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What We’re Reading: January 2023 

In this month’s top-10 reads, the MIT faculty and Virginia Council of Presidents adopt new statements on freedom of expression and academic freedom; elsewhere, there are charges of violations of academic freedom after a faculty member loses her job and a fellowship offer is withdrawn.

Campus Happenings

MIT Statement on Freedom of Expression and Academic Freedom
Massachusetts Institute of Technology Faculty| December 21, 2022

The Massachusetts Institute of Technology faculty adopted a statement that it “unequivocally endorses the principles of freedom of expression and academic freedom” after consideration of a statement proposed by the Ad Hoc Working Group on Free Expression. The faculty add, “Free expression is a necessary, though not sufficient, condition of a diverse and inclusive community.”

South Dakota Universities Reviewing Events After Drag Show
Stephen Groves | Associated Press| December 22, 2022

After a registered student organization at South Dakota State University hosted a drag show, state lawmakers criticized the university and the South Dakota Board of Regents. In turn, the regents ordered universities not to admit minors to student organization events and a review of university event policies.

A Lecturer Showed a Painting of the Prophet Muhammad. She Lost Her Job.
Vimal Patel| The New York Times| January 8, 2023

Hamline University, a private religious school, rescinded an adjunct faculty member’s contract following her classroom presentation of painting of the Prophet Muhammed. Although the instructor’s syllabus warned she would display images of religious figures and offered students an opportunity to leave before displaying the image, the college president ruled that “respect for the Muslim students ‘should have superseded academic freedom.’” Others say the decision privileges conservative Muslim views over other Muslim views.

University Removes “Harmful Language” List Following Backlash
Mark Allen Cu | Stanford Daily| January 8, 2023

Stanford University’s Elimination of Harmful Language Initiative, which discouraged the use of words such as “immigrant” and “American,” was made to require a password and then removed from the university’s website after an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal derided the initiative. Stanford University’s chief information officer published a statement about his office’s decision to remove the initiative.

Harvard Rescinds Fellowship Offer to Leading Rights Activist
Michael Casey | Associated Press| January 9, 2023

The Harvard Kennedy School Carr Center for Human Rights Policy withdrew a fellowship offer to human rights leader Kenneth Roth. The Kennedy School issued a statement that its dean acted after “an evaluation of the candidate’s potential contributions to the Kennedy School,” while Roth described the rescission as a “shocking violation of academic freedom” taken over his criticisms of Israel. The American Civil Liberties Union and PEN America decried the Kennedy School’s decision.

State and Federal

A Texas GOP Lawmaker Wants to Increase “Viewpoint Diversity” by Banning Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion in Higher Ed
Dan Solomon | Texas Monthly | December 21, 2022

As state legislative sessions open across the country, Texas H.B. 1006 would require public higher education institutions to adopt policies detailing student expressive freedom rights and responsibilities and “demonstrate a commitment to intellectual freedom and viewpoint diversity,” while also disallowing support for “any office of diversity, equity, and inclusion.”

Op-eds and Thought Pieces

Prioritizing Comfort and Happiness Compromises Rigor and Excellence in Higher Education
L.J. Zweibel | Vanderbilt Hustler | December 10, 2022

The author, a biology professor, draws on Thomas Kuhn’s sociology of knowledge to argue collegiate education should be distinguished from primary and middle school education by the experience of “academic discomfort”—even “crises.” As Kuhn argued that recognition of anomalous findings drives research forward in academic disciplines, Zweilbel argues that individual experiences of academic discomfort are preconditions for collegiate-level learning.

Why I Didn’t Sign the Free Speech Petitions at Penn
Jonathan Zimmerman | The Philadelphia Inquirer | December 12, 2022

The University of Pennsylvania is investigating students for disruptive protests aimed at encouraging “the university to divest from fossil-fuel investments, preserve a set of townhomes in University City, and make payments to Philadelphia in lieu of taxes.” Professor Jonathan Zimmerman supports these goals but criticized petitions for “endors[ing] the students’ political demands alongside their right to speak up for them.” Zimmerman asks: “do you simply want freedom for the speech that you support?”

Free Expression is a Foundation of Excellence in Education
Jonathan Alger, Shannon Kennedy, Katherine Rowe, and Timothy Sands| Richmond Times-Dispatch | December 23, 2022

The presidents of James Madison University, Rappahannock Community College, the College of William & Mary, and Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University announce that the Virginia Council of Presidents, a consortium of presidents of Virginia public higher education institutions, have adopted a shared statement that they “unequivocally support free expression and viewpoint diversity…and pledge to promote and uphold inclusivity, academic freedom, free expression, and an environment that promotes civil discourse across differences.”

Big Read

Cancel Wars: How Universities Can Foster Free Speech, Promote Inclusion, and Renew Democracy
Sigal R. Ben-Porath| University of Chicago Press| January 16, 2023

University of Pennsylvania Professor Sigal Ben-Porath frames issues of campus speech in a civic context, arguing that “higher education…is well situated and ready to take on the challenges democracy currently faces.” To succeed at “institutional goals of truth-seeking and inclusion,” Ben-Porath argues, schools must both uphold robust free expression protections and consider the boundaries of acceptable campus speech for a genuinely inclusive campus.

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