Latest News and Commentary: National

December 6, 2021
By Hannah Natanson
The Washington Post

Excerpt: Matthew Hawn checked his phone to see if the wait was finally over.
It had been five months since he was fired for teaching about White privilege at a high school in rural Tennessee. Two months since he had fought to regain his job at an emotional three-day hearing, becoming a symbol of the acrimonious debate over the way race, racism and history should be taught in America’s schools.

His firing comes amid a tsunami of conservative outrage about critical race theory, an academic framework for examining systemic racism in the United States that educators contend is rarely taught in public schools. Hawn said he’d never heard of critical race theory until he was accused of teaching it.

 

December 6, 2021
By American Council of Trustees and Alumni
American Council of Trustees and Alumni

Excerpt: The alumni group Davidsonians for Freedom of Thought and Discourse (DFTD) was founded in 2018 to monitor the state of free expression, diversity of viewpoints, and ideological balance at Davidson College [and] to undertake research to help clarify whether perceived problems in these key areas are real. A Fall 2021 survey of major donors to Davidson College, virtually all of whom are alumni, revealed an urgent problem. The following summary of the Fall 2021 Davidson student survey findings presents the first available empirical data on the extent to which obstacles to freedom of expression are real and pervasive at Davidson.

December 3, 2021
By Eileen O'Grady
Concord Monitor

Excerpt: Just one year after New Hampshire legislators first introduced a bill that banned the teaching or discussion of “divisive concepts” like systemic racism, another bill will be debated this legislative session that would take those restrictions further.

The proposed bill, HB 1255, titled “An Act Relative to Teachers’ Loyalty,” seeks to ban public school teachers from promoting any theory that depicts U.S. history or its founding in a negative light, including the idea that the country was founded on racism. The bill updates a piece of Cold War-era law that bans educators from advocating for communism in schools, and adds additional bans on advocating for socialism and Marxism. “No teacher shall advocate any doctrine or theory promoting a negative account or representation of the founding and history of the United States of America in New Hampshire public schools which does not include the worldwide context of now outdated and discouraged practices.”

December 3, 2021
By Adam Goldstein
Foundation for Individual Rights in Education

Excerpt: A guest lecture on Ethiopia’s civil war at the University of South Carolina has been indefinitely postponed by the inviting professor after the choice of lecturer was criticized on social media by voices sympathetic to the Ethiopian government.

The disinvitation of Kjetil Tronvoll, Professor of Peace and Conflict Studies at Norway’s Oslo New University College, sounds a lot like the disinvitation of Dorian Abbot from MIT, with activists looking to isolate Tronvill and stop him from speaking anywhere. But it also has elements of Emerson College’s recent censorship of anti-Chinese government stickers, where apologists for a brutal regime are leveraging anti-speech elements in Western culture to accomplish the censorship those governments achieve with force at home. The driving force behind that decision remains a threat to free expression and the culture necessary to sustain it, and we should be aware of the pattern it represents.

 

December 2, 2021
By 12 News

Excerpt: The Paradise Valley Unified School District Governing Board unanimously voted on Thursday to not renew an employment contract for Horizon High School's principal in the midst of a controversial book assignment.

Parents notified the district last month that they were shocked to learn students had been assigned to read "So You've Been Publicly Shamed" for an AP English class over the summer. The 2015 book by Jon Ronson contains interviews with internet personalities who have been publicly shamed online. One section of the book quotes an infamous 2008 article published in News of the World about a "Nazi-style orgy in a torture dungeon." The part of the book that disturbed Thomas Morton, whose teenage daughter attends Horizon High, references an internet thread about a man who was in love with his dog and engaged in acts of bestiality.

December 2, 2021
By Adam Steinbaugh
Foundation for Individual Rights in Education

Excerpt: In May, North Dakota’s governor signed into law a proposal conditioning some funding to state universities and colleges on their promise not to associate with people or organizations that promote abortion, and not to “participat[e]” with any organization that distributes materials that do not give “preference” to “normal childbirth.” That law, contrary to a flawed opinion recently issued by the state’s attorney general, violates the First Amendment rights of students, student organizations, and faculty.

