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What We’re Reading: September 2021

Our readings this month cover a wide range of controversies from pressures on a student newspaper to remove content to the return of the social media app Yik Yak. Our “big reads” feature two studies about faculty expression chilled by campus pressures.

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Campus Happenings

UI Walks Back Policy Barring Instructors from Discussing Masks
Rylee Wilson | The Daily Iowan | August 17, 2021

“The University of Iowa has altered some of its previous guidance for faculty regarding COVID-19, including a policy that barred instructors from discussing mask-wearing with their class unless it was directly relevant to the curriculum. ‘You may also have discussions or make statements regarding mask usage as long as all sides have a voice in the conversation,’ the new guidance states.” The updated Fall 2021 Q&A for instructors “includes new recommendations for statements regarding masks that professors may include on a syllabus, including sharing their personal reasons for choosing to wear a mask.” The original guidance raised concerns that it infringed on academic freedom.

Student Journalists Wrote About Allegations Against a Professor. Then the Articles Disappeared.
Nell Gluckman | The Chronicle of Higher Education | August 17, 2021

Tarleton University directed the Texas News Service, a student newspaper, to remove articles from its website mentioning a former Tarleton professor after a lawyer representing him sent a letter accusing the paper of defamation. The publication had accurately reported in 2018 on complaints about the then-faculty member to the university’s Title IX office. A former journalism instructor at the school was quoted: “‘We see universities pushing back against campus news all the time, threatening to pull back resources,’ she said. Even so, she had ‘never seen a university try to erase history.’” The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education and the Student Press Law Center have sent a letter to Tarleton about this matter.

Former Lecturer Sues UNL For Violating Her Free Speech Rights After Protest
Chris Dunker | The Lincoln Journal Star | September 3, 2021

“A former University of Nebraska-Lincoln graduate student and lecturer is suing the university for violating her rights after she was removed from her teaching duties following a political protest.” The federal lawsuit “accuses UNL Chancellor Ronnie Green and former NU President Hank Bounds of violating her rights to free speech and due process following the 2017 incident.” The instructor “was filmed protesting Turning Point USA, a student organization with ties to then-President Donald Trump, at the Nebraska Union, a designated ‘free speech zone’ on campus.” Following scrutiny from lawmakers, the University of Nebraska-Lincoln chancellor published an editorial announcing the instructor “would no longer be allowed to teach at UNL ‘because of this inappropriate behavior.’”

Op-Eds and Thought Pieces

Editorial: The Yik Yak Return Nobody Asked For
Editorial Board | The Daily Tar Heel | August 25, 2021

The Daily Tar Heel editorial board expresses disappointment about the relaunch of Yik Yak, an anonymous, location-based social media app: “At UNC, it was a breeding ground for jokes about UNC athletics and class registration woes. The same thing that made it so popular, however, was also a source of cyberbullying and hate speech… The company now says it is committed to controlling the spread of hate speech on its platform using Community Guardrails… But if the fundamental idea of the app hasn’t changed from the original, then there isn’t much stopping this iteration from becoming the same cesspool of toxicity.”

Civic Education as a Duty and a Delight
Paul Carrese | RealClearPublicAffairs | August 25, 2021

“There can be no true liberal or civic education without intellectual diversity and lively debate. Most damaging, then, is the rise of a culture of conformity and orthodoxy in several crucial disciplines of the humanities and social sciences, in turn yielding an outsize effect on universities, schools, and the media. We no longer study and practice the civic virtue of civil disagreement across diverse views, or of civic friendship transcending differences, and this deficiency reinforces the perpetual academic tendency to sort into schools and sects of thinking… But by design or neglect, in recent decades America has inflicted upon itself a civic ignorance that feeds an angry incivility, in turn causing civic disintegration and regular political violence—thus placing in doubt the foundations of our civilized life.”

Complaints of Muzzled Conservatives Are Behind New Laws. But Liberals Feel Stifled, Too.
Oyin Adedoyin | The Chronicle of Higher Education | August 30, 2021

“Experts say political tensions … have served to suppress all sorts of speech. ‘It is a tense time on campuses,’ said Amy Binder, a professor and chair of the department of sociology at the University of California at San Diego. ‘So I’m seeing it as more of a larger scale phenomenon than just the conservative students.’ A survey of nearly 20,000 college students conducted last year captured just how widespread that phenomenon is. Among all respondents, 60 percent said they felt they had to keep some opinions to themselves for fear of how they would be received. That includes 75 percent of students who identified themselves as ‘strong Republicans,’ and also 63 percent of Black students.”

The New Puritans
Anne Applebaum | The Atlantic | Online August 31, 2021, forthcoming October 2021 Issue

The Pulitzer-winning author chronicles several recent instances of “centrist or center-left liberals” suffering social and professional consequences for their views. “Students and professors, editorial assistants and editors in chief—all are aware of what kind of society they now inhabit. That’s why they censor themselves, why they steer clear of certain topics, why they avoid discussing anything too sensitive for fear of being mobbed or ostracized or fired without due process. But that kind of thinking takes us uncomfortably close to Istanbul, where history and politics can be discussed only with great care.”

How Did American “Wokeness” Jump from Elite Schools to Everyday Life?
The Economist | September 4, 2021

“Moral panics about campus culture are hardly new,” but campus culture is now having an impact far beyond the university: “Having grown strong roots, social-justice consciousness has spread most readily to non-academic institutions largely peopled by those who have come through elite universities. As the students who have embraced this messy body of theory leave university, they enter into jobs and positions of influence. The question is whether, outside the ivory tower, the ideology will retain its intolerant and belligerent zeal, or whether it will mellow into a benign urge for society to be a little fairer.”

Big Reads

Cancel Culture: Myth or Reality?
Pippa Norris | Political Studies | Preprint August 11, 2021

A new analysis of survey responses from nearly 2,500 scholars in over 100 countries documents the ubiquitous chilling of faculty with heterodox views: “In advanced industrialized societies … the reported experience of a chilly climate in academia among right-wing scholars seems to reflect the classic spiral of silence phenomenon… But in these [developing] countries, college professors and students holding liberal moral views, such as those supporting secular values, tolerance of homosexuality, and feminist beliefs challenging traditional norms of marriage and the family, are likely to feel pressures to conform with the predominant conservative social norms and moral values in the classroom and common room, as well as in society more generally.”

Scholars Under Fire: The Targeting of Scholars for Ideological Reasons from 2015 to Present
Komi German and Sean Stevens | Foundation for Individual Rights in Education | August 31, 2021 

A new report documents trends in scholars being targeted for their scholarship, teaching, or extramural expression: “Over the past five and a half years, a total of 426 targeting incidents have occurred. Almost three-quarters of them (314 out of 426; 74%) have resulted in some form of sanction,” the most common being “investigation, termination, and suspension… What is even more concerning is that these targeting incidents are increasingly coming from within academia. Undergraduate students are the primary source of this increase, but scholars have increasingly been targeted by other scholars and/or administrators as well. In particular, half of the targeting incidents that we recorded since 2015 were because of a scholar’s scientific questions or teaching practices.”