AAUP Statement Regarding Charlottesville

Our hearts broke this weekend as we watched expressions of racism, anti-Semitism, and hatred on the University of Virginia campus result in violence. We are especially saddened by the death of one activist and the wounding of others. Expressions of racism and hatred paired with violent actions are not new in our country. Our history shows that marchers armed with guns and sticks, carrying shields and torches, and chanting Nazi slogans have but one purpose: to strike fear and terror in the hearts of people of color, immigrants, Jews, Muslims, and all who believe in a more inclusive America.

To remain silent in the face of hatred is to be complicit in that hatred. Therefore, we will not remain silent while white supremacists, emboldened by the rhetoric of the Trump administration, perpetrate violence and incite bigotry. After equivocating, the President has finally denounced the KKK, the Nazis, and other white supremacist groups. But he and his administration must do more. We call on the Trump administration to use all of the forces at its disposal to bring to justice those involved in fomenting violence and terror. Further, we call on the President and his administration to denounce all attempts to equate nonviolent protests like Black Lives Matter with violent hate groups.

We decry the violence, the discrimination, and the attempts to intimidate, silence, and harm our students, educators, and community members. We reject racism and white supremacy. We stand with students, educators, their families, and communities across the country working for equitable and welcoming environments where it is safe to exist, learn, and peacefully disagree and debate. We will work with faculty members, students, and college leaders, uniting and organizing with allies and in our communities to resist hate and fight for a just society.

Rudy Fichtenbaum, AAUP president
Henry Reichman, AAUP first vice president

Victory at Trinity College

In a victory for academic freedom, the administration of Trinity College in Connecticut acknowledged today that Professor Johnny Williams’s social media posts “were protected by academic freedom and did not violate Trinity College policies.”

The administration observed that “Our understanding of academic freedom in America today is rooted largely in a joint statement from 1940 by the American Association of University Professors and the Association of American Colleges that asserted the fundamental importance of academic freedom for the common good and the advancement of truth.”

Williams had been placed on involuntary leave after reports on the website Campus Reform about his posts were followed by threats and the closure of the campus. The administration’s statement notes that “the initial report by Campus Reform led to distortions and an ensuing harassment that has become troublingly common for people of color and those who speak out on issues of race and racism.”

The AAUP had urged the Trinity administration to lift Williams’s suspension and planned to send a committee of inquiry to visit Trinity on July 20. With the resolution of this case, our further intervention is no longer warranted. Professor Williams has agreed to remain on a leave of absence through the fall semester.

We applaud the excellent work of our local chapter at Trinity College, which organized expressions of solidarity and opposition to the administration’s actions.


AAUP Files Brief in Case Involving Harassment of Climate Scientists

The AAUP yesterday submitted an amicus brief in support of faculty members who have been subjected to intrusive public records requests for e-mails related to their climate-science research. The AAUP brief, filed with the Arizona Court of Appeals in the case Energy & Environment Legal Institute v. Arizona Board of Regents, argues that the academic freedom to conduct research is essential to a vital university system and to the common good and that this warrants protecting certain research records from disclosure.

The case arose from an extensive public records request that was made by the Energy & Environment Legal Institute, which uses public records requests in a campaign against climate science. In similar past cases, AAUP briefs have been key to court decisions rejecting the requests.

In this case, E & E submitted public records requests that targeted two University of Arizona faculty members, climate researchers Malcolm Hughes and Jonathan Overpeck. E & E counsel said the suit was intended to “put false science on trial” and E & E vowed to “keep peppering universities around the country with similar requests under state open records laws.”

The current brief urges courts to “consider the best interests of the state to maintain a free and vital university system, which depends on the protection of academic freedom to engage in the free and open scientific debate necessary to create high-quality academic research. Where the requests seek prepublication communications and other unpublished academic research materials, as in the case at bar, compelled disclosure would have a severe chilling effect on intellectual debate among researchers and scientists.”

We’ll update you on future developments and the continuing legal work of the AAUP. Do you want to support AAUP’s legal work? Donate to the Legal Defense Fund of the AAUP Foundation.

Aaron Nisenson,
Senior Counsel, AAUP

Letter to the president of Trinity College

The AAUP has written a letter to the president of Trinity College, urging her to immediately reinstate Professor Johnny Eric Williams to his normal faculty duties after the institution placed him on leave on Monday. Professor Williams, an associate professor of sociology with twenty-one years of service at Trinity College, was the target of a flood of threats following reports about his social media postings by the right-wing media outlet Campus Reform.

Read the full letter from the AAUP here.

The AAUP has long held that academic freedom includes the freedom to address the larger community with regard to any matter of social, political, economic, or other interest without institutional discipline or restraint, save in response to fundamental violations of professional ethics or statements that suggest disciplinary incompetence. The AAUP is concerned that the administration’s actions may have violated Professor Williams’s academic freedom. It also appears that the action taken against Professor Williams is entirely at odds with normative standards of academic due process.

