Latest News and Commentary: National

December 8, 2021
By Rich Kremer
Wisconsin Public Radio

Excerpt: A bill introduced by Republican state lawmakers would punish Wisconsin state universities and technical colleges for free speech or academic freedom violations. Campuses found to be in violation of the law would face financial penalties and potential lawsuits and would be forced to notify incoming students of any violations for the 10 years following the incident.

Wisconsin Republicans have been pushing the University of Wisconsin System to get tougher on students who disrupt free speech events on campuses since 2017. But the latest Republican initiative, introduced Thursday, focuses on punishing colleges and administrators rather than students. Under the new bill, any campus that restricts when and where speech can happen or charges a fee for "additional security based on the anticipated content of speech or anticipated reaction to speech" more than one time within 10 years will face a litany of sanctions.

December 8, 2021
By Geoff Shullenberger
Chronicle of Higher Education

Excerpt: Last month Allyn Walker, an assistant professor of sociology who uses they/them pronouns, announced their resignation from Old Dominion University. The sequence of events that led to their ouster is one we have seen play out before. Walker made controversial public statements that stoked a wave of viral fury. In the resulting fracas, which included violent threats, Old Dominion placed Walker on leave; Walker then agreed to step down at the end of the academic year.

This sort of resignation under pressure has become a standard means of resolving such scenarios. By avoiding outright dismissal, the university may rid itself of an employee who had become a PR liability while maintaining the pretense of a commitment to academic freedom. But the most influential advocates of Walker’s cancellation were not the “woke mob” we often hear about, but conservative media outlets such as Tucker Carlson’s top-rated Fox News show.

 

December 7, 2021
By Christine Rosen
Commentary

Excerpt: Why was an anti-Semitic activist group invited to a public school to recruit children to its cause? The group in question, Sunrise Movement, is a “full-fledged advocacy organization with a paid staff of more than 100 people, millions of dollars between its 501(c)3, 501(c)4, and PAC, and thousands of regular volunteers across the country,” as Politico describes. Best known for staging attention-grabbing sit-ins on behalf of its climate agenda, the group garnered some well-deserved negative attention last month when its D.C. chapter refused to participate in a march for D.C. statehood because Jewish organizations were also involved.

Sunrise DC’s statement said it was declining its speaking spot at the rally “due to the participation of a number of Zionist organizations,” including the Jewish Council on Public Affairs and the National Council of Jewish Women, which “are in alignment with and in support of Zionism and the State of Israel.”

 

December 7, 2021
By Divya Kumar of the Tampa Bay Times
Miami Herald

Excerpt: Fear of upsetting state officials is pervasive among faculty at the University of Florida, to the point that race-related references have been edited out of course materials and researchers felt pressure to destroy COVID-19 data, according to a report released Monday by a Faculty Senate committee. The six-person panel was convened three weeks ago to investigate academic freedom issues after the university decided to bar three political science professors from testifying in a lawsuit against the state. But its findings go well beyond that episode and were so disturbing — especially regarding COVID-19 research — that the group decided to speed up its work, said Danaya Wright, a constitutional law professor and former Faculty Senate chairperson who served on the committee.

The report discusses several “challenges” faced by UF researchers who were working on COVID-19 with an unidentified state entity. It describes “external pressure to destroy” data as well as “barriers” to accessing, analyzing and publishing the numbers.

 

December 6, 2021
By Hannah Natanson
The Washington Post

Excerpt: Matthew Hawn checked his phone to see if the wait was finally over.
It had been five months since he was fired for teaching about White privilege at a high school in rural Tennessee. Two months since he had fought to regain his job at an emotional three-day hearing, becoming a symbol of the acrimonious debate over the way race, racism and history should be taught in America’s schools.

His firing comes amid a tsunami of conservative outrage about critical race theory, an academic framework for examining systemic racism in the United States that educators contend is rarely taught in public schools. Hawn said he’d never heard of critical race theory until he was accused of teaching it.