FIRE takes no position on the pro-life vs. pro-choice debate, but notes that this bill is viewpoint-based discrimination at its most obvious. After all, the funding restrictions only target pro-choice organizations and viewpoints, leaving pro-life organizations and speakers unaffected. In addition to its unconstitutional viewpoint discrimination, the bill also suffers from unconstitutional vagueness. It isn’t enough to avoid supporting abortion. Expression must be sufficiently supportive of “normal childbirth.” What constitutes being sufficiently supportive is anyone’s guess.

 

December 1, 2021
By Thomas A. Breslin
Academe Blog

Excerpt: Republican Governor Ron DeSantis and his allies have used conflict-of-interest policies meant to keep China from poaching American intellectual property to muzzle Florida’s public college and university professors. So doing, they’ve managed to deny the public access to the expertise of public university and college faculty members, threatened public health, put at risk the accreditation of the University of Florida and tens of millions of dollars of federal student aid.

As if that were not enough, in spring 2020 DeSantis and his minions passed a law, HB 233, allegedly to promote intellectual diversity in Florida’s public higher education. The law, however, monitors political thinking in public universities and colleges and opens the classrooms of Florida to monitoring by the Chinese government which has made it a crime for anyone anywhere to criticize Chinese policies, and has shown that it will punish faculty members in foreign institutions for criticizing China.

December 1, 2021
By Michael Hurley
Foundation for Individual Rights in Education

Excerpt: A group of students at the University of Alabama in Huntsville were in court last month, after bringing a lawsuit against the school, claiming the university maintains policies which violate Alabama’s 2019 campus free speech law — House Bill 498, now codified as Ala. Code § 16-68-3.

The plaintiffs, Young Americans for Liberty, and one of its members, are represented by the Alliance Defending Freedom. They are suing the university for maintaining so-called “free speech zones” while barring spontaneous expression in the other generally accessible outdoor areas of campus, both of which are prohibited by HB 498. Helpfully, HB 498 provides a cause of action allowing for any “person whose expressive rights are violated by a violation of this act” to bring suit to enjoin non-compliant university policies. FIRE is pleased that students are using the law’s cause of action to assert their rights.

December 1, 2021
By Colleen Flaherty
Inside Higher Ed

Excerpt: A new report from the Bipartisan Policy Center seeks to bridge the campus speech divide, arguing that talking through contentious issues is a skill set that students can and should be taught—and also that academic freedom and inclusion complement each other instead of conflict.

“To be successful in upholding their institutional mission amid today’s changing social, civic and political landscape, college leaders need a new roadmap for campus free expression,” the report says. Yet instead of making a one-size-fits-all approach, it recommends a series of steps various campus constituencies should take to help their institutions arrive at healthier speech climates. Campus presidents and their leadership teams, for instance, should “build confidence in a fair, consistent, and principled approach to free expression,” the report says. This work cannot be “passive, or rest exclusively upon policy statements, resolutions, or guidelines.”

More specifically, the report continues, “Leaders must make a case that it is possible to achieve a campus culture in which free expression helps the cause of diversity, equity, and inclusion by building student resiliency and understanding of the range of perspectives, opinions, and experiences of others.”

 

December 1, 2021
By Divya Kumar
Tampa Bay Times

Excerpt: Chris Busey’s page on the University of Florida website says he’s an associate professor in the College of Education, “where he primarily teaches courses for the Critical Studies in Race, Ethnicity, and Culture specialization.” But according to a grievance he filed this week through the faculty union, the wording of that job description has been called into question. The reason: fear on the part of top UF administrators that the words “critical” and “race” in proximity might offend the Florida Legislature.

Busey alleges in the complaint that he was threatened with discipline if he used “critical race” in his curriculum and program design, an apparent reference to “critical race theory.” Discussion of the theory, an academic framework examining the impact of America’s racial history, was banned earlier this year in Florida’s K-12 classrooms after some parents complained and Gov. Ron DeSantis took up the issue as a frequent talking point.