Latest News and Commentary: National

September 16, 2021
By Jordan Howell
Foundation for Individual Rights in Education

Excerpt: One of the glaring ironies involving America’s response to 9/11 attacks is how the events, which were immediately and unequivocally described as assaults on freedom, also prompted demands for censorship and governmental oversight that have since been broadly recognized as unconstitutional. As news of the attacks reverberated on college campuses across the county, University of New Mexico Professor Richard Berthold joked that “anyone who can blow up the Pentagon has my vote.” In response to public outcry, UNM announced an investigation and removed Berthold from the classroom.

Every year since has seen more of the same, and this year is no different. The internet, now driven by social media, teems with calls for students and professors to be censored and punished for expressing their opinions on the attacks. In a welcome shift, administrators seem (at least somewhat) more willing to defend student and faculty rights to express divergent opinions on this contentious issue.

 

September 15, 2021
By George Leef
National Review

Excerpt: The American Left used free speech to obtain a position of ideological domination in our colleges and universities — and now that they have that position, they’re turning against free speech in favor of controls over speech that doesn’t further their agenda. Should those of us on the other side of our great political divide learn something from that?

In a recent book, Michael Knowles argues that conservatives should have fought the Left by suppressing their speech. The Martin Center’s Sumantra Maitra reviews his book here. Maitra writes, “Knowles is a conservative, in the original sense of the term. That means he cuts through the fantasy that has permeated ‘American conservatism’ that everything can be solved by civil persuasion in the marketplace of ideas.” Instead, Knowles suggests that “we would need to restore prohibitions against obscenity, which politically correct radicals have long exploited to arouse the people’s base passions and undermine their liberty, just as the Founding Fathers feared.”

September 15, 2021
By Jordan Howell
Heterodox Academy

Excerpt: Last week, the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) released a first-of-its-kind study, Scholars Under Fire, which tracked incidents of college faculty being targeted for controversial speech or research.

These findings provide hard data to support what many within the silos of academia have long suspected but been unable to prove: that contingent faculty, such as adjuncts and lecturers — who teach roughly 60% of classes at American colleges and universities and often work on short-term contracts at suppressed wages — do not benefit from the same academic freedom protections enjoyed by their tenured colleagues. one of the sad conclusions drawn from the data is that academic freedom is more of a lofty privilege for the few rather than a right for the many, and the consequences of this transformation within higher education may be dire.

September 15, 2021
By Alex Morey
Foundation for Individual Rights in Education

Excerpt: A recently-imposed policy at the University of Massachusetts Chan Medical School imposes tight new restrictions on what information faculty may share about capital punishment. The “School of Medicine Statement Regarding Teaching Faculty and Capital Punishment,” sent to faculty over the summer, apologizes for the university’s prior failure “to actively oppose the current state of US [sic] capital punishment” and announces that teaching faculty will now be required to “acknowledge and abide by” the administration’s “position” on capital punishment moving forward.

The troubling statement also bans faculty from actions that “could” enable or “contribute” to the use of capital punishment, including “providing . . . information” to “governments engaged in execution by lethal injection.” But the policy violates faculty’s constitutional rights by limiting a broad range of speech — for example, research that simply could be used by another to carry out capital punishment — and the university concedes that it reaches “even lawful activities.”

 

September 15, 2021
By Amna Khalid and Jeffrey Aaron Snyder
Chronicle of Higher Education

Excerpt: The original proponents of trigger warnings on campus argued that they would empower students suffering from trauma to delve into difficult material. “The point is not to enable — let alone encourage — students to skip readings or our subsequent class discussion,” the philosopher Kate Manne wrote in The New York Times. “It’s about enabling everyone’s rational engagement.” Now, about a decade after trigger warnings arrived on college campuses, it’s clear that an avoidance rationale is officially competing with the original lean-in logic.

When debates about trigger warnings first erupted, there was little-to-no research on their effectiveness. Today we have an emerging body of peer-reviewed research to consult. The consensus, based on 17 studies using a range of media, including literature passages, photographs, and film clips: Trigger warnings do not alleviate emotional distress. They do not significantly reduce negative affect or minimize intrusive thoughts, two hallmarks of PTSD. Notably, these findings hold for individuals with and without a history of trauma.

