Latest News and Commentary: National

January 15, 2022
By Ty Tagami
Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Excerpt: More than a dozen board members from five metro Atlanta school districts have put their names behind a letter opposing new legislation that seeks to ban the teaching of critical race theory in schools. Educators have been saying for months that the college-level concept is not taught in Georgia’s K-12 schools, but critics say its tenets about systemic racism are.

This week, a Republican lawmaker from Cherokee County introduced a bill that would dock schools a fifth of their state funding for violations. Among the prohibitions in House Bill 888: teaching that “the United States is a systematically racist country.” The board members’ “open letter” was shared with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution by Cobb County school board member Dr. Jaha Howard. It says HB 888 attacks free speech, insults teachers and undermines public education.

January 15, 2022
By Matt Beard

Excerpt: In November 1933, as rector of Freiburg University, Martin Heidegger published a letter urging students to vote “yes” in support of Hitler’s decision to leave the League of Nations. students were ordered to march to the local polling office to vote. Heidegger, using the full authority of his position as head of the university, told students: “The Führer has awakened this will in the entire people and has welded it into a single resolve. No one can remain away from the polls on the day when this will is manifested.”

In the chaos of the interwar period, many students were desperate for political answers. While some academics believed it was irresponsible to use their position to advance any cause beyond the impartial pursuit of truth, others took up a party line. I believe that studying the response to academic overreach in Weimar may clarify the foundations of our academic speech debates today.

January 14, 2022
By Maria Cramer and Amanda Holpuch
New York Times

Excerpt: Amid a flurry of bills nationwide that seek to ban the teaching of critical race theory in schools, one such proposal in Virginia stood out. Tucked inside a bill introduced by Wren Williams, a Republican delegate, was a glaring error: Among the concepts that school boards would be required to ensure students understood was “the first debate between Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Douglass.”

But as scholars, Mr. Williams’s colleagues in the House of Delegates and others on social media noted, that debate was between not Lincoln and Frederick Douglass, the abolitionist, but Lincoln and Stephen Douglas, a Democratic senator from Illinois. On Friday, Addison Merryman, a spokesman for Mr. Williams, released a statement from the state’s Division of Legislative Services, which took the blame for the error. The mistake was inserted at the “drafting level following receipt of a historically accurate request from the office of Delegate Wren Williams,” according to the division.

January 14, 2022
By Lupe Mendez
Texas Observer

Excerpt: A decade ago, in March 2012, a group of writers, artists, educators, and activists banded together to combat the deplorable actions of Arizona’s state legislature. The state’s lawmakers had recently passed a bill making the teaching of “Ethnic Studies” illegal, along with banning courses that “promote resentment toward a race or class of people” and “are designed primarily for pupils of a particular ethnic group.” The bill also created a list of banned books. Of the more than 80 books that were eventually added to the list, many of the authors were Black and Latinx.

In the last legislative session, lawmakers passed Senate Bill 3, which banned the teaching of “critical race theory” in Texas classrooms. Governor Greg Abbott and other Texas Republicans have also called for bans of school library books that might make students “uncomfortable.” This much is clear: The Republican Party intends to deny children access to books, authors and an education that would spur their intellectual growth.

January 14, 2022
By Thomas Williams
The Atlantic

Excerpt: Early in Rescuing Socrates: How the Great Books Changed My Life and Why They Matter for a New Generation, Roosevelt Montas describes an intellectual origin story that I found strikingly familiar. Montas, a fatherless teenager who had recently immigrated to the Bronx from the sticks of the Dominican Republic and was still learning to read in English, found himself on a winter evening faced with a pile of discarded books. “In the end, I grabbed only two hardbacks. One of them was a volume of Plato’s dialogues.”

I was primed to admire Montas’s earnest defense of the humanities, which is also a personal testament to the power of a liberal education. And I was primed, as well, by my own experiences and observations to agree with his argument that minority and underprivileged students would have at least as much to gain as their more advantaged peers from entry into the larger intellectual culture that has molded the Western societies we must navigate.

January 13, 2022
By Zach Greenberg
Foundation for Individual Rights in Education

Excerpt: Almost 48 hours after FIRE called out the University of Washington for its requirement that faculty syllabi include the university’s land acknowledgment on their syllabi or remain silent on this issue, the administrator who created the rule is already digging her institution a bigger First Amendment hole.

