AAUP@FHSU


Update on Educational Gag Orders

The academic year is winding down and so are many state legislatures. Activity has decreased significantly around educational gag orders as state legislatures adjourn and/or bills die in committee. We’ve gone from tracking more than 150 bills to just sixty. To date, nearly sixty of the bills we were tracking have died in committee or otherwise failed.

On April 15, Wisconsin governor Tony Evers vetoed another educational gag order that had been passed by the state legislature. And two bills in Iowa failed when that legislature adjourned the week of April 18.

Unfortunately, a handful of EGOs have been signed into law. In Tennessee, the Governor recently signed H.B. 2670, which doesn’t ban the teaching of “divisive concepts” but says neither students nor staff can be required to “endorse” a divisive concept, nor can they be penalized for not doing so. As with many of these bills, the language is troublingly vague, as it does not define or give examples of what it means to “endorse.” Does it include answering questions on a test or completing homework assignments? The bill doesn’t say. A bill in South Dakota was also signed into law at the end of March.

In states like Tennessee, where bills have been enacted, the next important step is to address these ambiguous terms. It will be vital for the state attorney general or similar office to weigh in on or outright define these words. It’s important to pressure state AGs for clarity, and equally important for faculty to make strong arguments as to why classwork should not be included in definitions related to H.B. 2670 or similar bills in other states.

With about twenty states still in session, and dozens of active educational gag orders, threats to academic freedom remain, and we expect to see another wave of activity in the fall seeking to suppress teaching about race and racism.

You can find more information and resources here.

The good news is that faculty, including AAUP members, have been instrumental this year in fighting against and defeating some of the worst legislation.


New Report on Institutional Racism in the UNC System

Today the AAUP released a report of the Special Committee on Governance, Academic Freedom, and Institutional Racism in the University of North Carolina System. The report considers the influence of the North Carolina state legislature on the systemwide board of governors and campus boards of trustees. It discusses how political pressure and top-down leadership have obstructed meaningful faculty participation in the UNC system, jeopardized academic freedom, and reinforced institutional racism.

Read the full report here.

The special committee, for which we served as co-chairs, focused in-depth on UNC‒Chapel Hill as the flagship campus, but also examined events across the entire system. Through interviews with more than fifty individuals across the UNC system, the report details the pattern of political interference from the legislature and unilateral decision-making from university leadership that has increasingly come to affect the entire UNC system, with clear violations of AAUP-supported principles of academic governance set forth in the 1966 Statement on Government of Colleges and Universities.

You can also listen to a podcast discussion of the report here.

The report surveys the environment for governance and academic freedom in the UNC system against this backdrop of overtly partisan political control. It details how the intersection of broken governance, threats to academic freedom, and institutional racism affected campus-level matters, such as the closure of multiple academic centers run by faculty members who had been vocal critics of state leadership; the barring of centers from conducting litigation, which particularly affected the UNC‒Chapel Hill School of Law Center for Civil Rights; the controversial deal regarding “Silent Sam,” a Confederate monument; and the 2021 failed appointment of Nikole Hannah-Jones to an endowed chair in the School of Journalism and Media.

The report also details long-standing patterns of institutional racism that make the UNC system a particularly hostile environment for faculty, staff, and students of color. In examining the structural and cultural elements of racism within the UNC system, the report points to the racial climate; institutional inequities as manifested in the racial composition of the administration and faculty; the distribution of power, authority, and resources within the system; and retention of faculty and staff of color.

The special committee concluded that UNC needs strong and independent leadership that respects faculty expertise and observes widely accepted principles of academic governance, that defends academic inquiry from political pressures and constraints, and that is willing to do more than simply pay lip service to the idea of equity. The report emphasizes that the system- and campus-level governing boards not only need to fulfill their “special obligation to ensure that the history of the college or university shall serve as a prelude and inspiration to the future,” as described in the Statement on Government, but also “must ensure that the history of UNC inspires and serves as a prelude to a future that looks very different from its past and its present.”

To read the full report, visit the AAUP website.

Nicholas Fleisher, professor of Linguistics at the University of Wisconsin, Milwaukee
Afshan Jafar, professor of Sociology at Connecticut College
Co-chairs of the special committee


Dismissal at Linfield – Academic Freedom Violated

Today, the AAUP published the report of an investigating committee on the dismissal of Daniel Pollack-Pelzner, a tenured English professor and endowed chair in Shakespeare studies at Linfield University in Oregon. The report finds that Linfield’s administration violated the 1940 Statement of Principles on Academic Freedom and Tenure and the institution’s own regulations, which incorporate AAUP dismissal standards, when it dismissed Pollack-Pelzner without demonstrating adequate cause for its action before an elected faculty hearing body.

The investigating committee also found that the administration violated Pollack-Pelzner’s academic freedom to participate in institutional governance without retaliation. General conditions for academic freedom and shared governance at Linfield University, the report states, are “deplorable.”

Pollack-Pelzner’s difficulties began after the faculty elected him faculty representative on the board of trustees. Following his first board meeting in the role of “faculty trustee,” female colleagues and former students reported that they had been the objects of sexual misconduct by board members at social events following board meetings. Pollack-Pelzner shared these allegations with the board and requested remedial action. When the board and administration refused to address the problem, he made the sexual misconduct charges public on Twitter, along with the charge of antisemitism (Pollack-Pelzner is Jewish) on the part of administrators and board members. Less than a month after he posted his Tweets, the Linfield administration terminated his tenured appointment without affording him any process, much less the academic due process required by the AAUP.

