Skip to main content

What We’re Reading: November 2021

Free expression and First Amendment freedoms on public university campuses are in focus in this month’s selections, with controversies over protest and dorm room decoration policies, the return of Milo Yiannopoulos, and the reversal of a decision to prohibit professors from testifying in a lawsuit against the state.

Read Next

Campus Happenings

Student Backlash Prompts UI To Extend Comment Period on Proposed Protest Policy
Ethan Simmons | The News-Gazette | October 17, 2021

The University of Illinois has extended the period for public comment on its proposed policy, “Expressive Activities on Campus,” following criticism from student organizations and the Illinois Student Government. Concerns included the proposal’s requirement for approval to protest in a central area of campus and limits to the use of amplified sound. A university spokesman said that the proposed changes were meant to clarify existing policies rather than to limit expressive activities.

Penn State Officials, Student Groups Denounce Far-right Speaker — But Can’t Stop Campus Appearance
Josh Moyer | Centre Daily Times | October 27, 2021

Penn State University prepared to host Milo Yiannopoulos’ “Pray the Gay Away” event despite criticism and demands to cancel the event by the undergraduate student government and two LGBTQ groups. Penn State administrators released a statement in anticipation of the event: “As a public university, we are fundamentally and unalterably obligated under the U.S. Constitution’s First Amendment to protect various expressive rights, even for those whose viewpoints offend our basic institutional values.”

MIT To Discuss Academic Freedom After Canceling Prestigious Lecture Over Professor’s Views
Hiawatha Bray | Boston Globe | Updated October 27, 2021

“The Massachusetts Institute of Technology was set to hold a faculty forum on Wednesday in an effort to resolve an intense dispute over academic freedom after the cancellation of a speech by a prominent scientist over his political views.” After the cancellation, around “70 MIT faculty members signed a letter saying that the cancellation ‘casts a shadow on MIT’s commitment to free and open speech.’” One signatory alleged concern for their careers dissuaded some faculty from adding their signatures.

Montana State University Student Pushes Back Against Rule Banning Window Hangings
Liz Weber | Bozeman Daily Chronicle | November 5, 2021

A Montana State University student, who was told to remove his Black Lives Matter flag from his window, “is challenging a new university policy that bans outward facing window displays or front door displays in resident halls, saying it infringes on students’ rights to express themselves.” The student received a text from a resident adviser that stated, “unfortunately not only is the flag a potential fire hazard, my boss also said that hanging things in public view can be offensive.” A university spokesman stated that the policy is meant to address safety, not content concerns.

Just the End of the Beginning
Colleen Flaherty | Inside Higher Ed | November 8, 2021

The University of Florida (UF) reversed its decision prohibiting three political science professors from serving as expert witnesses in a voting rights case against the state of Florida under its recently updated conflict-of-interest policy. In his statement announcing the decision, UF President Kent Fuchs said that a task force will determine policy for occasions “when employees request approval to serve as expert witnesses in litigation in which their employer, the state of Florida, is a party.” The professors involved announced they are suing the university, alleging a violation of their First Amendment freedoms.

Op-Eds and Thought Pieces

Alumni Unite for Freedom of Speech
Stuart Taylor Jr. and Edward Yingling | Wall Street Journal | October 17, 2021

Alumni of one flagship and four private universities have founded a new organization to defend free expression at their alma maters. Posing the rhetorical question, “Why alumni?,” the authors respond, “Because with rare exceptions, everyone else may feel too exposed to attacks to take a stand against campus culture… That leaves alumni as the only university stakeholders with the numbers and clout to lead the defense of free speech, academic freedom and viewpoint diversity in campus environments.”

You Can’t Fight Campus Illiberalism with More Illiberalism
Veronique De Rugy | Reason | October 21, 2021

The author shares her concerns about how charges against campus free expression are shaping national discourse: “Sadly, some conservatives are fighting this left-wing illiberalism [on campus] with their own illiberalism. Some even argue that liberal democracy’s time has passed… No matter who wins this illiberal arm wrestling, our liberal culture will be lost. Unfortunately, this illiberalism also limits the production of knowledge in academia and in public policy.”

JMU’s Protection of Free Speech, While Promising, Could Be Better
Evan Weaver | The Breeze | October 21, 2021

A James Madison University student writes about the tension between concerns to protect students’ mental health and safety by limiting some speech and expression and the role of the marketplace of ideas on campus. While acknowledging the arguments on both sides, he writes, “Most college students are adults and therefore don’t require the government or university to protect them from the world’s harsh realities.”

Big Reads

Understanding Academic Freedom
Henry Reichman | Johns Hopkins University Press | October 2021

The author analyzes the concept of academic freedom in scholarship and publication, the classroom, and extramural statements, and makes the case that tenure remains essential to protect academic freedom. The book concludes by situating academic freedom within a broader civic context, arguing that a robust defense of academic freedom is needed “to reverse the deleterious effects of anti-intellectual assaults on expertise, knowledge, and, ultimately, truth itself.”

Educational Gag Orders: Legislative Restrictions on the Freedom to Read, Learn, and Teach
Jonathan Friedman and James Tager | PEN America | November 2021

This report analyzes bills introduced in 24 state legislatures in 2021 that address the teaching of race, racism, gender, and U.S. history in public K-12 schools, higher education institutions, and state agencies, institutions, and contractors. Referring to the bills as “educational gag orders,” the report argues, “these bills are illiberal in their attempt to legislate that certain ideas and concepts be of bounds, even, in many cases, in college classrooms among adults.”

Support Research Like This

With your support, BPC can continue to fund important research like this by combining the best ideas from both parties to promote health, security, and opportunity for all Americans.

Donate Now