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What We’re Reading: February 2023

Our top 10 readings this month include coverage of the recent controversy over the University of North Carolina’s proposed School of Civic Life and Leadership, the fight over DEI at Florida’s universities, and results from the University of Wisconsin System’s survey of students.

Campus Happenings

Protected Identity Harm Report Filed as Screenshot of Student Reading ‘Mein Kampf’ Circulates
Carolyn Stein | The Stanford Daily | January 22, 2023

An undergraduate generated controversy by photographing a student peer reading Hitler’s autobiography Mein Kampf and posted it to the Snapchat story of a third student. After the image circulated on social media, someone filed a Protected Identity Harm Report and the Office of Student Affairs and the Office of Religious and Spiritual Life are “working with the leaders of the residence that [all three] students belong to address the social media post and its impact on the community.”

‘Florida is at an Inflection Point’: FAU Faculty Defends DEI as Governor Pledges to Ban It
Kate Payne | WRLN | February 1, 2023

In response to initiatives by Gov. Ron DeSantis (R-FL) and other state lawmakers to curtail diversity, equity, and inclusion programs at public universities, the Florida Atlantic University Faculty Senate and the United Faculty of Florida issued statements that these efforts threaten academic freedom. Meanwhile, the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights published guidance affirming that DEI trainings are allowable under the Civil Rights Act.

Indiana University Northwest Violated Academic Freedom and Tenure in Report
The Crusader Newspaper Group | February 7, 2023

The American Association of University Professors asserts that Indiana University Northwest violated academic freedom principles when it dismissed a tenured professor. The university alleged the professor made racially charged threats of physical violence; the AAUP report finds these allegations “implausible” and suggests university leaders sought to dismiss a critic of its diversity efforts.

Clemson University Statement on Freedom of Speech
Clemson University Board of Trustees| February 3, 2023

The Clemson University Board of Trustees adopted the 2015 Chicago Principles and affirmed its commitments to free expression principles in the U.S. and South Carolina constitutions. The school joins the ranks of nearly 100 schools that have adopted a free expression statement since 2015.

State and Federal

House Majority Leader’s New Bill Aims to Overhaul University Tenure Process
James B. Miller Jr. | The Dickinson Press |January 20, 2023

The North Dakota House majority leader introduced a bill to establish post-tenure review, initially as a pilot at two universities but with a view to revising tenure standards at all public universities. Critics argue the bill presents a “real threat” to academic freedom, as it “prohibits tenured faculty members from engaging in activities that do not align with the institution’s best interests.” Sponsors retort it will “ensure accountability and efficiency.”

Op-ed and Thought Pieces

A Better Way to Protect Free Speech on Campus: Grand Statements of Principle Ignore Classroom Realities.
Malick W. Ghachem | Chronicle of Higher Education | January 24, 2023

An MIT professor and member of MIT’s Ad Hoc Working Group on Free Expression reflects on what he learned as the Working Group drafted the Statement on Freedom of Expression and Academic Freedom, adopted in December 2022. Among his conclusions: upholding free expression “across the full range of learning spaces, from the lecture hall to the athletic field” is more important than a statement; discussing hypothetical scenarios deepens understanding of free expression issues; and universities must speak selectively to contemporary social and political issues.

Academic Freedom for Whom?
Keith E. Whittington | The Dispatch | January 25, 2023

The author, a professor of politics at Princeton University and chair of the Academic Committee of the Academic Freedom Alliance, analyzes the impact on academic freedom of initiatives by Gov. DeSantis. He reminds readers that the details matter: that while the governor has sometimes disregarded academic freedom, “his critics have not always been too careful about distinguishing between genuine threats to academic freedom and mere policy disagreements.”

A Black Professor Trapped in Anti-Racist Hell
Vincent Lloyd | Compact | February 10, 2023

A professor and former director of the Black studies program at Villanova University recounts his unhappy experience leading a seminar on “Race and the Limits of Law in America” for high school students at the Telluride Association. The seminar was paired with an anti-racism workshop. He contends the seminar’s “slow” learning when “each intervention in a seminar is incomplete, and get things wrong,” was undermined by the “sugar rush” of the anti-racism advocacy workshop. He argues seminar discussions and “slow” learning better model and prepare students for democratic civic discourse.

The University of North Carolina Fight Escalates
The Editorial Board | Wall Street Journal | February 12, 2023

After trustees of University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill directed the school to create a School of Civic Life and Leadership, some faculty argue that the directive violated shared governance principles and was motivated by political, not academic, concerns. The Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges says the board’s action could threaten the school’s accreditation. The editors reply to faculty concerns by arguing that universities are already politicized, and a new school is a reasonable response to campus ideological conformity.

Big Read

UW System Student Views on Freedom of Speech
April Bleske-Rechek et al. | Wisconsin Institute for Public Policy and Service | February 1, 2023

Acting on a recommendation of BPC’s Academic Leaders Task Force report, the University of Wisconsin System surveyed students about freedom of expression and the First Amendment. Among the findings: 37% of students agreed “quite a bit” or “a great deal” that expressing views they found offensive causes harm, while 76% of students reported that their instructors sometimes, often, or extremely often created an environment where students felt comfortable sharing unpopular views.

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