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What We’re Reading: March 2023

Our top-10 reads this month include stories about bias reporting systems and speech codes, as well as the latest case of art censorship on campus.

Campus Happenings

Stanford Faculty Say Anonymous Student Bias Reports Threaten Free Speech
Douglas Belkin | The Wall Street Journal | February 23, 2023

A group of 77 Stanford University faculty members petitioned the administration to dismantle the school’s bias reporting policy. Students may anonymously report perceived incidents of bias or discrimination; a report initiates an inquiry and notification to the person alleged to have demonstrated bias. The faculty acted after a bias report led to an investigation of a student seen reading Mein Kampf. An administration spokesperson said the policy “aims to promote a climate of respect.”

UNC Board of Governors Approves Ban on Compelled Political Speech
David N. Bass | The Carolina Journal | February 23, 2023

On February 23, the University of North Carolina System Board of Governors unanimously approved a prohibition on compelling speech to affirm “beliefs, affiliations, ideals, or principles regarding matters of contemporary political debate or social action as a condition to admission, employment, or professional advancement.” North Carolina State University, a UNC System member school, anticipated the new policy by dropping a question on its application form about diversity.

The MAGA-fication of North Idaho College
Charles Homans | The New York Times | March 6, 2023

North Idaho College, a community college, had its debt downgraded by Moody’s and was put on notice by the Northwest Commission on Colleges that its accreditation is at risk. The issue: the board of trustees, elected by county voters, is seen as politicizing college governance. The board chair wrote that he and like-minded trustees were “battling the N.I.C. ‘deep state.’” One student lamented, “It’s just that I wanted a place where, conservative or liberal, you could speak your mind.”

Idaho College Censors Portions of Art Exhibit for Discussing Abortion
Kelcie Moseley-Morris | Idaho Capital Sun | March 7, 2023

Shortly before opening an exhibition of art about health care, Lewis-Clark State College withdrew pieces by three artists whose art addressed abortion. A college spokesman referenced the No Public Funds for Abortion Act to explain the step. The ACLU sent a letter to the college president, alleging the college’s actions violated the First Amendment.

State and Federal

‘Never Seen Anything Like It’: New Bill Would Write DeSantis’s Higher Ed Vision into Law
Francie Diep | The Chronicle of Higher Education | February 24, 2023

Florida House Bill 999 was filed before the state legislature’s March 9 convening. The bill would advance objectives endorsed by Gov. Ron DeSantis (R-FL), including prohibiting programs on diversity, equity, and inclusion and critical race theory, and expanding trustees’ role in hiring, promotion, and post-tenure review; the bill “also has new specifics DeSantis hadn’t proposed, such as a ban on gender studies as a major or minor.” The bill is expected to pass in some form, and an expert opined it “could better pass legal muster than last year’s “Stop WOKE” Act, which has its higher-ed portions under injunction.”

Op-ed and Thought Pieces

The Case for Teaching Students Constructive Dialogue at Scale: UNC’s New School of Civic Life and Leadership
Mark McNeilly | Heterodox: The Blog | February 23, 2023

A professor at the University of North Carolina and lead researcher on a student survey report responds to critics of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill board’s decision to establish a new School of Civic Life and Leadership. That decision led to faculty complaints and a letter from the Southern Association of Schools and Colleges, the school’s accreditors. The author argues the survey data demonstrates the need to teach constructive dialogue and the new school could be a “more expansive curriculum-based approach that can address the requirement [to teach constructive dialogue] at scale.”

The Moral Case Against Equity Language
George Packer | The Atlantic | March 2, 2023

Elite institutions, including the University of Washington and Columbia University, have promulgated “equity language guides.” The author allows that laudable motives to counter oppression are behind such guides but argues that their result is a culture where “symbolic gestures are preferable to concrete actions, argument is no longer desirable, each viewpoint has its own impenetrable dialect, and only the most fluent insiders possess the power to say what is real.”

A Climate of Fear: The Free Speech Skeptics Abandon Salman Rushdie
Russell Jacoby | Harper’s Magazine | March 2023

The author analyzes changing views among the “the liberal literati” about free expression and erosion of support for Salman Rushdie. He blames “the increasingly widespread belief that free speech operates as a tool of the elite [and] that it ought not to be applied to speech that risks harm to marginalized groups.” The author draws parallels between erosion of support for Rushdie and Hamline University’s refusal to support the academic freedom of a professor who showed a painting of the Prophet Mohammed.

Actually, You Don’t Know That Much
Ilana Redstone | Tablet | March 7, 2023

“Campuses don’t have a ‘wokeness’ problem. They have a certainty problem,” writes sociologist Illana Redstone. Redstone argues that when campus members act on “the urge to harshly judge and demonize those who disagree,” the root problem is the “Certainty Trap,” namely, “that there are no questions to be asked, by anyone.” She suggests hopefully the certainty trap can be challenged more easily than political polarization on campus by teaching how to “lean into ambiguity.”

Big Read

Transforming Conflict on College Campuses
The Aspen Institute & Constructive Dialogue Institute | February 22, 2023

The Aspen Institute’s Citizenship & American Identity Program and the Constructive Dialogue Institute’s report diagnose college campuses as suffering from “especially acute” social conflict. The report analyzes the causes of campus conflict as well as principles and strategies for resolving it. One takeaway: terms such as “free speech,” “civil discourse,” and “inclusion” shouldn’t be mere buzz words that “relieve us of the task of creating a more descriptive articulation of what we hope to achieve.”

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