A new and powerful organization to preserve freedom of expression in universities

March 9, 2021 • 1:30 pm

There seems to be lots of organizations forming to protect academic freedom and freedom of speech, and the three I know of (two of which haven’t yet been announced) include a mixture of liberals and conservatives, which is great. After all, freedom of thought and expression isn’t the bailiwick of any one side of the political spectrum.

I found out about this one from my colleague Brian Leiter, who posted this on his website Leiter Reports: (CHE is the Chronicles of Higher Education, and you should read their article; link below). Brian’s short post:

“Academic Freedom Alliance”

19 thoughts on “A new and powerful organization to preserve freedom of expression in universities

  1. I think FIRE has a broader remit, although there is some overlap. First, they are not just interested in faculty, but also in students. Second, although they spend a lot of time (or press) on free speech, they also deal with other civil liberties issues relating to, for example, campus sexual assault. I think a faculty-led initiative specifically on free-speech and academic freedom is important and useful.

  2. That is a ray of light. But of course there will be challenges and possible developments that threaten to fracture the organization. What if a college professor proceeds to teach Creationism, and in the name of academic freedom there are calls to protect them by this organization?

    1. I was struck b the same thought upon reading about the group’s mission and what I took to be our host’s semi-facetious parenthetical plaint that he’d been overlooked for an invitation to join. I wonder whether he might be blackballed by the Right for having received the Discotute’s “censor of the year” award over l’affaire Hedin.

      I should hope that an organization boasting such illustrious membership would readily distinguish between the “freedom to design courses and conduct classes using reasonable pedagogical judgment” and smuggling religion into public-university classrooms under the guise of pseudoscience.

      1. …what I took to be our host’s semi-facetious parenthetical plaint that he’d been overlooked for an invitation to join. I wonder whether he might be blackballed by the Right….

        Occam’s Razor says it was an unfortunate oversight. My crystal ball says that it might soon be corrected.

    2. I would support such a professor as long it is not part of the general biology classwork. In other words, it would be allowed in an optional seminar but not part of BIO 101.

      1. An optional seminar for which course credit toward graduation is awarded? How would you distinguish that from teaching it in BIO 101 at a university where BIO 101 is an elective course?

        If students want to attended a seminar sponsored by a private organization, even if it’s private organization on campus, I say have at it. But a public university has no business involving itself in teaching creationism (which is naught but a religious doctrine).

        1. Perhaps we are not talking the same language and I should clarify my view.

          A professor has the right to teach nonsense outside of the university and the right to advocate for an absurd seminar. I would argue against approval of such a class but, if the class is approved, he would be able to teach it within the university.

          As long as the professor follows university rules, there should be few consequences to creationist views. Idiotic views should be protected for tenured professors. However, they could easily be a factor to deny a biology professor from receiving tenure.

          1. Presumably such an “absurd seminar” would be subject to the same “approval” process as would a section of BIO 101 that dedicates a portion of its course time to covering intelligent design (as was the case, as I understand it, with Prof. Hedin at Ball State U), so I’m not seeing the distinction here.

            But then, academe is not my bailiwick, so I’m uncertain what approval process would apply.

            Perhaps our host could weigh in, if he chances to read this exchange.

  3. It’s good news but probably won’t change much if they mostly spend their energy defending individuals from persecution. At most they may prevent someone from losing their academic job but, even then, the persecutors will probably dismiss it with “He had a good lawyer”. They won’t be able to prevent reputations being trashed. It doesn’t sound like they’ll do much to diminish McWhorter’s Woke Religion. Perhaps I’m too cynical. Wouldn’t be the first time.

  4. I’ve sent them my $50 and expect to contribute plenty more up the line. Membership is invitational at this point, but they’ll probably be opening it up to membership applications later on this year. Paul’s comment in 4. above has some truth to it, but on the other hand, watch out for the avalanche effect and the generation of a critical mass of such organizations once there are enough of them and they start winning more victories. Once that happens, watch out, Wokies…

  5. I would take exception to the implication that Ward Churchill should be classified as an academic cancelled by conservatives. Conservatives did indeed target him, after his “radical” rhetoric reached an outlandishly overheated level, such as characterizing the victims of 9/11 as Nazis. But his record of academic plagiarism and fraud—not least a fake claimed Indigenous identity—made him almost comically vulnerable to dismissal on purely professional grounds, as the University of Colorado finally did.

    Nonetheless, he is memorialized in a generalization about academic behavior that I have named Churchill’s Law: the temperature of an academic’s “radical”-sounding prose will vary directly with the phoniness of his/her official academic pose. A related, earlier version of this relationship, which we might call Mulcahy’s Theorem, was explored by Mary McCarthy in her classic novel “The Groves of Academe”.

    1. I take it then that you’re conceding for the sake of argument, Jon, that Churchill could not have been fired on the bases of his comment that the 9/11 victims were “little Eichmanns” or of his essay “On the Justice of Roosting Chickens” alone, however repugnant one might find them?

      1. Exactly, Ken. Churchill was firebait for academic misdeeds quite aside from the
        overheated rhetoric. The latter, which I view as part of a pose meant to cover his
        academic inadequacies, finally drew unfriendly, as opposed to adoring, attention.
        [But it did get him a few speaking engagements before he justly became old news.]

  6. Is one of the new organizations FAIR (Foundation Against Intolerance & Racism)? While not explicitly directed at universities, that appears to fall under their mission. And what a board of directors! Ayaan Hirsi Ali, John McWhorter, Glenn Loury, Steven Pinker, Bari Weiss, Andrew Sullivan, Helen Pluckrose, Coleman Hughes, Peter Boghossian, and many more!

    Weiss mentioned it at her Substack site which points to:
    https://www.fairforall.org/about/

Leave a Reply