The case of Professor Williams comes at a time of heightened targeted harassment of faculty. We condemn the practice of bombarding faculty members and institutions of higher education with threats. Such threatening messages are likely to stifle free expression and cause faculty and others on campus to self-censor so as to avoid being subjected to similar treatment.

Sign the AAUP’s statement against targeted harassment of faculty now.


AAUP on Capitol Hill

Higher education is dangerous because it raises expectations.

That was the argument Professor Gordon Lafer of the Labor Education and Research Center at the University of Oregon made in a speech to AAUP members.  What’s more, he said, academics are those who are best positioned to lead the fight to protect higher education in a positive, active way. His talk came on the heels of a busy day of lobbying and meetings on Capitol Hill, where AAUP members from across the country were doing exactly as he advised.

As part of the AAUP Annual Conference, faculty visited the offices of members of Congress from Ohio to Connecticut to Texas and beyond. Their message was clear: make college accessible and affordable and block harmful Trump budget cuts to student aid and federal research and humanities programs.

The work of the AAUP members on Capitol Hill was reinforced by thousands of you–11,000, to be precise. That’s the number of people who signed petitions in support of the College for Act and against the harmful cuts to higher education proposed by the Trump budget. Those petitions were delivered directly to  Representative Pramila Jayapal of Washington, who serves as the vice ranking member of the House Budget Committee. She plans to have the signatures and comments against the cuts to higher education introduced into the official record of the Budget Committee. Copies of the petition were also delivered Senator Sherrod Brown of Ohio and to education staffers at the offices of Bernie Sanders (the ranking member on the Senate Budget Committee), Elizabeth Warren, and Chuck Schumer.

Check out the Facebook photos here.

First Amendment on Campus: A Facebook Live Event

Interested in the issues surrounding free speech on campus? Join us tomorrow, June 14, at 3 p.m. for a Facebook Livestream of a symposium on current challenges to free speech on college campuses, the First Amendment’s role, and the future of the student press at American universities.

RSVP now and visit the AAUP’s Facebook page tomorrow at 3 to watch live.

Co-hosted by the AAUP and the Newseum, the first panel on free speech will feature Newseum CEO Jeffrey Herbst, former president of Colgate University and author of a recent white paper, “Addressing the Real Crisis of Free Expression on Campus”; John K. Wilson, co-editor of the AAUP’s Academe Blog and author of Patriotic Correctness: Academic Freedom and Its Enemies; and Catherine Ross, professor of law at George Washington University and author of Lessons in Censorship: How Schools and Courts Subvert Students’ First Amendment Rights.

The second panel, on student press, will feature Frank LoMonte, executive director of the Student Press Law Center; Henry Reichman, first vice president of the AAUP and chair of the AAUP’s Committee A on Academic Freedom and Tenure; and Courtney Rozen, editor-in-chief of The Eagle, the student newspaper at American University. Gene Policinski, chief operating officer of the Newseum Institute, will moderate both panel discussions.


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Faculty and Border Patrol Searches

In conjunction with the Knight First Amendment Institute at Columbia University, the AAUP is seeking information from any faculty members who have had their cell phones or other electronic devices searched by US border patrol officers at the nation’s borders while traveling internationally.  The Knight First Amendment Institute is a recently created non-profit organization that works to defend and strengthen freedoms of speech and the press in the digital age through litigation, research, and education.

The AAUP is concerned with the chilling effect such searches may have on academic freedom and with invasion into the privacy of academic work.  We are looking into legal issues related to a US regulation that authorizes border patrol officers to search a traveler’s cell phones and other electronic devices at the borders without any basis for suspecting that the person has done anything wrong. The government enforces this policy against both American citizens and noncitizens, and there has been a sharp uptick in these types of searches over the past year.

We are seeking to learn more about people who have been searched and to explore possible avenues for legal relief. We are interested in hearing from anyone who has experienced anything along the lines of the following while traveling into or out of the United States:

  • A border patrol officer (or ICE officer) has asked to examine the contents of your phone, tablet, laptop, or any other electronic device, including asking you to unlock your device and/or provide a password to unlock your device;
  • A border patrol officer (or ICE officer) has examined the contents of your phone or other electronic device, and/or has taken your device outside of your presence for a period of time;
  • A border patrol officer (or ICE officer) has sought to examine your social media postings on your device, including by asking you for social media passwords and/or user names or handles;
  • You have reason to believe that a border patrol officer (or ICE officer) made a copy of the contents of your cell phone or other electronic device; or
  • A border patrol officer (or ICE officer) has kept your cell phone or other electronic device for some period of time and then returned it to you.

We are interested in hearing from both citizens and noncitizens.  Please send an email with a brief description of your experience and your contact information to katie.fallow@knightcolumbia.org. We will keep your information confidential.

The American Association of University Professors