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.


Teaching the truth about race

As fall terms get underway on campuses, so too do state legislative campaigns seeking to restrict teaching about the history of race and racism in the United States. Three states have already pre-filed bills for the 2022 legislative season, and several more have active legislation that will carry over from the 2021 session.

The bills are a naked attempt to manipulate curricula to advance partisan or ideological aims. Many attack the scholarly field of critical race theory, but their purpose is much broader: to suppress teaching and learning about racism.

We’d like to know if and how these bills, or related attempts to chill the free exchange of facts and ideas about American history, have affected you. Please let us know by taking this brief survey.

The AAUP is working to protect faculty’s ability to teach the truth about American history, and to further racial justice in higher education and in our own organization. Here are some resources and initiatives we’d like members to know about:

More information about the wave of legislation seeking to suppress teaching about race is here. Other resources about racial justice are here.

In solidarity,

Glinda Rawls

Chair, AAUP Racial Justice Committee


AAUP Files Brief Opposing Political Attacks on Teaching About Race in Texas

Last week the AAUP submitted a brief to Texas attorney general Ken Paxton strongly opposing recent political efforts to ban ideas from the classroom. The brief was filed in response to a recent request from State Rep. James White for an opinion on whether teaching about race and racism in America, including critical race theory (CRT), would violate the civil rights of Texans. This insidious political maneuver to ban discussion of racial inequality is part of a broader right wing assault on the ability to teach truthfully about the impact of racism on American history and society.

These attempts to limit classroom discussion stand in irreconcilable conflict with the principles of free inquiry, free thought, and free expression, which the AAUP has championed for more than a century. The AAUP’s brief underscores how these transparent attempts to dictate the education provided by faculty could undermine higher education, violate academic freedom, and result in censorship and indoctrination. As the brief states,

“Academic freedom is the chief cornerstone of higher education. Unless academic activity is protected from government intrusion, the integrity of the educational system as a whole is imperiled. In higher education, the principle of academic freedom is closely linked to the function of the university as an institution charged with the attainment of the common good through the discovery and transmission of knowledge. In the absence of academic freedom, colleges and universities are prone to becoming instruments for the advancement of narrow partisan interests, mouthpieces for the propagation of specific doctrines, and factories of indoctrination rather than places of legitimate education. A government ban on classroom discussions of ideas and analysis concerning historical context and current issues of race and racism in the United States would violate academic freedom and undermine the higher education system.”

The deadline for the Texas attorney general to issue an opinion is January 31, 2022. An AAUP statement on legislation restricting teaching on race can be found here. We will keep you posted on updates in the case.

Aaron Nisenson, AAUP Senior Counsel