Latest News and Commentary: National

January 20, 2022
By Stephen Casper, Jay Smith and Nathan Kalman-Lamb
Inside Higher Ed

Excerpt: The moral panic sweeping the country about the freedom of students to express themselves on university campuses is on point—just not in the way you think. While some people take aim at the “cancel culture” that they argue is rampant in higher education institutions, for a large contingent of students—those whom the National Collegiate Athletics Association and institutions have branded “student athletes”—the absence of academic freedom is a product of design.

Whether it is academic clustering that funnels athletes into classes and majors perceived to be less arduous, surveillance systems that monitor athlete movements in and out of the classroom, practice demands that dictate course schedules, television commitments that take players out of classes, or team rules that limit what athletes are permitted to tell the world about their experiences, students who are athletes have little choice but to accept profound violations of their academic freedom.

January 20, 2022
By Jeff Zeman
Foundation for Individual Rights in Education

Excerpt: Bias Response Teams (BRTs) proliferated in recent years on college and university campuses. FIRE’s research demonstrates that, where deployed, BRTs chill student speech across the political spectrum. Using the anti-terrorism slogan “See Something, Say Something!,” Virginia Tech’s Bias Intervention and Response Team (BIRT) does something particularly egregious: it acknowledges that certain speech is protected and thus not subject to discipline, then promises to intervene anyway.

In challenges brought by the organization Speech First, the U.S. Courts of Appeals for the Fifth and Sixth Circuits recently held that similar BRTs objectively chill student expression. However, in September, the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Virginia denied Speech First’s motion to prevent Virginia Tech from enforcing its bias response procedure, among other policies that infringe students’ freedom of expression. On Tuesday, FIRE filed an amicus curiae brief in Speech First v. Sands, in support of Speech First’s appeal in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit.

January 19, 2022
By Zach Greenberg
Foundation for Individual Rights in Education

Excerpt: After its student government denied a student group the benefits of university recognition, on the absurd and infantilizing basis that the group’s open discussion format might mean that “the conversation might very easily devolve” and cause “harm,” Emory University’s administration has now decided to refuse to recognize any new student group for the foreseeable future. Faced with the opportunity to uphold its commitment to free speech, Emory chose instead to betray this commitment and violate its students’ expressive rights.

The Emory University School of Law Student Bar Association first rejected the Emory Free Speech Forum’s application for university recognition in October 2021. Last fall, the Student Bar Association, the student leaders charged with recognizing groups on behalf of the law school, refused to recognize the group because it supposed that open discussions might lead to “harm,” as the discussions — among law students — might involve controversial topics.

January 19, 2022
By Eugene Volokh
The Volokh Conspiracy, Reason Magazine

From Jackson v. Wright, decided yesterday by Judge Amos Mazzant (E.D. Tex.):

This case stems from the suppression of academic scholarship at the University of North Texas …. UNT is a public institution that hales itself as an academy through which students and faculty may, among other things, "publish … and/or display their scholarship freely as appropriate to their respective UNT-assigned roles and responsibilities.”

Plaintiff's area of expertise became a topic of controversy in November 2019 at a convention of the Society for Music Theory. Philip Ewell, a Black professor at Hunter College of the City University of New York, delivered for the Society a plenary address titled "Music Theory's White Racial Frame." As a lead editor of the Journal (of which Schenker is the namesake), Plaintiff organized a symposium and invited music scholars to submit papers in response to Professor Ewell's talk and publication. Plaintiff also suggested Professor Ewell's criticisms of Schenker might themselves have constituted anti-Semitism. The backlash was swift.

January 19, 2022
By Jordan Peterson
National Post

Excerpt: I recently resigned from my position as full tenured professor at the University of Toronto. I am now professor emeritus, and before I turned sixty. I had envisioned teaching and researching at the U of T, full time, until they had to haul my skeleton out of my office. There were many reasons, including the fact that I can now teach many more people and with less interference online. But here’s a few more:

First, my qualified and supremely trained heterosexual white male graduate students (and I’ve had many others, by the way) face a negligible chance of being offered university research positions, despite stellar scientific dossiers. I am academic persona non grata, because of my unacceptable philosophical positions. These facts rendered my job morally untenable. How can I accept prospective researchers and train them in good conscience knowing their employment prospects to be minimal?