Professor Pollack-Pelzner’s dismissal occurred in a context of eroding shared governance, which has jeopardized the faculty’s exercise of academic freedom and contributed to a culture of abuse. At its June meeting, AAUP’s Committee on Academic Freedom and Tenure will vote on whether to recommend adding Linfield University to the Association’s list of censured administrations. For more about AAUP censure, click here.

You can read the full report here.

Charles Toombs, Professor, San Diego State University
Chair of AAUP’s Committee A on Academic Freedom and Tenure


Educational Gag Orders – March Update

Ten states have already adjourned their regular legislative sessions for the year. As a result, thirty-one educational gag order bills (EGOs) we had been tracking are now inactive. Though special sessions are possible in all adjourned states, they have only been convened in New Mexico and Virginia, where they will focus solely on economic and budget issues.

An additional thirteen bills have died or been tabled in legislatures that are still in session. We’ve gone from tracking 125 bills to tracking fewer than eighty—still a lot, but considerably fewer.

The assault against academic freedom and teaching about racism remains extraordinarily strong, but in addition to the bills that have fallen off our list for this year, we continue to see good news and member success in fighting back.

Last month, I mentioned that HB 1134, a bill in Indiana, had stalled following an extraordinary show of opposition from AAUP members, K–12 teachers, staff, students, and parents. I am glad to tell you that the bill is now effectively dead. AAUP members and chapters in Indiana joined with other organizations and coalitions to make their voices heard, and it worked. The Purdue-West Lafayette AAUP chapter passed a statement in opposition to the bill, which was sent to every legislator who represents the university’s district. Faculty, including AAUP members, at Indiana University Bloomington worked through the group University Faculty for Racial Justice (UFRJ), which was formed specifically to defeat HB 1134. UFRJ gathered over 200 faculty signatures on an open letter that pressured IU to take a stand against the bill. The group organized numerous actions, including phone calls, emails, and faculty testimony at legislative committee hearings. This is the exponential power of collective action. Every person, chapter, and organization that spoke up and showed up combined into one powerful voice that succeeded in stopping HB 1134 in its tracks.

In Georgia, the situation has improved for higher education, which has been removed from all active EGOs. But the legislature there continues to pursue educational gag orders targeting K–12, while simultaneously refusing to hear testimony from students who have expressed opposition to one of the bills (HB 1034).

In Mississippi, SB 2113 was passed by the legislature and approved by governor Tate Reeves. The silver lining is that, out of the eleven bills that had been active in Mississippi, SB 2113 is the least egregious. It prohibits schools (including higher ed institutions) from compelling students to “affirm, adopt, or adhere” to the ideas that 1) one race is superior or inferior to another, or 2) that a person should be “adversely treated” based on their gender, race, etc. There is no enforcement mechanism.

If you or your chapter are looking for ways to make a strong statement regarding academic freedom, consider participating in the April 30 March for Education. Organized by the Missouri Equity Education Partnership, the March for Education is an opportunity to connect and organize with other education professionals, teachers, parents, and concerned community members in a show of strength and support. Legislators determined to attack free speech, free and open inquiry, and academic freedom need to know that we’re not only watching what they do, but that we will not sit quietly on the sidelines while they attempt to censor history and silence faculty. The March for Education website includes step-by-step guidance for hosting a march in your city.

Thank you for everything you’ve done these last few months to fight back against educational gag orders. We’ve experienced some success, and I have no doubt that there’s more success to come with your help!

In solidarity,

Stephanie Lamore, AAUP Government Relations


podcast@aaup (2022 ep1): Student Debt and the Fight for Florida

In our first new episode of 2022, I talk to Kaitlyn Vitez, federal government relations specialist in AAUP’s national office, and Jessica Sponsler, art historian and adjunct professor and AAUP’s Pennsylvania state conference president, about student debt and its impact on faculty and higher education. With more than 45 million borrowers saddled with $1.7 trillion dollars in debt, a movement to cancel debt and expand opportunities for debt forgiveness is underway as the return to repayment of federal loans, paused during the pandemic, looms in May. Listen here.

In episode five of our inaugural season, I sit down with Paul Ortiz, professor of history at the University of Florida and president of the United Faculty of Florida-UF to talk about ongoing attacks on academic freedom in Florida and how the faculty from the University of Florida has fought back against what Paul calls “anticipatory obedience,” awakening a growing movement of faculty who are ready to, as he puts it “get their hands dirty” and fight political and legislative attempts to diminish faculty right and chill academic freedom. Here’s the episode.

We stay in Florida for the sixth episode. The AAUP’s Kelly Benjamin talks to Michele Rayner, a member of the Florida House of Representatives, about attacks on academic freedom, the motivation for anti-critical race theory bills, and the state of the broader political situation in Florida. Play that episode here.

The episodes are on the AAUP website at aaup.org/aaup-presents, where you’ll find links to listen to them on major platforms like Apple Podcasts and Spotify. We plan to release more episodes this spring. Have an idea for an episode? Email me at mquinn@aaup.org with your suggestions.

Happy listening.

Mariah Quinn
Digital Organizer, AAUP

Episode logo in a graphic