Latest News and Commentary: National

June 2, 2021
By Arelis Hernández and Griff Witte
The Washington Post

Excerpt: Under the culture war rallying cry of combating “critical race theory” — an academic framework centered on the idea that racism is systemic, not just a collection of individual prejudices — lawmakers have endorsed an extraordinary intervention in classrooms across Texas. Their plans would impose restrictions on how teachers discuss current events, bar students from receiving course credit for civic engagement and, in the words of advocates, restore the role of “traditional history” to its rightful place of primacy by emphasizing the nation’s noble ideals, rather than its centuries-long record of failing to live up to them.

To Texas educators who have cheered attempts to offer students a more thorough and honest account of the nation’s often ugly history of racial subjugation, it all feels like an attempt to put the post-Floyd awakening back to sleep.

 

June 2, 2021
By Foundation for Individual Rights in Education
Foundation for Individual Rights in Education

Excerpt: Stanford University law student Nicholas Wallace was set to graduate this month, but his degree was temporarily in jeopardy. After receiving a complaint about a satirical email that Wallace sent to his peers in January, Stanford launched an investigation into Wallace. His degree was on hold while the university determined whether he violated school policies by mocking Sen. Josh Hawley, Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, and the law school’s chapter of the Federalist Society.

Stanford’s Office of Community Standards informed Nicholas this evening that the investigation will be closed and the hold on his diploma released, belatedly determining that his email was protected expression. Stanford’s statement says that it followed “normal procedures” and “consulted with legal counsel after we obtained the relevant facts.” If “normal procedures” and review by a university attorney let an investigation into political satire proceed, something is wrong with the procedures.

 

June 1, 2021
By Colleen Flaherty
Inside Higher Ed

Excerpt: Current and former students at Sonoma State University want a professor removed from the classroom, not just for what he’s teaching students in his film classes, but how he’s teaching it. They say he’s mean, treats women particularly poorly and screens gratuitously violent and sexual films without any warning. A petition with more than 900 names -- many of them current and former students of the professor, Ajay Gehlawat -- calls on Sonoma State to take urgent action against him.

The students who want Gehlawat suspended or even fired describe their case and cut-and-dried: they acknowledge the general concept of faculty academic freedom but say he’s using it to harm students in various ways, over and over, and that he shouldn’t be allowed to continue to do that. For the university, which has been dealing with the Gehlawat case over many months, it’s more complex.

 

May 30, 2021
By Jonathan Turley
jonathanturley.org

Summary: The University of Oregon has approved a new policy that will allow its administration to punish students for off-campus conduct and social media activity deemed to cause a “substantial disruption to the University community or any of its members.” This policy would also allow interventions if such speech is relevant to University “records, documents, or identifications,” broadly defined, or if the University deems the speech to “seriously threaten the health or safety of any person.” While the language of this policy is a distinct improvement from previous language that applied a “significant adverse impact” standard as grounds for intervention, it is still overbroad and highly nebulous.

This expansive language could allow University of Oregon administrators to punish students and faculty for speech or actions they find objectionable on the grounds that such action presents a “substantial disruption.”

 

May 29, 2021
By Marta Aldrich
Chattanooga Times Free Press (originally posted by Chalkbeat.org)

Summary: Tennessee Republicans have recently passed language through the legislature that bans the discussion of racism, sexism, and other bias in state classrooms. This legislation – which was passed in just a few weeks as a tack-on to a measure meant to update outdated language in other laws – was apparently spurred by the Biden administration’s announcement of a diversity and anti-racism-focused education grants program. Involved Republican legislators have also cited unverified accounts of a local seven-year-old-girl being driven to self-hatred and suicidal thoughts due to race-based classroom discussions. Tennessee Democrats have lambasted the new restrictions as cynical political maneuvering meant to protect white students from uncomfortable discussions. Meanwhile, Republicans claim that the measure will force Tennessee’s public schools to focus on providing a quality education without needlessly dividing and agitating students.

