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What We’re Reading – November 2023

In focus this month: colleges and universities struggle to protect free speech rights amid campus protests, antisemitic and anti-Muslim expression, and instances of harassment, threats, and violence. Plus: a book review, a new academic society, and a new report on censored classrooms.

Campus Happenings

Colleges braced for antisemitism and violence. It’s happening.
Jack Stripling | The Washington Post | October 31, 2023

The Biden administration is warning of an ‘alarming rise’ of antisemitic incidents on college campuses even as college administrators struggle to balance allowing students to voice their opinions and maintaining a safe community. As tensions rise, both Jewish students and Palestinian supporters are discontent with the current campus environment, with the former feeling threatened and the latter censored.

Top Law Firms Signal They Won’t Recruit from College Campuses that Tolerate Antisemitism
Matt Egan | CNN | November 3, 2023

More than two dozen prestigious law firms wrote a letter to top universities, including Yale, Harvard, Columbia, and the University of Pennsylvania, expressing concern over rising antisemitism. The firms suggested that students graduating from institutions that tolerate antisemitic harassment and threats of violence would not be considered for employment.

What Is Happening on College Campuses Is Not Free Speech
Jillian Lederman, Gabriel Diamond, Talia Dror | The New York Times | November 3, 2023

Students from Yale, Cornell, and Brown Universities describe how antisemitic hostilities have spiraled into physical attacks, making the campus community unsafe for Jewish students. They argue that there is a fundamental difference between free speech and mob harassment, and colleges must do more to protect their students.

Jewish and Muslim Organizations Denounce Attacks against College Students
Krystal Nurse, Eduardo Cuevas, and Vanessa Arredondo | USA Today | November 6, 2023

As the war between Israel and Hamas continues, targeted attacks against Jewish and Muslim students on American college campuses have surged, including high-profile incidents at Cornell, Stanford, and the University of Massachusetts. Jewish and Muslim student organizations have condemned the attacks.

State and Federal

Trump-era antisemitism policy expected to fuel flood of student lawsuits against universities
Jean Lee and Simone Weichselbaum | NBC News | November 4

With the surge of antisemitic incidents on campuses around the country, colleges and universities are gearing up for a massive wave of legal claims based on a 2019 executive order signed by then-President Donald Trump that instructs federal officials to interpret Title VI of the 1964 Civil Rights act as prohibiting “discrimination rooted in anti-Semitism.” A Department of Education spokesperson stated, “we have seen an uptick in complaints and the department is assessing them all.”

Op-eds and Thought Pieces

The Laws of Campus Culture War
David French | The New York Times | November 2, 2023

Columnist and former First Amendment litigator David French outlines the legal doctrines of free speech on college campuses, explaining that the right to speak includes a right to offensive speech but not to harass or silence others. French argues that dialogue should be respectful, even when opposing viewpoints are upsetting.

Is Cancel Culture Just a Problem or a Five-Alarm Fire?
Jonathan Marks | The Dispatch | November 4, 2023

Jonathan Marks, a professor of politics at Ursinus College, reviews Greg Lukianoff and Rikki Schlott’s new book, The Canceling of the American Mind. The book explains cancel culture and its history, how rhetorical strategies help partisans ignore their opponent’s arguments, and what can be done to improve the environment for civil discourse.

Why College Presidents Seemed Flummoxed
Suzanne Nossel | CNN | November 6, 2023

PEN America CEO Suzanne Nossel explains why college presidents seem paralyzed in their responses to the Hamas-Israel war. As colleges and universities work to make campuses an inclusive environment for all students, certain beliefs may offend some members of the community. In such instances, administrators should work to promote empathy, understanding, and tolerance among students.

A New Organization Enters the Battle Over Academic Freedom
Luis Parrales | The Dispatch | November 13, 2023

The American Academy of Sciences and Letters held its investiture gala on November 8 at the Library of Congress. The AASL awarded author Salman Rushdie—who survived a deadly attack last year—the Robert J. Zimmer Medal for Intellectual Freedom, named for the former University of Chicago president and champion of open inquiry and academic freedom. The new society is a part of a constellation of institutions that seeks to revitalize intellectual diversity and the free exchange of ideas in America’s colleges and universities.

Big Read

America’s Censored Classrooms 2023
PEN America | November 9, 2023

In this report, PEN America tracks and analyzes state legislation that seeks to regulate speech and curricula in state education systems, as well as public colleges and universities. In 2023, PEN America tracked over 110 bills considered to be “educational gag orders,” ten of which were signed into law. Most such efforts are backed by conservative legislators and focus on restricting speech about LGBTQ+ topics and identities.

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