Latest News and Commentary: National

August 12, 2021
By Aaron Terr
Foundation for Individual Rights in Education

Excerpt: On August 10, the University of Iowa issued guidance to its faculty restricting speech on the topics of COVID-19 vaccinations and mask usage. Perhaps recognizing that the guidance was unconstitutional, UI removed it from the provost’s website today to make revisions. FIRE calls on UI to ensure the revised guidance fully respects faculty members’ First Amendment rights and academic freedom.

The original FAQ-style guidance placed various restrictions on how faculty could discuss the issues of vaccinations and masks, with troubling implications for academic freedom. It would intrude on faculty members’ First Amendment rights and academic freedom, and UI must leave it out of the revised guidance.


August 12, 2021
By Derrick Wilburn

Excerpt transcribed from You Tube video:

I am the direct descendant of the North American slave trade. Both my parents are black, all four of my grandparents are black, all 8 of my great grandparents all 16 of my great greats. . . .

I am not oppressed. I am not oppressed and I’m not a victim. . . . I travel all across this country of ours and I check into hotels, and I fly commercially, and I walk into retail establishments, and I order food in restaurants. I go wherever I want whenever I want. I am treated with kindness, dignity, and respect literally from coast to coast. I have three children. They are not oppressed either. . . .

Putting critical race theory into our classrooms is taking our nation in the wrong direction. Racism in America would by and large be dead today were it not for certain people and institutions keeping it on life support. And sadly, sadly, very sadly, one of these institutions is the American educational system. I can think of nothing more damaging to a society than to tell a baby born today that she has grievances against another baby born today simply because of what their ancestors may have done two centuries ago.

August 11, 2021
By Eliana Johnson

Excerpt: Donald Kagan, who died on Friday at the age of 89, was the world’s undisputed authority on ancient Greece. One of a dwindling number of conservatives in academia, Kagan never backed away from a fight, advocating for a traditional core curriculum focused on Western civilization and for unfettered free speech on campus, a message that rippled out from the Ivy League and became a flashpoint of national debate. As far back as 30 years ago, the New York Times quoted Kagan describing a Yale education as “a mutual massage between liberal students and professors.”

Kagan’s unapologetic advocacy for the study of Western civilization and for protecting the right to air unpopular and even abhorrent views made headlines not just at Yale but around the country. He never understood the tenured academics who claimed to be afraid to speak up, and he loved to say that he kept making trouble — and getting promoted.

August 10, 2021
By Kelly Meyerhofer
Wisconsin State Journal

Excerpt: A UW-Madison professor apologized on Monday for a social media post that some saw as advocating violence against a U.S. senator. The tweet, by Mike Wagner, a professor in the School of Journalism and Mass Communication, was in response to a video posted on Twitter Sunday evening featuring Sen. Rand Paul, R-Kentucky. In the video, Paul encouraged people to “resist” guidance from the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on stemming the spread of COVID-19, such as wearing a mask. In his now-deleted post, Wagner wrote: “Where have you gone, Rand Paul’s neighbor, a nation turns its lonely eyes to you.”

Paul’s neighbor, Rene Boucher, tackled the senator in 2017, breaking several of Paul’s ribs. Boucher pleaded guilty to felony assault and was sentenced to eight months in prison and six months of home confinement.

August 10, 2021
By David Wippman and Glenn C. Altschuler
Inside Higher Ed

Excerpt: Free speech and academic freedom in American education are once again under attack, from both the right and the left. The tactics differ, with the right relying more on state power -- legislation and executive orders -- and the left on social norms and peer pressure. At the moment, the principal threats come from the right, often and ironically under the banner of protecting free speech and viewpoint diversity. Whatever their source and motivation, these efforts to curtail free speech and academic freedom present a great and growing danger to the freedom of inquiry that is central to liberal education and essential to cultivating the informed citizenry on which American democracy depends.

Attempts to insist on a particular version of history or preclude discussion of controversial topics will hinder educators' ability to teach students to think critically and to present a fair and accurate account of subjects essential to students' understanding of society and their place in it.

