Latest News and Commentary: National

April 13, 2023
By Christopher Rufo

Excerpt: Aaron Hillegass attended New College of Florida as an undergraduate, had a successful career as a software engineer, and returned to the school this January to teach in its new data science program. But there was one problem for him: Florida governor Ron DeSantis. On Saturday, he resigned, releasing a dramatic public statement that compared DeSantis with the perpetrators of the Holocaust.

These stunts are designed to drive left-wing media narratives (“Professor Resigns in Protest of DeSantis’s Fascism”) and to boost the profiles of their attention-seeking authors. The playbook is well-worn, and yet Hillegass, a data scientist, made a simple mistake. In his rhetoric about “burn[ing] the college’s buildings to the ground,” he revealed the ugly truth about modern “anti-fascism”: it believes that violence against the right targets is perfectly legitimate.

April 12, 2023
By Julian Roberts-Grmela
Chronicle of Higher Education

Excerpt: Last week, soon after news broke that graduate-student workers at Stanford University had initiated a unionization campaign, a professor there weighed in with a public statement of solidarity.

“I support the rights of Stanford Graduate Workers to unionize,” William Giardino tweeted on April 3. That tweet, he later worried, may have violated guidelines put forward by the administration that sought to limit faculty members’ social-media use about the issue. Giardino, an assistant professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences, felt conflicted, and wondered if he should delete the tweet.

April 12, 2023
By The Editorial Board
Wall Street Journal

Excerpt: Conservatives are so few at American universities that the battle to restore respect for free and open debate will have to be led by what used to be known as traditional liberals. Well, maybe there’s hope. On Wednesday Harvard University said it’s forming a new faculty-led Council on Academic Freedom dedicated to the free exchange of ideas as a cornerstone of “reason and rational discourse.”

There’s ample reason to be skeptical, and we’ll believe it when we see it. But if Harvard’s faculty is recommitting the school to the bedrock principles of university life, hear, hear.

April 12, 2023
By Steven Pinker and Bertha Madras
Boston Globe

Excerpt: We have joined with 50 colleagues to create a new Council on Academic Freedom at Harvard. It’s not about us. For many years we have each expressed strong and often unorthodox opinions with complete freedom and with the support, indeed warm encouragement, of our colleagues, deans, and presidents.

Yet we know that not all is well for more vulnerable colleagues and students. Harvard ranks 170th out of 203 colleges in FIRE’s Free Speech Rankings, and we know of cases of disinvitation, sanctioning, harassment, public shaming, and threats of firing and boycotts for the expression of disfavored opinions. More than half of our students say they are uncomfortable expressing views on controversial issues in class.

April 11, 2023
By Jeremy Bauer-Wolf
Higher Ed Dive

Excerpt: This month, Texas Senate Republicans advanced bills that would prohibit tenure and diversity, equity and inclusion, or DEI, offices. The Senate’s Committee on Education approved the anti-tenure bill last week 9-3, with one lawmaker absent, while its Subcommittee on Higher Education moved the diversity office legislation to the full committee.

April 9, 2023
By Vimal Patel
New York Times

Excerpt: Stanford Law School was under extraordinary pressure. For nearly two weeks, there had been mounting anger over the treatment of a conservative federal judge, whose talk had been disrupted by student hecklers. A video of the fiasco went viral. An apology to the judge from university officials had not helped quell the anger. Finally, on March 22, the dean, Jenny S. Martinez, released a lawyerly 10-page memo that rebuked the activists.

The question for Stanford and other institutions is whether the memo can ease tensions in this fraught and seemingly intractable political climate. In an era of high-pitched politics, living up to lofty free-speech principles can get messy on the ground.

April 8, 2023
By Jonathan Turley
Jonathan Turley's Blog

Excerpt: San Francisco State University this week is much in the news over free speech and academic freedom — for all the wrong reasons.

We just discussed how former swimmer Riley Gaines was allegedly assaulted and had to be locked away in a room for her own protection after trying to speak on transgender issues at the school. Now, the Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression (FIRE) has issued a letter to San Francisco State University on a new and troubling controversy over academic freedom. The university opened an investigation into Maziar Behrooz, an associate professor of history, reportedly due to his showing a drawing of the Prophet Muhammad.

April 7, 2023
By Ian Hodgson
Tampa Bay Times

Excerpt: In an unprecedented move, New College of Florida Interim President Richard Corcoran has asked seven faculty members to withdraw their applications for tenure ahead of the school’s April board of trustees meeting, according to Steven Shipman, president of the school’s faculty union.

The push comes as Corcoran directs a dramatic change of course at New College, where Gov. Ron DeSantis appointed six new members to the board of trustees in January. The group arrived with a mandate to overhaul the Sarasota school by offering a “classical education.” They are aided by $15 million in state money to hire new faculty and recruit students who agree with the new direction.

April 7, 2023
By Robby Soave
Reason Magazine

Excerpt: Riley Gaines is a former college swimmer who competed against Lia Thomas and has criticized the unfairness of including transgender athletes in women's sports. On Thursday, she appeared at San Francisco State University to speak on the subject.

Activists allegedly tried to drown out her event by making so much noise that it would be impossible to hear her; after the event, they chased her, physically assaulted her, and trapped in her a room for three hours. Videos circulating on social media do not specifically depict the assault, but they do show activists attempting to get at Gaines.

April 7, 2023
By Jonathan Malesic
New York Times

Excerpt: In the debate over free speech and social justice, commentators on the right and the “heterodox” left often claim that college students are all either stridently liberal or cowed into silence by those who are.

As someone who has spent two decades teaching at colleges large and small, public and private, I don’t recognize this description — and it’s not because I think that it’s conservative students who are dominating the discourse. In my experience, college students are all too reluctant to express strong opinions about the world at large.