In statements to media outlets, UW’s Paul G. Allen School of Computer Science & Engineering Director Magdalena Balazinska claims that a “syllabus for an intro to computer programming course” is “not the appropriate place or manner for a debate about land acknowledgements” or “to express personal views unrelated to the course[.]” If that’s so, why does she require faculty to choose between silence on this topic or the university’s equally-irrelevant land acknowledgment statement? Professors have a choice: Toe the party line or shut up.

January 13, 2022
By Adam Steinbaugh and Alex Morey
Foundation for Individual Rights in Education

Excerpt: Comments by perennially controversial University of Pennsylvania law professor Amy Wax — who said in a recent interview that the U.S. is “better off with fewer Asians and less Asian immigration” — have once again drawn widespread criticism. Unfortunately, they have also drawn a troubling call from 16 of the 17 members of Philadelphia’s City Council, on city letterhead, for Penn to “begin a comprehensive and transparent review of Professor Wax’s position and role with the university.”

Penn Law’s dean, Theodore W. Ruger, issued an acidic denouncement of Wax’s comments earlier this month, calling them “thoroughly anti-intellectual and racist.” At the same time, Ruger properly defended her right nonetheless to make the comments. While City Council members have their own First Amendment rights to criticize Wax’s views in their personal capacities, it is not appropriate for government officials to call for universities and colleges to violate the expressive rights of their faculty or students.

January 13, 2022
By Jon Zobenica
The Free Voice

Excerpt: Oklahoma State Senator Rob Standridge (R) has proposed a bill that will categorically ban from Oklahoma’s public schools books of a certain nature (those related to matters of sex, gender, and associated identities). Recklessly, the bill also gives each school-district parent and legal guardian the power to unilaterally demand the removal of any book deemed inappropriate in this matter, and stipulates that school librarians who fail to comply with such parentally imposed bans after a period of thirty days shall not only be fired but be blackballed for two years. Further still, school districts that fail to comply shall be obligated to pay the aggrieved parent a minimum of ten thousand dollars per day for every day the book remains in inventory after the thirty-day grace period.

If the goal were to introduce chaos, cultural fracture, and mischief into Oklahoma’s public-school system, the bill could hardly have been better written.

January 13, 2022
By Harvey J. Graff
Inside Higher Ed

Excerpt:  Public sociology. Public and applied history. Public humanities. Science in the public interest. Across the disciplines, we hear renewed calls for an active public role for academics. We also hear occasional warnings. That is heartening—and necessary in our world of misinformation and division—but it is disheartening, as well.

We are witnessing a recurrence today as both new and continuing job shortages, as well as layoffs and threatened censorship—aka free speech violations—and necessary efforts to apply scholarly knowledge to combat dangerous misinformation combine with sometimes outrageous self-promotional schemes. Today’s intemperate false competition between the documented and professionally revised “1619 Project,” and the fringe ideological and anti-historical “1620,” “1776” and “1836” Projects for “canceling” and teaching an inclusive fact-based American history dramatically illustrate this

January 13, 2022
By The Alumni Free Speech Alliance
The Alumni Free Speech Alliance

We are pleased to announce that an alumni free speech group for the University of North Carolina has joined the Alliance.  The UNC Free Speech Alliance joins five alumni free speech groups that were added as members in December.  Those groups were from Lafayette, MIT, VMI, Wofford, and Yale. Since the announcement of the new Alumni Free Speech Alliance on October 18, we have been contacted by alumni from over 110 schools interested in forming alumni free speech groups for their schools.  We anticipate that many more such groups will join the Alliance in coming months.

The Alliance brings together alumni groups that have a focus on supporting free speech, academic freedom, and viewpoint diversity at their colleges and universities.  The founding members of the Alliance were alumni groups from Cornell University, Davidson College, Princeton University, the University of Virginia, and Washington & Lee University, but other alumni groups are steadily joining the cause. Members of the Alliance believe that free speech, academic freedom, and viewpoint diversity are critical to the advancement of knowledge and to very concept of a university. Yet surveys show most students at colleges and universities have little understanding of these principles. Most students oppose free speech. See, for example, the “2021 College Free Speech Ranking” published by the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE).