Latest News and Commentary: National

December 17, 2021
By Rebecca Greisbach

Excerpt: Faculty at Alabama’s flagship university are urging leaders to take a public stand against state legislation aimed at limiting academic speech. In a resolution published Thursday, the University of Alabama Faculty Senate urged UA President Stuart Bell and the Board of Trustees to join in opposition of “proposed and future legislation that undermines academic freedom and, therefore, the historic purpose of higher education.”

The Faculty Senate is a legislative body at the University of Alabama that consists of faculty representatives across colleges. The resolution comes after an impassioned meeting earlier this fall, when members debated how to handle legislative efforts that could impact discussions of race, equity and critical race theory. “This is an existential threat to everyone in the room,” said John Petrovic, an education professor, of bills prefiled in the Alabama legislature. To wait until legislation passes to make a statement, he said earlier this fall, would be “cowardice bullshit.”

December 17, 2021
By Sabrina Conza
Foundation for Individual Rights in Education

Excerpt: A month after a pro-Israel club was denied recognition by Duke University’s student government, Zionist and civil liberties advocacy groups continue to sound the alarm, urging Duke to comply with its promises to students by granting the student organization full recognition. Duke Student Government President Christina Wang vetoed the recognition of a Students Supporting Israel chapter based on one of the group’s social media posts, which Wang deemed uncivil. After receiving a letter from FIRE urging it to grant SSI recognition, Duke’s student senate upheld the veto, leaving SSI unrecognized because of a solitary social media post.

While we are disappointed to have not heard back from Duke, we are heartened to see other organizations standing up for SSI’s expressive and associational rights. Because of those rights, which Duke expressly promises to its students, the university must provide SSI not just with fiscal resources but also all other resources promised to student groups.

December 17, 2021
By Aaron Terr
Foundation for Individual Rights in Education

Excerpt: Speech is not free when it is compulsory. This basic principle appears to be lost on Boston University.

FIRE has twice written to BU, objecting to antiracism initiatives that compel speech from theatre faculty and interfere with their pedagogical autonomy. These initiatives include mandatory diversity statements on syllabi and a requirement that faculty teach material “through an actively antiracist lens.” Disappointingly, BU has ignored our letters.

While waiting for a response, we discovered yet another way in which BU is violating its faculty’s right to be free from compelled speech. As reported by the Washington Free Beacon, BU’s mandatory training on preventing harassment and discrimination requires faculty members to express views which they may not hold.

December 17, 2021
By Marlene Lenghang

Excerpt: A new bill proposed in the Oklahoma state Legislature would limit how slavery is taught in schools and ban teaching that "one race is the unique oppressor" or "victim" in slavery's history.

Republican state Rep. Jim Olsen filed House Bill 2988 this month, and it has already caused a backlash from lawmakers and teachers.

The bill prohibits state agencies and public school districts from placing culpability on one race and teaching "that one race is the unique oppressor" or "another race is the unique victim in the institution of slavery.”

December 16, 2021
By Emma Pettit
Chronicle of Higher Education

Excerpt: Erica Cope admits it wasn’t a great lesson. In the fall of 2020, Cope, like faculty members across the country, was teaching virtually, from her kitchen table. None of her students — all freshmen at Buffalo State College — seemed particularly engaged in the introductory writing course. Discussions were scarce. Faced with a sea of black screens, Cope, an adjunct lecturer, couldn’t tell whether her lessons were landing.

The day’s lesson was about “cancel culture.” Students had read a few articles on the topic beforehand. Cope wanted to present them with an opinion that, at first blush, they’d object to but that would actually be more nuanced than it appeared. She said, “So, I am sick of talking about Black Lives Matter.” Then, in April 2021, a 15-second clip from the lecture-gone-wrong surfaced on social media, showing Cope saying that she was “sick” of talking about Black Lives Matter.

