value academic freedom, which prevents us from censoring the extramural writings of faculty members.” Professor Jacobson responds that the dean’s statement, as well as the complaints against him, distort his words.

After Year and a Half Long Process, IHL Votes to Relocate Confederate Statue on Ole Miss Campus
Sarah Fowler | Mississippi Clarion Ledger | June 18, 2020

The Mississippi Institutions of Higher Learning Board of Trustees approved a plan to relocate a confederate monument from near the campus’ administration building to the university cemetery. The board’s action comes after the student senate voted to recommend the relocation of the statue in March 2019, and the Mississippi Department of Archives and History signed off on the relocation plan in December 2019.

MSU VP of Research Resigns After Controversial Comments Prompt Calls for Ouster
Mark Johnson | Lansing State Journal | June 19, 2020

Michigan State University physicist Stephen Hsu has resigned as senior vice president for research and innovation at the request of the school’s president. “The announcement comes after the Graduate Employees Union called for MSU to remove Hsu after statements he made…which the union members consider sexist and racist.” Hsu maintains that his views have been distorted and that allegations against him were made in bad faith by “Twitter mobs” who “want to suppress scientific work that they find objectionable.” He remains a tenured member of the MSU faculty.

University of Chicago Closes Investigation into Economist Over Martin Luther King Jr. Comments, Reinstates Professor as Journal Editor
Alice Yin | Chicago Tribune | June 23, 2020

“A University of Chicago economics professor will return to his journal editor post after the school reviewed a claim that he scorned Martin Luther King Jr. during class, determining there was ‘not a basis’ for more investigation. The university announced on Monday that it finished reviewing claims that professor Harald Uhlig made discriminatory comments during class, and that he will be reinstated as lead editor of the Journal of Political Economy.”

Statement Regarding the Peace Garden and Statue of Mahatma Gandhi
Joseph Castro | Fresno State News | June 24, 2020

The president of Fresno State University has refused the demands of a petition calling to remove a bust of Gandhi from the Fresno State Peace Garden. He wrote, “All four individuals recognized in the Fresno State Peace Garden—Mahatma Gandhi, Martin Luther King, Cesar Chavez and Jane Addams—embodied the spirit of peaceful and constructive activism. This transcendent quality is what the garden memorializes. It does not necessarily honor every facet of their lives.”

State and Federal Policies

Campus Free Speech Bill Goes Into Effect July 1, No Action Required Until 2021
Mary Sell | Alabama Daily News | June 17, 2020

The law requires schools to adopt policies that acknowledge, among other things, that ‘the campus of the public institution of higher education shall be open to any speaker whom the institution’s student organizations or faculty have invited, and the institution will make all reasonable efforts to make available all reasonable resources to ensure safety.’ The law also says institutions won’t create ‘free speech zones’ or other designated outdoor areas of campus in order to limit or prohibit protected expressive activities.” No reporting is required until 2021, to give time for universities to update their policies.

Op-eds and Thought Pieces

Campus War on Free Speech Spreads to U.S. Newsrooms
Mark Hemingway | Real Clear Politics | June 9, 2020

The author responds to the resignation of New York Times editorial page editor, James Bennett, following the publishing of an op-ed many Times employees found offensive. “It’s no coincidence [employees’] argument dovetails with the illiberal rhetoric emanating from college campuses. … Much like campuses, the Times is now on record saying its staff is to be treated like young students who must be coddled and protected from ideas they don’t like.”

How COVID-19 Changed Everything and Nothing at All
Association of Public and Land-grant Universities | June 2020

A survey of public university leaders outlines the challenges they expect to face in the coming year, including the prediction that campus activism will reach “new heights.” “From large protests and high profile, contentious headline grabbing speakers to the day-to-day antagonism between student groups, professors expressing personal political opinions, insufficient or inconsistently-applied time, place and manner rules, or even peaceful protests disrupted by professional ‘nonaffiliates’ looking to cause trouble on campus—we can expect a tumultuous start to the new school year that will likely put campus leadership under intense scrutiny.” 71% of those surveyed identified academic freedom and free speech as a challenge they have faced.

Removing an Offensive Mural from the University of Kentucky Isn’t “Racial Justice”
Karyn Olivier | Washington Post | July 6, 2020

In 2018, leaders at the University of Kentucky commissioned artist Karyn Olivier, who is Black, to create a work in response to a “patently offensive” mural at the school from the 1930s. In response to social pressure in the wake of George Floyd’s killing, the administration announced that the mural will be removed. However, Olivier said that doing so “mutes my work.” “Instead of an embrace of the polemics the two works engendered—a thoughtful dialogue between the work of a white woman of 1934 and a black woman of 2018—an action of political correctness, which some might see as a good deed, was offered to appease those who oppose [the] mural.” Kentucky author Wendell Berry is suing the university to prevent removal of the historic artwork.

Big Reads

Political Speech on Campus: A Practical Look at University Policies and Regulation
Laura Beltz and Mary Zoeller | Cumberland Law Review | June 8, 2020

Two attorneys with the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education write about how a misinterpretation of the Internal Revenue Service code is leading many institutions to violate student’s First Amendment rights. “College administrators cannot in good faith claim [that] individual students’ political expression endangers the institution’s tax-exempt status.” They conclude: “The law is clear. Public universities, and private universities that promise students free speech, may not restrict protected expression merely because it includes partisan political content.”