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What We're Reading: March 2024

In focus this month: some colleges deplatform speakers and restrict student expression while others launch civil dialogue programs. Plus: how legislative attempts to promote intellectual diversity undermine scholarly inquiry and fail to achieve real reform.

Campus Happenings

Our Statement on Statements
Vincent D. Rougeau | College of the Holy Cross | March 1, 2024
The president of the College of the Holy Cross, Vincent D. Rougeau, announced early this month that “Holy Cross will no longer comment, as an institution, on matters or events that are not directly connected to our work and identity as an academic institution.” Rougeau acknowledged the “impact of institutional statements on campus culture and in the classroom” and stated that institutional statements are “not opinion pieces…or vehicles for geopolitical advocacy.”

University of Florida Terminates All DEI Employees to Comply with State Regulation
Ryan Wyatt Turbeville | WCJB-TV News | March 1, 2024
Following the passage of Florida Senate Bill 266 that bans public universities from funding diversity, equity, and inclusion efforts, the University of Florida has eliminated 13 positions and removed 15 administrative appointments for faculty related to DEI. The decision was made in compliance with Florida Board of Governors regulation 9.016.

Teaching Students to Disagree Respectfully
Ashley Mowreader | Inside Higher Ed | March 1, 2024
Inside Higher Ed highlights four university programs that are teaching students how to engage in constructive dialogue and disagree respectfully. Hollins University and Alma College are both offering interdisciplinary courses that teach these skills to students; the January-term course at Hollins University is a component of its general education requirement. Carnegie Mellon University and Dartmouth College have begun university-wide initiatives that include speaker series and trainings.

College Dorm Decoration Become a Front in the Campus Free Speech Wars
Sharon Otterman | The New York Times | March 1, 2024
Barnard College has rolled out another change to its free speech policies with a ban on all dorm door decorations. This decision is the latest restriction made by the college following the start of the Israel-Hamas war in October, including barring departmental statements and limiting campus demonstrations. Pro-Palestinian student organizations have responded by calling for boycotts of college events.

State and Federal

Supreme Court Dodges Dispute Over ‘Speech Police’ on College Campuses
Lawrence Hurley | NBC News | March 4, 2024
The Supreme Court declined to take up free speech litigation, originating at Virginia Tech, regarding its use of “bias response teams.” The court found the case to be moot, given that the university ended the policy last year. However, Justices Samuel Alito and Clarence Thomas dissented from the court’s decision, arguing that the “scope of Virginia Tech’s policy combined with how it is enforced suggests that the university is stifling students’ speech.”

Tenure-related Senate Bill Signed by Indiana Gov. Eric Holcomb
David Gay | WIXN-TV News | March 13, 2024
Gov. Eric Holcomb (R-IN) signed into law a bill that limits tenure protections for public university faculty. Indiana Senate Bill 202 establishes a post-tenure review process and prevents faculty from achieving tenure or promotions if they are “unlikely to foster a culture of free inquiry, free expression and intellectual diversity within the institution.” Boards of trustees would be responsible for determining the practical enforcement of the policy.

Opinion and Thought Pieces

What Really Went Wrong in the Antisemitism Hearings
Jonathan Marks | The Dispatch | February 27, 2024
Drawing on a historical perspective, Ursinus College politics professor Jonathan Marks argues that university presidents in the congressional hearing on antisemitism should have taken the approach of “principled defiance” in response to the grandstanding of their critics. Marks posits that University of Chicago Chancellor Robert Maynard Hutchins’ 1949 testimony before the Illinois House Seditious Activities Investigation Commission provides a model for university leaders to defend their institutions’ civic mission.

In Defense of Free Speech and the Mission of the University
Robert P. George | Public Discourse | February 28, 2024
Princeton professor Robert George responds to Edmund Burke Foundation Chairman Yoram Hazony’s argument that universities should abandon the impossible pursuit of “absolute free speech.” George disagrees, arguing that colleges and universities “are best served by the most robust commitment to freedom of thought, inquiry, and expression—that is, the right to examine and defend or criticize any idea, including ideas we judge to be extreme and even evil.”

Campus Deplatforming: A Data Bonanza
Greg Lukianoff and Sean Stevens | The Eternally Radical Idea | March 5, 2024
The Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression has released a deplatforming database which tracks canceled and disrupted events. 2024 is on track to beat 2023 as “the worst year on record for deplatforming attempts and successes.” Among the trends revealed in the data since 2013, 523 deplatforming attempts came from the political left and 316 attempts came from the political right.

Why ‘Intellectual Diversity’ Requirements on Campus Won’t Work
Keith E. Whittington | The Dispatch | March 13, 2024
Princeton University politics professor Keith Whittington argues that Indiana Senate Bill 202, which adds an “intellectual diversity” requirement for tenure at Indiana’s public institutions, would “distort scholarly inquiry” and face serious implementation challenges. He argues that establishing civic leadership programs is a much better approach to solving higher education’s intellectual diversity problem.

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