December 16, 2021
By Eugene Volokh
The Volokh Conspiracy, Reason Magazine

Excerpt: A white administrator is claiming she was fired based on her race, and based on her complaints that her department chair said "I despise white people" and various other things. The court likewise concluded that there was enough evidence to go to the jury on whether OSU's stated "legitimate, non-retaliatory reason for terminating Plaintiff's employment—namely, her failure to adapt to the new departmental transition and inability to communicate professionally with her superiors and subordinates"—was a pretext.

The court also concluded that, for similar reasons, Faure had provided enough evidence to go to the jury on the question whether OSU had retaliated against her "because she 'opposed' a practice that violates Title VII"; such retaliation is itself forbidden by Title VII. And the court likewise allowed Ms. Faure's claim of retaliation for First-Amendment-protected speech to go forward.

December 15, 2021
By Sophia Nelson & Christina Crenshaw
RealClear Politics

Excerpt: Academic freedom, free thought and free speech are under assault on our nation’s college campuses. And it’s not just conservative white men, or the Federalist Society at Ivy League schools such as Yale University, that are under attack. It is also women, including women of color, who are caught up in this new “cancel”-meets-“consequence” culture. We are college professors/scholars who have experienced cancel culture’s swift and ugly rage, and we both suffered professional damage as a result.

We are in the middle of a seriously flawed sociological and generational shift that has redefined the way we have courageous conversations (or not) on our college campuses. Free speech no longer exists if you do not lock, stock, and barrel embrace diversity and inclusion statements or the LGBTQ+ community.  We both have been told that we may have “free speech” but that there will be “consequences” to us professionally and personally for said speech.

December 15, 2021
By Tal Axelrod
The Hill

Excerpt: Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) rolled out legislation Wednesday that would allow parents to sue schools that teach critical race theory. DeSantis announced the Stop the Wrongs to Our Kids and Employees (WOKE) Act, which he said in a statement would be “the strongest legislation of its kind in the nation and will take on both corporate wokeness and Critical Race Theory.”

The law, which was also rolled out at a campaign-style press conference, allows parents to sue over the teaching of the theory. A press release on the bill from DeSantis’s office listed seven “National examples of Critical Race Theory,” though none were in Florida. The bill also gives workers the ability to sue companies that promote the theory and other sensitivity and racial awareness training. The bill, which also allows parents to collect attorney fees, includes a similar provision as a Texas bill restricting access to abortion.

December 15, 2021
By Colleen Flaherty
Inside Higher Ed

Excerpt: Academe needs a tougher, more organized response to the wave of state legislation or governing board policies limiting the teaching of race and other so-called divisive concepts. That’s the thinking behind an effort to get as many faculty senates as possible to adopt a resolution called “Defending Academic Freedom to Teach About Race and Gender Justice and Critical Race Theory.”

More than a dozen faculty senates already have adopted or are considering adopting the template-based resolution, which says that the given senate “resolutely rejects any attempts by bodies external to the faculty to restrict or dictate university curriculum on any matter, including matters related to racial and social justice, and will stand firm against encroachment on faculty authority by the legislature or the Boards of Trustees.” The template resolution calls on the given institution’s president and provost, by name, to do the same. It also says the given faculty senate stands with K-12 colleagues.

December 15, 2021
By Josh Bleisch and Adam Steinbaugh
Foundation for Individual Rights in Education

Excerpt: Steve Sanders is a tenured law professor at IU. He is also an IU alum and was long involved with the institution before joining the faculty. Because of his deep relationship with the university, Sanders has become particularly interested in its leadership and administration.

Earlier this year, Sanders started looking into IU’s search for a new president to replace the retiring Michael McRobbie. That process, like many presidential searches, was secretive, and Sanders wasn’t involved. He did, however, speak with friends and colleagues about the search, and after learning about a large payment to the outgoing president for “consulting services” — which was approved without a vote by the board — Sanders wrote an article about the results of his investigation. Before he could publish the investigation, Sanders learned that a law firm, which had previously been retained by IU in other matters, made a public records request for Sanders’s emails relating to IU’s presidential search.