 

May 28, 2021
By Peter Bonilla
Foundation for Individual Rights in Education

Summary: Iowa Governor Kim Reynolds has recently signed House File 744 into law. The legislation primarily seeks to reinforce First Amendment protections at public colleges and universities, but there is one particular measure that could be a cause for concern. Subsection 3(b) states, in part:

“If it is determined, after exhaustion of all available administrative and judicial appeals, that a faculty member knowingly and intentionally restricts the protected speech or otherwise penalizes a student in violation of this subsection, the faculty member shall be subject to discipline by the institution through the normal disciplinary processes of the institution, and such discipline may include termination depending on the totality of the facts.”

Professors have a fair degree of discretionary power in the classroom to minimize disruptions. However, this measure could pressure administrations to go after professors for otherwise protected conduct in order to signal to Iowa’s state government that they are “acting properly.”

 

May 27, 2021
By Eugene Volokh
The Volokh Conspiracy, Reason

Excerpt: A high school chapter of Turning Point USA has apparently lost its faculty sponsor, and has been disbanded, after distributing the anti-China poster reproduced above (which apparently alludes to a popular video game, Among Us). The Chicago-area publication Journal & Topics (Tom Robb) reports that Illinois state Rep. Jennifer Gong-Gershowitz & Sen. Laura Fine (the majority caucus whip), together with various community members, complained to the school principal about the poster.

My view about this is straightforward; as I mentioned in a March post prompted by a similar controversy, free people always have the right—not just as a legal matter, but as a matter of academic freedom and social mores—to criticize governments. And the poster's reference to China, coupled with the hammer and sickle—which is the symbol of the Chinese Communist Party—is clearly a reference to the government of China, not to Chinese-Americans or ethnic Chinese more broadly.

 

May 27, 2021
By Ryan Suppe
Idaho State Journal

Excerpt: In March, when Boise State University announced it was suspending dozens of diversity courses after receiving a complaint that a professor shamed a student for being white, state Rep. Ron Nate, R-Rexburg, posted on Facebook that the move amounted to an admission of “systemic Social Justice/Critical Race Theory problems on campus and how some students are being targeted. An investigation has found that this complaint had no grounds.
In a Tuesday email to the Idaho Press, Nate — one of dozens of Republican lawmakers who supported higher education budget cuts — cast doubt on the investigation, suggesting it lacked independence, was incomplete and its methods were biased. In an online statement, posted Tuesday, the Idaho Freedom Foundation made similar claims. Both Nate and the libertarian think tank doubled-down on charges of indoctrination. “BSU still has a blind spot with regard to (critical race theory) on campus,” Nate said in the email. “It is a systemic problem, baked into the curriculum and campus culture.”

 

May 27, 2021
By Amna Khalid and Jeffrey Aaron Snyder
Chronicle of Higher Education

Summary: Indiana University-Purdue University has announced that it will now consider “diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) work” as a criteria for certain promotion and tenure options. This approach will likely fall short of its goal of elevating marginalized scholars, and will likely pose a significant danger to academic freedom.

The primary issue is that the DEI work that will be considered by these promotion and tenure options is often an exercise in ideological etiquette – referred to as “Antiracism Inc” – instead of genuine efforts at the elevation of marginalized students and ideas. Antiracism Inc’s understanding of DEI is based off a highly ideological and binary view that categorizes all people and institutions as “racist” or “antiracist.” Efforts and scholarship that do not fall under this dichotomy would not be considered. This approach does little to recognize the contributions of minority faculty, elevate scholars in the global south, or address the inequities it seeks to resolve.

 

May 27, 2021
By Alexander Kafka
Chronicle of Higher Education

Excerpt:  “Academic freedom is in the worst position of my career, and perhaps the worst condition it has been in decades — perhaps since the Red Scare,” says Greg Lukianoff, president of the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, a nonprofit committed to the rights of free speech on college campuses.
Academics are caught in a pincer grip from the political right and left.

From the right, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, and Iowa are among states meddling in colleges’ curricula and speech policies. When a Georgia lawmaker asked the state university system to explain how it teaches “oppression” and “privilege,” the system’s leaders felt compelled to pull together a 102-page report. Boise State suspended 52 sections of a diversity and ethics course amid Republican attacks on the university’s efforts to teach students about racism. From the left, some students declare views with which they disagree to be a form of violence, shouting down voices they don’t want to hear.