January 18, 2022
By Josh Blackman
The Volokh Conspiracy, Reason Magazine

Excerpt: Recently, Philadelphia Councilman David Oh wrote a letter urging the University of Pennsylvania to review Professor Amy Wax's "role with the university." More recently, PennLaw Dean Ted Ruger announced that he will begin a formal sanction process against Wax. Erich Makarov, a 3L at UPenn who was in Wax's class, wrote a letter in response to Oh, that also addresses the issues in Ruger's announcement. Erich asked me to post his letter, which I do here.

January 18, 2022
By Adam Steinbaugh
Foundation for Individual Rights in Education

Excerpt: Today, Dean Theodore Ruger of the University of Pennsylvania Carey Law School did an about-face, abandoning both his earlier defense of the importance of faculty expressive rights and his university’s strong policies purporting to secure those rights.

But Ruger’s statement did not satisfy students, who signed an open letter calling for the university to sanction Wax and establish a committee to “reform tenure” to “ensure that tenure is consistent with principles of social equity.” And it did not satisfy members of Philadelphia’s city council, who sent a letter demanding action (and subsequently explained to the student newspaper that the city council would pressure the university if it did not adequately respond). And it did not satisfy Pennsylvania state lawmakers, who held a press conference outside of the law school. As that press conference unfolded, Penn issued a statement promising “imminent” action. Today, Ruger followed through on his pledge to cave.

January 18, 2022
By Eileen O'Grady from the Concord Monitor
Eagle Times

Excerpt: For Jocelyn Merrill, a ninth grade English teacher at Nashua High School North, this school year has brought a few changes to her usual curriculum. She has removed Tim Wise’s 2013 documentary White Like Me from her curriculum. She has also removed several articles from her classroom materials, including an op-ed that explains the concept of systemic racism, and an info sheet titled “discussing difficult topics in the classroom” that has definitions of systemic racism and white privilege from Learning for Justice, and also an essay assignment that would typically incorporate those articles alongside the book The Other Wes Moore.

Merrill made the changes in order to comply with New Hampshire’s “Freedom from Discrimination in Education” law, which passed in June 2021. Merrill says although she believes some of the materials she removed with references to white privilege could probably still be used legally, she is reluctant to test the limits of the law.

January 17, 2022
By Russell Contreras
Axios

Excerpt: School districts from Pennsylvania to Wyoming are bowing to pressure from some conservative groups to review — then purge from public school libraries — books about LGBTQ issues and people of color.

Why it matters: A pivotal midterm election year, COVID frustrations and a backlash against efforts to call out systemic racism — driven disproportionately by white, suburban and rural parents — have made public schools ground zero in the culture wars. "I've worked for this office for 20 years, and we've never had this volume of challenges come in such a short time," Deborah Caldwell-Stone, director of the American Library Association's Office for Intellectual Freedom, told Axios.  "In my former district, we might have one big challenge like every two years," Carolyn Foote, a retired Texas librarian of 29 years, told Axios. " I have to say that what we're seeing is really unprecedented."

January 17, 2022
By Sabrina Conza
Foundation for Individual Rights in Education

Excerpt: A professor at Ferris State University finally made the notoriously boring syllabus week entertaining. The university’s response? Put the professor on leave and open an investigation. Ferris State professor Barry Mehler sent the students in each of his five history classes an introductory video welcoming them to his class in an anything-but-ordinary way. In the video, he pays homage to the television show “Deadwood” by referring to the audience as “cocksuckers,” jokes that students’ grades are predetermined by God, and shares his views on student selfishness during the pandemic.

Although the video, which Mehler calls a “show,” was meant in jest — as an entertaining introductory performance to give students some information about the class while showing off Mehler’s eccentric personality — and Mehler has performed a similar lecture, including the “Deadwood”-inspired scene, for over a decade, on Tuesday, Ferris State placed Mehler on administrative leave, alleging that he violated the university’s overbroad Employee and Student Dignity policy.