We issued a statement today condemning recent political attempts to restrict teaching that critically examines the history and policies of the state of Israel and the United States. In the first case, legislation redefines antisemitism to include political criticism of the state of Israel. In the second, legislation redefines critical analysis of the history of slavery and its legacies in US society as being itself racially discriminatory against whites. In both cases these draconian initiatives paint robust academic inquiry as dangerous and contradict the purpose of higher education to serve the common good.
Such legislation imposes extreme unjustified restrictions on faculty speech and academic freedom. “While the growth of antisemitism is a severe threat, it can and should be addressed under existing civil rights laws as religious or race discrimination,” the statement reads. “These new laws, however, expand the definition of antisemitism to encompass political speech.” Such overbroad definitions, as in a 2019 Florida law, “constitute a state-imposed orthodoxy that prohibits or discourages faculty members and students from engaging in academic work that may question the state’s positions on Israel or Zionism.” Similarly, legislative restrictions on curriculum about race and racism in the US constitute political interference designed to curb critical analysis and free inquiry about the history and nature of systemic racism.
The AAUP urges the defeat of these legislative initiatives and others like them in order to protect the academic freedom that is vital to the preservation of democracy.
The full statement: Legislative Threats to Academic Freedom: Redefinitions of Antisemitism and Racism, can be found here.
Charles Toombs, San Diego State University
Chair of AAUP’s committee on Academic Freedom and Tenure (Committee A)