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What We’re Reading: September

With the fall semester underway, our top 10 reads this month include a new MIT report and proposed statement on free expression, as well as a new report on state legislation affecting academic freedom.

Campus Happenings

Confusion Arises Over Executive Branch’s Abortion Viewpoint Neutrality
Brianna Atkinson | The Daily Tar Heel | August 24, 2022

Following the U.S. Supreme Court Dobbs decision, the UNC Office of the Student Body President issued an executive order that it would not distribute “funds to any business, organization or individual that actively advocates against reproductive health care.” The order raised concerns with free speech advocates. In response, the associate vice chancellor and senior university counsel asserted the order does not affect campus clubs; the student body president wrote that the order “does not affect any other registered organizations” while the UNC Board of Trustees adopted a resolution requiring the student government to distribute funds in a viewpoint neutral way.

California, Berkeley University Law School Student Orgs Pledge to Boycott Zionist, Pro-Israel Speakers
Adam Sabes | Fox News | August 28, 2022

Nine student organizations at the University of California, Berkeley have adopted a “pro-Palestine bylaw, agreeing to not “invite speakers who support Zionism or ‘the apartheid state of Israel.’” Berkeley Law Dean Erwin Chemerinsky responded in a letter to all student organization leaders calling the statement “troubling” and reaffirmed the institution’s commitment to free expression and the First Amendment.

Letter Regarding Proposed Free Expression Statement From MIT
L. Rafael Reif | MIT News Office | September 1, 2022

Massachusetts Institute of Technology President L. Rafael Reif endorsed the Statement on Freedom of Expression and Academic Freedom proposed by MIT’s Ad Hoc Working Group on Free Expression. The working group, convened last fall after the invitation to deliver the Carlson Lecture was withdrawn from Dorian Abbott, issued a report on its findings and 10 recommendations addressing the purpose and place of campus free expression. Simultaneously, the provost, chancellor, and chair of the faculty sent a letter inviting the faculty to discuss the statement.

Carnegie Mellon University Professor’s Critical Tweet about Queen Elizabeth II Goes Viral
Jesse Bunch | Pittsburgh Post-Gazette| September 9, 2022

Carnegie Mellon University commented on a CMU tenured professor’s tweet expressing ill wishes for the dying Queen Elizabeth II: “We do not condone the offensive and objectionable messages posted by Uju Anya on her personal social media account. Free expression is core to the mission of higher education, however, the views she shared absolutely do not represent the values of the institution, nor the standards of discourse we seek to foster.” Twitter removed the tweet for violating its standards.

State and Federal

ACLU-Backed Lawsuit Targets Florida Law Limiting Race-Related Education in Public Colleges
Jeremy Bauer-Wolf | Higher Ed Dive | August 18, 2022

Seven Florida professors and a college student have sued to block the Stop WOKE Act. They argue the law, which was enacted on July 1, 2022, is unconstitutional and “discriminates against Black students and instructors.” The plaintiffs are supported by the Florida and national American Civil Liberties Union offices. In a separate case, a federal judge suspended enforcement of the law’s employment provisions.

Op-Eds & Thought Pieces

A New Political Divide: Nearly Half of College Students Wouldn’t Room with Someone Who Votes Differently
Mark Murray | NBC News | August 18, 2022

A NBC News/Generation Lab poll of college sophomores finds almost half of students (46%) said they definitely or probably wouldn’t “room with someone who supported the opposing 2020 presidential candidate”; a majority (53%) said they “wouldn’t go on a date with someone who voted differently”; and three-fifths (62%) reported they “wouldn’t work for a company that donated to a cause conflicting with their values.”

Presentism, Race and Trolls
Colleen Flaherty | Inside Higher Ed | August 22, 2022

James Sweet, president of the American Historical Association (AHA), sparked controversy with a column criticizing presentism, which he defines as “interpret[ing] the past through the lens of the present.” His essay was met wide criticism, prompting Sweet to publish an apology, while others defended Sweet’s original column or criticized the heated response to it. As many turned to social media to discuss the column, AHA restricted access to its Twitter feed.

Campus Wokeness Harms America Around the World
Walter Russel Mead | Wall Street Journal | August 29, 2022

The author argues that “the collapse of intellectual diversity and the narrowing limits of debate,” along with rising tuition, make American colleges less appealing to prospective international students. This threatens the continuing success of U.S. higher education institutions in their “vital global mission” as educators of future foreign leaders in the “values of democracy and toleration.”

2022-2023 College Free Speech Rankings
College Pulse and FIRE | September 7, 2022

College Pulse and the Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression released their third annual college rankings, surveying over 200 colleges and universities. Consistent with previous findings, 63% of students fear reputational damage if they speak their mind and the most difficult topics for students to discuss were abortion, racial inequality, and COVID-19 vaccine mandates.

Big Reads

America’s Censored Classrooms
Jeremy C. Young and Jonathan Friedman | PEN America | August 17, 2022

A new PEN America report documents state legislative actions that infringe on academic freedom: “Another notable development to date in 2022 has been the growing number of bills targeting higher education. Of the 137 educational gag order bills introduced, 39 percent have targeted colleges and universities, compared to 30 percent of those filed in 2021. Of the bills that have become law thus far in 2022, 57 percent target higher education, compared with just 25 percent of the new laws last year. There has also been a significant increase in the number of bills designed to regulate non-public educational institutions, including private universities.”

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