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!
Stephanie Lamore, AAUP Government Relations