 

December 6, 2021
By American Council of Trustees and Alumni
American Council of Trustees and Alumni

Excerpt: The alumni group Davidsonians for Freedom of Thought and Discourse (DFTD) was founded in 2018 to monitor the state of free expression, diversity of viewpoints, and ideological balance at Davidson College [and] to undertake research to help clarify whether perceived problems in these key areas are real. A Fall 2021 survey of major donors to Davidson College, virtually all of whom are alumni, revealed an urgent problem. The following summary of the Fall 2021 Davidson student survey findings presents the first available empirical data on the extent to which obstacles to freedom of expression are real and pervasive at Davidson.

December 6, 2021
By William Tierney
Inside Higher Ed

Excerpt: In 2019, the Brookings Institution published the monograph “The Democracy Playbook: Preventing and Reversing Democratic Backsliding.” The text outlined the democratic recession that is at work in the world and put forward numerous suggestions about what important actors, such as legislatures and journalists, might do to ensure that democracy is safeguarded. Then, in 2020, the American Academy of Arts and Sciences released “Our Common Purpose: Reinventing American Democracy in the 21st Century.”

Tellingly, neither monograph mentioned what postsecondary institutions or those of us who work in the academy should do to help advance democracy and slow the growth of fascism. Colleges and universities not only have a responsibility to their students to provide an education that leads toward employment. We also have a responsibility to ensure that they are equipped to participate in a democracy.

 

December 6, 2021
By Jonathan Marks
Commentary

Excerpt: The Middle East Studies Association (MESA), which boasts over 2,800 members, has long been a friend of anti-Israel advocacy. The historian Martin Kramer, considering what was on offer at MESA’s 2005 conference wrote that “for MESAns, the Palestinians are the chosen people, and more so now than ever. More papers are devoted to Palestine than to any other country.” “Paper after paper,” he added, presents an “elaboration of Palestinian nationalist ideology, ‘academized’ into ‘discourse’ by grad students and post-docs who’ve already given stump harangues, organized sit-ins, and written passionate propaganda pieces.”

To learn more about the deep roots of this kind of thing in MESA and the field of Middle East Studies, one does well to read Kramer’s 2001 book on the subject. Yet MESA, whose bylaws not so long ago described it as “nonpolitical” and whose membership includes some principled scholars, have refrained from endorsing the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions movement against Israel.

 

December 6, 2021
By Adam Goldstein and Peter Bonilla
Foundation for Individual Rights in Education

Excerpt: All semester, the attention on Yale University’s speech infringements has centered on two words: “trap house.” The case of law student Trent Colbert being pushed to apologize for a phrase youth culture appropriated from hip hop culture has earned a great deal of mainstream media attention. And so it should.

Now, a new case involving Dr. Sally Satel, a lecturer at the Yale School of Medicine, invites the opportunity to review the institution’s consistent retreat, since 2015, from its advertised promises of free expression. In Quillette, Satel wrote about an online lecture she gave early this year, and the pushback that ensued, including the accusation that she “dehumanized” rural Ohioans by being surprised by their enthusiasm for artisanal coffee. An unidentified and unenumerated group of “Concerned Yale Psychiatry Residents” sent a letter of complaint to John H. Krystal, chair of the department of psychiatry.

If Yale has abandoned its commitment to free speech culture, we should either encourage it to reconsider or encourage our business and political leaders to reconsider their connection to Yale.

 

December 5, 2021
By Jeremiah Poff
Washington Examiner

Excerpt: Groups of alumni from various colleges and universities around the country are organizing efforts to withhold donations from their alma maters in a bid to push the institutions to recommit themselves to free speech principles. The Jefferson Council is among those groups and was founded last year following continued attempts at the University of Virginia to cancel its founder, Thomas Jefferson, as well as a shift in the institution toward ideological uniformity.

James Bacon, a 1975 graduate of the University of Virginia and a founding member of the council, told the Washington Examiner that the group's goal is to work through the system that is in place to “preserve the legacy of Thomas Jefferson” as well as to push the university to embrace intellectual diversity. Bacon said that while the Jefferson Council has yet to call for alumni to cease donating to the school, other alumni free speech groups have, including at another Virginia school: Washington and Lee University.