A group of academics has signed a statement, “Restoring Academic Freedom“, addressing the chilling of academic discourse by ideological pressure, and suggesting solutions to this problem. It’s several pages long, so see the whole thing at the link above. I’ve put below (indented bit) excerpts from the document.
As of this morning, 641 people had signed the document. The signers include me and a gazillion people from various universities and fields. The desire for academic freedom, with truth not bent to conform to ideology, is strong!
As always, I ask people to refrain from defaming those who signed on the grounds that some co-signers are considered odious or ideologically impure. All that the signers have in common is that they’re academics or STEM people and that they agree with the sentiments of the document.
From the introduction: a bit about the issue:
Unfortunately, academic freedom and freedom of speech are rapidly declining in academic institutions, including universities, professional societies, journals, and funding agencies. Researchers whose findings challenge dominant narratives find it increasingly hard to get published, funded, hired, or promoted. They, and teachers who question current orthodoxies, are harassed in person and online, ostracized, subjected to opaque university disciplinary procedures, fired, or canceled by other means. Employment, promotion, and funding are increasingly subject to implicit or explicit political litmus tests, including approval from bureaucrats seeking to impose a social agenda such as specific views of social justice or DEI principles. Activism is replacing inquiry and debate. An increasing number of simple facts and ideas cannot even be mentioned without risk of retribution.
Public high-profile victims are the tip of the iceberg. An atmosphere of fear and self-censorship pervades academia. Many faculty and students believe they cannot voice their views, question dogmas, investigate certain topics, or question the loss of academic freedom without risking ostracization and damage to their careers. Knowledge is lost, and many talented scholars are leaving academia.
Universities and professional societies are failing to resist such illiberal forces–which have arisen many times throughout history, from all sides of the political spectrum –and to defend academic freedom and freedom of speech.
Many universities and professional organizations now qualify their support for freedom: free speech, they say, so long as the speech does not offend or exclude; free speech, so long as it does not challenge institutionally approved narratives and conceptions of social justice; free speech, but only within narrow credentialed boundaries. These restrictions are counterproductive, even to their goal of advancing a particular ideology. People infer from censorship a desire to protect lies from being exposed. Historically, censorship has supported monstrous regimes and their ideologies. Bad ideas are only defeated by argument and persuasion, not by suppression. True justice and freedom cannot exist without each other.
And possible solutions:
What can be done?
We call for all Universities, academic associations, journals, and national academies to adopt the “Chicago Trifecta,” consisting of the Chicago Principles of free speech, the Kalven Report requirement for institutional neutrality on political and social matters, and the Shils report making academic contribution the sole basis for hiring and promotion.
The Kalven report emphasizes, “To perform its mission in society, a university must sustain an extraordinary environment of freedom of inquiry and maintain an independence from political fashions, passions, and pressures.’’ The University and its administrative subunits must abstain from taking position on the political issues of the day: “While the university is the home and sponsor of critics, it is not itself the critic and therefore cannot take collective action on the issues of the day without endangering the conditions for its existence and effectiveness.”
“The neutrality of the university as an institution arises … not from lack of courage nor out of indifference and insensitivity. It arises out of respect for free inquiry and the obligation to cherish a diversity of viewpoints.”
We also call for faculty to create (or join existing) non-partisan associations, aimed at defending these values on campus, and at a national level such as FIRE, the Academic Freedom Alliance, Heterodox Academy, FAIR and ACTA. Professional organizations should prioritize the defense of academic freedom and free speech of their members.
Many universities have officially adopted the Chicago Principles. Robust structures must be developed to uphold these principles. Faculty under fire from student groups, other faculty, deans and administrators, or university staff, must be able to effectively assert their freedom of speech and inquiry by appealing to those statements.
Universities must deploy safeguards to ensure that administrators work to uphold these principles rather than to undermine them. University disciplinary procedures must become transparent, following basic centuries-old protections of the accused such as the right to see and challenge evidence, confront witnesses against them, the right to representation, and innocence until proven guilty.
University leaders must also promote and institutionalize free speech and academic freedom by concrete actions. Freedom is a culture, not merely a set of rules, and a culture must be nurtured. Free speech, free inquiry, tolerance for opposing views, meeting such views with argument, logic and fact, abstaining from ad-hominem attacks, character assassination, doxing and other unethical behavior must be highlighted in the orientation materials for all new students and employees. Freedom comes with a culture of responsibility, but responsibilities are better enforced by social norms than by extensive rules enforced by non-academic bureaucrats. If community members or groups petition school leaders for the sanction or punishment of a faculty member or a student for expressing their point of view, university leaders should publicly and clearly respond with a statement affirming that the University is a place to discuss and debate all views, and that an attempt to punish others for having “incorrect” views is incompatible with the community standards of the school. The University should also commit to all students, faculty, and employees, that it will not punish or sanction free expression.