Commentary: Scholars Under FIRE: Lessons from a Database

John Wilson
Academe Blog

Excerpt: Last week, the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) released a new database of more than four hundred “Scholars Under FIRE” since 2015 and announced it in breathtaking terms starting with the headline: “REPORT: 3 in 4 campaigns targeting faculty expression result in punishment.”

In reality, this three-in-four number included any case where a scholar is investigated. Most people would never imagine that an investigation resulting in no punishment could be described as “result in punishment.” Yes, disciplinary investigations can have a chilling effect and colleges need to dismiss meritless cases quickly when free expression is attacked, but FIRE needs to be more careful in its tendency to frame everything in the most alarmist way possible. Even when FIRE does list punishments, the basis for this sometimes is weak, such as listing a “resignation” as a punishment. Voluntarily leaving a job is not the same as being punished.