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What We’re Reading September 2023

As the new academic year gets underway, some universities are launching new initiatives to promote free inquiry while other institutions struggle to uphold the principles of free expression and academic freedom.

Campus Happenings

Princeton Principles for a Campus Culture of Free Inquiry
James Madison Program in American Ideals and Institutions | August 2023

A group of 15 scholars issued a statement that affirms the Chicago Principles of Free Expression while “extending its scope… [by asserting that] universities have a special fiduciary duty to foster freedom of thought for the benefit of the societies that sustain them.”

SUNY Fredonia Fights to Keep Controversial Professor Off Campus
Jessica Blake | Inside Higher Ed | August 18, 2023

A State University of New York at Fredonia philosophy professor was suspended from campus last year for comments questioning whether “adult-child sex” is always wrong; he is now “barred from the campus and relegated to teaching online courses.” The professor has filed a lawsuit in federal district court, arguing that the university is violating his First Amendment freedoms.

Idaho Professors Join Lawsuit to Seek Academic Freedom against Idaho Anti-abortion Law
Matt Denis | Idaho Education News | August 29, 2023

Professors at the University of Idaho and Boise State University have filed a lawsuit against Idaho’s “No Public Funds for Abortion Act,” arguing that the law’s “sweeping and unclear” boundaries create a “chilling effect on academic expression.” The ACLU, which is among those representing the professors, said in a press release, “Our clients have been forced to censor their teaching and scholarship about abortion or risk imprisonment, loss of livelihood, and financial ruin.”

California Community College Professors Sue Over Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Rules
Lexi Lonas | The Hill | September 1, 2023

In a recently filed lawsuit, six California community college professors claim that new diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) rules “mandate viewpoint conformity” and “force professors to endorse the government’s view on politically charged questions regarding diversity, equity, inclusion, and accessibility.”

State and Federal

Profs, Students, Sue Over Free Speech, Academic Freedom at New College of Florida
Michael Moline | The 74 | August 17, 2023

A group of plaintiffs affiliated with New College of Florida have launched a lawsuit against SB 266, a bill signed into Florida law in 2023 that defunds DEI programs at state universities and that also appears to ban “instruction touching on identity politics, systemic racism, sexism, oppression, and privilege.” The plaintiffs argue that “in order to know whether the viewpoints advanced by their professors have merit, the student plaintiffs must first have an opportunity to encounter them.”

Op-eds and Thought Pieces

Free Speech Requirements Proposed for Law Schools
Kathryn Palmer | Inside Higher Ed | August 24, 2023

The American Bar Association advanced a proposal that would require law schools to adopt free speech policies that “encourage and support the free expression of ideas.” Under the proposal, schools would be required to implement policies that communicate “controversial or unpopular ideas” and safeguard “robust debate, demonstrations, or protests.” The proposal has been released for public comment and will be considered at the council’s November meeting.

Why Freedom of Expression and Academic Freedom Are So Important
Marybeth Gasman | Forbes | August 31, 2023

Fifteen college and university presidents have joined The Campus Call for Free Expression, a project that aims to “urgently spotlight, uplift, and reemphasize the principles of critical inquiry and civic discourse on their campuses.” BPC’s Academic Leaders Task Force member Walter Kimbrough commended the project but cautioned, “At some point though we’ve got to take this message from campus to communities and to lawmakers who are pushing regressive policies. That’s the hard part.”

By Abandoning Civics, Colleges Helped Create the Culture Wars
New York Times |Debra Satz and Dan Edelstein | September 3, 2023

Stanford professors Satz and Edelstein argue that free speech controversies are partly the consequence of an abandonment of civics education as universities adopted an “à la carte curriculum” that prioritizes student choice. As a result, students are ill-equipped to cultivate the civic skills and attitudes required for robust free inquiry and the acceptance of differences. Colleges and universities have “a moral and civic duty” to provide civics education, without which democratic society is sure to flounder.

Two-Thirds of College Students Think Shouting Down a Public Speaker Can Be Acceptable
Emma Camp | Reason | September 6, 2023

A new College Pulse/Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression (FIRE) survey reveals that college students are both censorious and self-censoring. Only a third of college students believe it is never acceptable to “shout down a speaker…on campus,” but nearly half feel uncomfortable sharing views on controversial topics. The survey “illustrates how difficult it is to change students’ attitude towards free speech.” FIRE released its 2024 College Free Speech Rankings based on the survey’s results.

Big Reads

Moral Controversies and Academic Public Health: Notes on Navigating and Surviving Academic Freedom Challenges
Tyler J. VanderWeele | Global Epidemiology | August 2023

Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health Professor Tyler VanderWeele describes the fallout after peers and students objected to his views on marriage, abortion, and mental health, as expressed in a professional academic journal article he authored and an amicus brief he signed in 2015 in the Obergefell v. Hodges U.S. Supreme Court case. He defends his views and conduct and assesses the administration’s tepid support for academic freedom.

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