September 15, 2021
By Kelsey Sheasley
Christian Science Monitor

Excerpt: In a typical back-to-school season, markers and poster board might be on a classroom supply list. This year, they’re also hot items for protesters attending their local school board meetings. Mask mandates, critical race theory, “you name the issue and people want to speak out,” says Heath Miller, a high school band director in Tulsa, Oklahoma, who considers this the most stressful period of his 20 years teaching.

In recent weeks, individuals in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, lit masks on fire outside a school board meeting. Pro-mask protesters in Fort Worth, Texas, staged a mock funeral outside the school board president’s home in August. The critical race theory debate continues to burn after erupting last spring, with new laws passed in eight states banning teachers from covering “divisive topics” and multiple other states considering restrictive measures. Loudoun County, Virginia, saw contentious clashes over the district’s expansion of transgender student rights.

September 15, 2021
By Nick Morrison
Forbes

Excerpt: More than half of college students regularly hold back on expressing their views on campus for fear of the potential consequences. But, contrary to the stereotype of universities as hotbeds of militant liberalism, it is not just conservatives who are scared to speak out: students across the political spectrum worry about what will happen if they share their views.

Issues around free speech in universities have become increasingly heated in recent years, despite the relatively small number of incidents. While 55% of conservative-leaning students say they ‘always’ or ‘often’ refrain from speaking out on political or social issues in the classroom, this is only slightly more than the 49% of liberal-leaning students who did likewise. Even students who classed themselves as moderate were afraid to express an opinion, with 52% saying they stopped themselves from speaking out.

 

September 15, 2021
By Katherine Kealey and Finn McNally
Iowa State Daily

Excerpt: The Board of Regents State of Iowa addressed free expression on campus and heard critiques from Iowa State faculty about the Regents’ COVID-19 mitigation. The Regents met at the Iowa State Alumni Center on Wednesday as part of the dual session. Attorney and professor Todd Pettys gave a presentation to the Board on First Amendment rights from an institutional point of view.

The Board of Regents recently instituted a Freedom of Expression Policy statement, which outlines the Board’s commitment to free speech on campus. The guiding principles state it is not the role of the Regent universities to shield individuals from speech protected by the First Amendment. This includes opinions and ideas some find unwelcoming, disagreeable or offensive. Instead, it is the universities job to encourage diversity of thought and a peaceful exercise of freedom of expression.

September 14, 2021
By Hajera Naveed and Bonnie Zhao
The Rice Thresher

Excerpt: Wiess College [a Rice University residential college] is adding a clause banning hate speech to their college constitution, according to Wiess College President Varun Kukunoor. According to Wiess Diversity Facilitator Alizay Azeem, a group of sophomores at Wiess have recently been reported to Wiess Court for regularly using the N-word.

“[Those students], as I understand, are non-black and are actually white,” Azeem, a Wiess junior, said. “They’ve been using the N-word casually in terms of not necessarily using it towards people directly in an inflammatory way, but they’re still using it amongst each other. Regardless of their intention, it is still egregious because they are contributing to a hostile environment.” Azeem said that the Wiess diversity facilitators plan on holding a workshop in a few weeks to address the situation and educate people on the different forms of hate speech.

September 13, 2021
By Phillip Goodrich
Bipartisan Policy Center

Excerpt: Colleges and universities frequently utilize forms of institutional speech to communicate their position on social and political issues. However, while institutional speech is a common practice, there is a debate among higher education leaders as to when and why schools should weigh in on certain affairs. Institutional speech is an action taken by the organization—or a branch within—that represents its collective beliefs. On campus, this can include a departmental statement, a campus-wide message, a presidential tweet, the renaming of a building, divestment, or the de-platforming of a speaker.

To grasp the current situation and the on-going debates over institutional speech, it is helpful to look at a previous moment of societal and campus polarization: the 1960s. Although the times have changed, much can be pulled from the actions and byproducts of this era.