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What We’re Reading: June 2020

Campuses were impacted by the protest movement that shook the nation this month in the wake of the killing of George Floyd. Our readings take us to Minnesota, where students protested just miles from the site of Floyd’s death, and to colleges across the country where students and faculty faced fallout over controversial tweets and private messages. This month’s Big Reads include a major report from the American Academy of Arts and Sciences about trends in the humanities, disciplines essential for preparing graduates to contextualize current events and controversies. The report includes data about declining enrollments and elimination of humanities disciplines as major fields of study at many institutions.

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Campus Happenings

Snow College Faculty Senate Resolution Affirming the Chicago Principles
Faculty Senate | Snow College | April 2020

Despite the turmoil of COVID-19 disruptions to campus life, the faculty senate of Snow College became the latest institutional body to endorse the Chicago Principles. It is the first school in Utah to do so and joins a list of over 70 other institutions that have formally adopted the principles. The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education’s interview with the faculty senate president may be found here.

UMN Students Continue Organizing, Demonstrating Over Floyd Killing
Audrey Kennedy et al. | Minnesota Daily | May 31, 2020

“The ‘Get Police Off Our Campus’ rally was hosted by several student groups, including the Students for a Democratic Society, the Black Student Union, the Muslim Students Association and the UMN Climate Strike, among others. …The atmosphere was peaceful and quiet as protesters listened to various student speakers.” The roughly 200 protesters demanded the creation of a council to oversee the campus police department, and that the department be disarmed, defunded, or otherwise minimized. Protesters were encouraged to wear masks and stand at least six feet apart.

Weber State Professor Resigns After “Abhorrent” Tweets
Colby Walker | KSL News | June 3, 2020

In response to an online petition with over 2,100 signatures calling for his ousting and a request from administrators to step down, a tenured criminal justice professor at Weber State University has resigned. The outcry comes after the professor posted several tweets about recent protests, including that “If I was the cop, you wouldn’t be able to Tweet.” About his tweets, the professor said, “I don’t stand by them and will have to suffer the consequences of my recklessness.” Other news sources report that his Twitter account was linked to his university email account.

As Pride Month Begins, Transphobia and Exclusionary Speech Within Student Government Sparks Outrage
John Lystad | FSU News | June 5, 2020

The president of the Student Government Association Senate at Florida State University has come under criticism for comments he posted to a private group chat for the school’s Catholic Student Union, in which he wrote that Black Lives Matter “fosters a ‘queer affirming network’ and defends transgenderism,” and that the ACLU defends abortions, both of which he labeled as “grave evils” that are “explicitly anti-Catholic.” The SGA Senate considered two votes of no confidence, the first of which failed while the second (not mentioned in this article) passed after several hours of public comment. The Senate has since installed a new president.

Students’ Hateful Speech Results in Rescinded Acceptance
Greta Anderson | Inside Higher Ed | June 5, 2020

“At least two colleges have rescinded athletic and admissions offers to incoming freshmen who made racist comments about black people on social media in the wake of the police killing of George Floyd, a black Minneapolis man. Other colleges have begun investigations or said they will discipline students who also posted hateful and racially offensive messages.” One student’s post said that Ku Klux Klan rallies were less violent than those of Floyd protesters, while the other’s compared kneeling during the national anthem to the police officer’s kneeling on Floyd’s neck.

Op-eds and Thought Pieces

Academic Freedom as Democratization
Christopher Newfield | Academe | Spring 2020

“In the contemporary university, disappointment with the leading professional proxy for democracy— ‘shared governance’ embodied in faculty senates—has convinced many, if not most, faculty members that pro­fessional practice is irrelevant to and often the enemy of democracy and social justice. While sympathetic to this view, I want to suggest that we can undo the underlying opposition between professionalism and democracy by making academic freedom a bridge between them.”

Students Facing Restricted Access to Open Records and Meetings Due to COVID-19
Alicia Thomas | Student Press Law Center | May 6, 2020

Despite recent Department of Education guidelines that “allow schools to share some information that would usually be protected under FERPA,” student journalists “are facing issues obtaining public records and accessing what should be open meetings. …[A] majority of the calls to SPLC’s legal hotline in March and April have been about COVID-19 related access issues,” including difficulties getting answers to questions about whether students have tested positive, how COVID-19 funds are being spent, and the results of surveys that measure campus reaction to pandemic policies.

Conservative Academics Reflect on the Relationship of Politics to Scholarship
Christian Alejandro Gonzalez | National Review | June 3, 2020

The author interviewed conservative academics about whether right-leaning faculty should adopt an explicitly conservative approach to their research in the social sciences and humanities. He found that most conservative academics interviewed warned against using scholarship to advance a political agenda but “agree that political concerns can sometimes influence the sorts of research questions that one is interested in. It is perfectly fine for this to happen, they say, so long as political opinions don’t distort the way evidence is presented.”

Big Reads

The State of the Humanities in Four-Year Colleges and Universities (2017)
American Academy of Arts and Sciences | May 2020

The AAAS’s Humanities Indicators project offers its findings at the conclusion of a multi-year survey (2007, 2012, 2017) of the state of students and faculty in the humanities. Among many findings: “The survey found a statistically significant decline in the estimated average number of degrees granted in departments of art history, English, history, and philosophy from 2011–2012 to 2016–2017… as well as a statistically significant decline in the average number of juniors and seniors with declared majors in the disciplines of history, philosophy, and religion.”

Disliked but Free to Speak: Cognitive Ability is Related to Supporting Freedom of Speech for Groups Across the Ideological Spectrum
Jonas De keersmaecker et al. | Social Psychology and Personality Science | Forthcoming

“In three studies, we examined the relationship between cognitive ability and support for freedom of speech for a variety of social groups across the ideological spectrum. … Corroborating our theoretical expectations, although cognitive ability was related to more affective prejudice towards relatively conservative groups, and less affective prejudice towards relatively liberal groups … people with higher levels of cognitive ability were more in favor of freedom of speech for all target groups.”

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