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What We’re Reading: June 2024

In focus this month: taking stock of the protests that rocked higher ed in the past eight months. Plus, a new book analyzes the legal status of academic freedom protections for professors.

Campus Happenings

Far From the Protests, Some Students Try to Meet in the Middle
Molly Ball | The Wall Street Journal | May 25, 2024

National organization BridgeUSA is working to bring students together for civil discussion on divisive issues as protests have roiled campuses across the country. According to co-founder Manu Meel, “there’s a silent majority that wants to have a dialogue, but all the air is taken up by the vocal extremes, and the universities are held hostage by them.”

Harvard Leaders No Longer Commenting on Issues Unrelated to ‘Core Function’
Lexi Lonas | The Hill | May 28, 2024

Harvard announced that it will no longer make official statements on issues unrelated to the “core function” of the university. Harvard’s Institutional Voice Working Group published a report in April recommending that the university refrain from commenting on controversial social and political issues to maintain open inquiry and academic freedom.

DePaul Adjunct Ousted for Optional Gaza Assignment
Ryan Quinn | Inside Higher Ed | June 3, 2024

DePaul University fired an adjunct professor after receiving complaints that the professor had introduced political matters into her course on epidemiology, including an optional assignment that asked students to explain “the impact of genocide/ethnic cleansing on the health/biology of the people it impacts.” The professor filed an appeal, claiming that the university violated her academic freedom.

Pro-Palestinian Protesters Arrested and Suspended After Barricading Inside Stanford University President’s Office
David K. Li and Lindsay Good | NBC News | June 5, 2024

Thirteen Stanford students and alumni were arrested after occupying and vandalizing the president’s office to demand divestment from companies tied to Israel. Police removed the protestors after three hours, and the university suspended the students who participated.

State and Federal

In House Hearing, Republicans Demand Discipline for Student Protesters
Anemona Hartocollis, Nicholas Bogel-Burroughs, Sharon Otterman, Ernesto Londoño, and Michael Levenson | The New York Times | May 23, 2024

Leaders from Northwestern, Rutgers, and the University of California, Los Angeles, testified before the House of Representatives Committee on Education and the Workforce in its third hearing on campus antisemitism, where Republicans questioned the leaders about their universities’ responses to pro-Palestinian encampments.

Opinions and Thought Pieces

The Wrong Remedy
Tony Banout | Inside Higher Ed | April 24, 2024

Tony Banout, director of the Chicago Forum for Free Inquiry and Expression, argues that government should “restrain itself from squelching intellectual diversity, intimidating higher education leaders, and chilling the range of ideas and discourse that institutions dedicated to seeking truth and knowledge ought to keep sacrosanct.” But to “defuse the temptations of government overreach,” he argues campus leaders themselves must do more to boost intellectual diversity.

Students More Likely to Face Arrest on Campuses with Poor Free Speech Climates
Nathan Honeycutt | Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression | May 15, 2024

The Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression (FIRE) tracked protests and surveyed students at over 110 campuses, finding that institutions that arrested students at pro-Palestine encampments were three times more likely to have successfully deplatformed speakers since 2020. FIRE states that its data shows “a strong association between support for illiberal protest, difficulty discussing the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and the presence of encampments and encampment-related arrests.”

We Argue About Campus Free Speech Because We Forget What the University Is For
David Polansky | Washington Examiner | May 23, 2024

Political scientist David Polansky argues that recent discourse on the scope and limits of free speech on campus fails to consider the original purpose of higher education. Rather than debating whether students and professors may exercise free speech in a given circumstance, he argues that we should focus on assessing “whether universities are meaningfully generating or preserving human knowledge and whether their students are capable of receiving it.”

Are Gaza Protests Happening Mostly at Elite Colleges?
Robert Kelchen and Marc Novicoff | Washington Monthly | May 24, 2024

Education professor Robert Kelchen and Washington Monthly editor Marc Novicoff analyzed data from Harvard’s Crowd Counting Consortium and recent college rankings, concluding that “pro-Palestinian protests are overwhelmingly an elite college phenomenon.” The authors found that colleges with high numbers of Pell Grant students were less likely to have protests and encampments.

Big Read

You Can’t Teach That!: The Battle over University Classrooms
Keith E. Whittington | Polity | May 2024

In a new book, Princeton professor and founding chair of the Academic Freedom Alliance Keith Whittington analyzes the legal status of academic freedom for faculty at public universities in their classrooms. He argues that “there are meaningful constitutional limitations on legislatures to restrict what ideas are discussed and how they are discussed,” but that the courts must also establish clearer guidelines and universities must better self-regulate to restore public confidence.

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