Latest News and Commentary: Princeton

November 17, 2021
By Keith E. Whittington
The Volokh Conspiracy, Reason Magazine

Excerpt: Indiana University recently got a new president. A law professor there wound up trying to peer into the process of how the old president was departing and how the new president was selected. The university preferred that such information remain behind closed doors.

Next thing you know the professor was getting public record requests from a local law firm for his emails on his university account. The law firm would not reveal who was behind the requests, but there is reason to think that university officials are the ones doing the snooping. The Academic Freedom Alliance has objected to this apparent attempt to harass and intimidate a member of the faculty by the university administration.

 

November 16, 2021
By Keith E. Whittington
The Volokh Conspiracy, Reason Magazine

Excerpt: The University of Michigan opened this academic year with an academic freedom scandal. Music professor Bright Sheng showed his class the 1965 film of Othello with Laurence Olivier playing the Moor in dark makeup. The university removed Sheng from the classroom and opened an investigation. The Academic Freedom Alliance condemned the university for violating Professor Sheng's academic freedom. The university eventually relented and dropped the investigation. Unfortunately, that is not quite the end of the matter.

Professor Sheng has not been returned to his class. The university has hardly recognized its error and has failed to adequately reaffirm its commitments to academic freedom. Not exactly an encouraging sign for the future. And now some members of the faculty who were enthusiastic about the persecution of Professor Sheng are doubling down.

 

November 15, 2021
By Rohit Narayanan
The Daily Princetonian

Excerpt: A group of anti-cancel culture public intellectuals recently announced their plans to start a new university — The University of Austin (UATX). The news seemed designed to generate Twitter outrage. But it’s worth spending some time analyzing the college they’re planning to create.

Making fun of the new venture is easy. Its FAQ has some lines that elicit eyerolls (“Why Austin? If it’s good enough for Elon Musk and Joe Rogan, it’s good enough for us”), and some of its advisors seem to be more interested in waging partisan battles than actually making a point about academic freedom. But at the same time, elite higher education does struggle with stasis, and UATX has some genuinely good ideas. Where UATX stumbles is its raison d’etre: cancel culture. It’s not clear what more UATX would add in this space.

 

November 5, 2021
By Keith E. Whittington
The Volokh Conspiracy, Reason Magazine

Excerpt: The Academic Freedom Alliance today issued its first guidance statement. These statements will address broader policy issues in American higher education that implicate academic freedom but that might not involve any particular incident at a specific university or relating to a specific individual professor.

This statement relates to the increasingly common demand by university officials that professors affirm their belief on some question of contested values or political sentiment. Of late, many of these incidents involve diversity statements or anti-racism statements, but these sorts of demands can range across the political and ideological spectrum and involve a wide range of specific issues. It is inappropriate for university officials to demand that professors engage in compelled speech, regardless of the topic or the popularity of the opinion to be expressed.

 

November 3, 2021
By Keith E. Whittington
The Volokh Conspiracy, Reason Magazine

Excerpt: On October 31, the Academic Freedom Alliance wrote the leadership of the University of Florida explaining that its effort to suppress expert testimony by its faculty in a lawsuit filed against the state of Florida violates its commitments to academic freedom and violates the First Amendment.

The president and provost of the university subsequently announced that the professors could testify, but only if they did so "pro bono on their own time." (It has since been reported that the University of Florida had earlier blocked another professor from testifying in a different lawsuit against the state despite the fact that he intended to do so pro bono and on his own time.) Yesterday the Academic Freedom Alliance sent a second letter to the leadership of the University of Florida explaining that the pro bono restriction still violated the university's stated commitments to academic freedom and the First Amendment.

November 1, 2021
By Academic Freedom Alliance
Press Release

Excerpt: Today, the Academic Freedom Alliance (AFA) sent a letter to the University of Florida denouncing its decision to block three professors from serving as expert witnesses in a lawsuit against the state of Florida regarding the constitutionality of the recently enacted electoral law. The university denied the professors’ requests on the grounds that such outside activities “may pose a conflict of interest to the executive branch of the state of Florida.” In a subsequent defense of its decision, it asserted that full-time employees could not undertake “outside paid work that is adverse to the university’s interests as a state of Florida institution.”

“I write on behalf of the Academic Freedom Alliance to express our firm view that this decision is a serious violation of the academic freedom principles to which the University of Florida is committed,” wrote Princeton Professor Keith E. Whittington, chair of the AFA’s academic committee, in the letter to UF President Kent Fuchs.

November 1, 2021
By Keith E. Whittington
The Volokh Conspiracy, Reason Magazine

Excerpt: A new episode of The Academic Freedom Podcast from the Academic Freedom Alliance is now available. Subscribe through your favorite platform so you don't miss an episode.

In this episode I talk with Hank Reichman about the state of academic freedom in America today. Reichman is professor emeritus of history at California State University - East Bay. He is also the former chair of American Association of University Professors' Committee A on Academic Freedom and Tenure. His new book, Understanding Academic Freedom, is now available.

 

October 27, 2021
By Stuart Taylor, Jr
RealClearPolitics

 

Princeton University’s diversity, equity, and inclusion bureaucracy, which receives complaints from faculty and students about alleged discrimination and harassment, itself now stands accused by eight Princeton professors of harassing a ninth by falsely and dishonestly portraying him as a racist.

The eight professors’ previously unreported complaint and attached letter includes an accusation that someone (or more than one person) in the diversity-equity-inclusion bureaucracy deliberately falsified on the university’s official website a much-discussed passage in a July 2020 Quillette article by classics Professor Joshua Katz in order to reinforce the website’s portrayal of him as a racist.

October 27, 2021
By Andrew Somerville and Izzy Jacobson
Daily Princetonian

Excerpt: Over 4,000 attended a Zoom lecture by University of Chicago Associate Professor of Geophysical Sciences Dorian Abbot on “Climate and the Potential for Life on Other Planets” on Thursday, Oct. 21. The event was hosted by the James Madison Program in American Ideals and Institutions (JMP) after it was canceled by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) Department of Earth, Atmospheric, and Planetary Sciences (EAPS).

Abbot sparked controversy within the MIT community because of his public statements against Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) initiatives and affirmative action. In Aug. 2021, Abbot, alongside Stanford Associate Professor of Accounting Iván Marinovic, detailed their views in an Op-Ed for Newsweek, which suggested an alternative framework to DEI called “Merit, Fairness, and Equality.” Abbot and Marinovic also compared DEI’s grouping of individuals by race to the “ideological regime obsessed with race” that came to power in Nazi Germany 90 years ago.

October 19, 2021
By Keith E. Whittington
The Volokh Conspiracy, Reason Magazine

Excerpt: Music professor Bright Sheng showed his class at the University of Michigan the 1965 film of William Shakespeare's Othello in which Laurence Olivier plays the Moor in dark make-up. Students objected. A colleague denounced showing the film as a "racist act." A dean declared that showing the film was contrary to the school's anti-racist commitments. Sheng was removed from the classroom until he "agreed" to step away from the class entirely. Meanwhile, he remains under threat of investigation and discipline for his offenses.

The Academic Freedom Alliance has released a public letter calling on the University of Michigan to immediately allow Professor Sheng to fully return to his teaching duties, to drop all investigations of him and threats to him arising from this incident, and to reaffirm that faculty at the university have the freedom to assign pedagogically relevant materials in their classes even when those materials are controversial or might cause offense.