August 10, 2021
By Zach Wendling
The Daily Nebraskan

Excerpt: Just days before the University of Nebraska Board of Regents is set to vote on a resolution to stop the “imposition of critical race theory in the NU system,” Nebraska Gov. Pete Ricketts and other top state leaders are formally urging regents to pass the resolution.

“While the broader public has only recently become familiar with CRT, we believe it poses a unique and imminent threat to students, our state and our university system for three reasons: It is racially divisive, anti-American and is used to attack free speech,” the letter reads. It’s unclear how such a resolution would be enforced if it’s passed, but the resolution has been met by heavy opposition from faculty, students and administrators — including NU President Ted Carter and Chancellor Ronnie Green — who have said the resolution is a violation of academic freedom


August 9, 2021
By Henry Reichman
Chronicle of Higher Education

Excerpt:  Two weeks ago, the historian Garrett Felber reached a confidential settlement with the University of Mississippi, where in December 2020 his appointment as a tenure-track assistant professor was not renewed under abrupt and alarming circumstances. “I was terminated because of my public statements, including legitimate criticisms of the university. Rather than go to court and seek reinstatement, I have chosen to move on and continue my work from a position outside this university,” Felber declared.

The case attracted considerable attention, including an open letter to the administration protesting the termination, which attracted over 5,400 signatures, as well as statements from the American Historical Association, PEN America, FIRE, and the Organization of American Historians. As the then-chair of the AAUP’s Committee A on Academic Freedom and Tenure, I questioned the university’s claim that its actions were “consistent with AAUP standards.”  As my final term as chair has now expired and the case has settled, I can be less circumspect. As John Wilson put it, Felber’s termination was “one of the most remarkable attacks on academic freedom in recent memory.”


August 9, 2021
By Ken Paulson
MTSU Free Speech Center

Excerpt: The Free Speech Center at Middle Tennessee State University (MTSU) is teaming with the Poynter Institute to bring First Amendment education tools to America’s college campuses. “The best way to build real understanding of the First Amendment is to engage college students on real-world issues, clearly conveying that 230-year-old free-expression principles are critical to our democracy today,” said Ken Paulson, director of the Free Speech Center.

The initiative, which combines the Poynter Institute’s “Press Pass” program with the Free Speech Center’s “Lessons in Liberty,” will give educators timely and interactive classroom exercises designed to illuminate freedom of speech and press for the next generation of citizens.

August 8, 2021
By Dave Huber
The College Fix

Excerpt: Two women’s volleyball coaches at the University of Oklahoma argue in a legal motion that they have the right to discipline players for their political beliefs. Player Kylee McLaughlin sued coaches Lindsey and Kyle Walton along with the OU Board of Regents earlier this year, alleging “she had been excluded from the team […] over her politically conservative views.”

After a series of tweets and disagreements, McLaughlin was “branded as a racist and homophobe” by her coaches and teammates, according to her lawsuit. She was given the option of transferring schools, keeping her scholarship as a student, or “redshirting for the season and practicing separately without her teammates throughout the year.” In their motion to dismiss the Waltons argue that even though they were the ones who injected politics into the team, they have the right to discipline those with differing views — in the name of “team unity.”

August 5, 2021
By FIRE Intern
Foundation for Individual Rights in Education

Excerpt: This past June, an all too familiar controversy erupted on the University of North Carolina Wilmington’s campus. A professor made a statement that was offensive to many community members, posting “Blow up Republicans” on his personal Facebook page. Many made comparisons to previous controversial but protected comments of the late UNCW professor Mike Adams. Both incidents resulted in numerous campus calls for investigations and firings.

However, it was not just students urging the university to respond to (and even punish) the professor. Elected officials and political appointees who have a higher civic obligation made many of the initial calls on the university to investigate the professor. Investigations are not intrinsically illiberal, and they often serve as a necessary fact-finding process when there is unlawful action or unprotected speech at issue. But when universities conduct investigations into clearly protected speech, they promulgate an impermissible chilling effect.