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.


Educational Gag Orders: February Update

Opposition to educational gag orders (EGOs) has really ramped up over the last month. Here are some of the highlights:

University of South Carolina (U of SC) faculty showed up in force to a state committee hearing where educational gag orders were the only bills on the agenda. Several U of SC faculty members gave testimony, speaking strongly against these censorship bills. Our coalition partners at ACLU SC and NAACP Legal Defense Fund gave testimony as well. When all was said and done, the ratio of “opposed” to “in favor” testimony was more than four-to-one.

In Indiana, a hearing on HB 1134 drew over two hundred people, who showed up to voice their opposition to the proposed educational censorship. The state House committee chamber was so packed that several people were unable to get inside. The Indiana Senate has pulled its version of the EGO, and the House version, though still active, has been significantly watered down. There’s consensus among members of our education coalition that continued pressure on Indiana lawmakers could successfully defeat the bill.

Missouri’s coalition is continuing to apply pressure, culminating in a lobby day that’s planned for March 3. The sole focus will be that state’s educational gag orders. There’s currently an effort among some legislators to combine several of the bills (Missouri has over a dozen) into one omnibus and remove the most extreme language. It’s a step in the right direction, but we’ll continue working to defeat the bills outright.

Those are just three examples of the groundswell of opposition we’re seeing across the country. Members of the education community, along with concerned parents and students, are speaking out against educational gag orders in Wisconsin, Georgia, Alabama, West Virginia, and New York—to name just a few of the places where we’re seeing increased resistance.

For a list of all the active bills we’re tracking, visit our Educational Gag Orders dashboard. And don’t forget to check out our EGO landing page to access our draft op-ed, model legislative resolution, and other resources.

In solidarity,

Stephanie Lamore, AAUP Government Relations


Demand Support for Public Higher Education

Over the past two months, it has become clear that the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on our states, our communities, and our campuses will be profound. As states grapple with the cost of fighting the pandemic, we are seeing significant cuts in state funding for higher education. In many states, these cuts come on the heels of decades of austerity measures that have already eroded our institutions’ academic missions and our ability to truly serve the common good. We have seen boards and administrations seize upon this crisis to subvert faculty involvement in decision-making and institute sweeping changes, such as academic restructuring, program discontinuance, and layoffs of faculty and staff at campuses in Ohio, Wisconsin, and Arkansas, to name a few.

When I wrote you on March 10, when the threat posed by the spread of the coronavirus in the United States was becoming apparent, I stated, “It is hard to know what the ultimate impact of COVID-19 will be on our campuses. The administration should provide the appropriate faculty body—the union or the governance body—with information regarding the impact of COVID-19 on enrollments, revenues, and hiring and renewals.” We must hold our governing boards and administrations to this standard as our campuses face very challenging financial choices. I urge you and your colleagues to work through your AAUP chapter, your governance body, and—where applicable—your faculty union to demand full transparency and full faculty involvement. I also urge you to stand in solidarity with faculty colleagues in contingent positions, graduate employees, and campus staff, many of whom are facing reduced appointments or layoffs.

We must also communicate with our elected representatives in Congress and call on them to support higher education and other vital public services. Many of our states and communities face serious financial shortfalls as a result of the pandemic. The ability of states to provide adequate funding for higher education and other public goods will be dependent upon the inclusion of relief for state and local governments in the next federal stimulus package. Please write to your US congressional representative and your senators and urge them to include relief for state and local governments in the next stimulus package.

The AAUP will continue to defend our members, our chapters, and the profession and will continue to provide webinars and guidance on all aspects of this crisis. We ask that chapters continue to share information with us about what is being done on their campuses and what the chapter or faculty senate’s role has been in decision-making related to COVID-19.

In solidarity,
Rudy Fichtenbaum
AAUP President


A Target on Her Back

Hundreds of vituperative emails. Threatening phone calls to my home. Hate mail that arrived both at work and at home—it was overwhelming.

That was my first brush with a right-wing maelstrom of anger at an extra credit opportunity I offered to students in my freshman English class in 2015.  My son returned from a deployment in Afghanistan only to find his mother under attack, with campus police walking me to my car after my night classes, and the chair of my department and my dean getting phone calls demanding that I be fired.

My offense was offering extra credit for students to attend—as protesters, observers, or participants—and write about a rally featuring both Democrats and Republicans on the state’s plan to cut funding for the Wisconsin university system. The hate mail and the calls diminished after a time, but the uneasiness remained.

Late last year, it all started up again. With the dubious distinction of being one of the first professors to be named to the Professor Watchlist, there I was again—with my name and email address in the public eye along with a brief description of my crime (no more factual than its initial appearance online).

When I returned to class this semester, my place on the watchlist came with me in a multitude of ways. Speculating whether students in my classroom know I’m on the Watchlist. Wondering whether they believe what they’ve read or heard. Looking over my shoulder as I walk to my car after a night class. Feeling just a little nervous about being in my office when there’s no one else on my floor.

While I didn’t at first take much notice of the AAUP’s online petition of support for professors on the Watchlist, when I saw that over 10,000 had signed it in the first couple of weeks—that was amazing.

That support and the clarity of mission in fighting to ensure that faculty have a voice and protections for academic freedom are why I’m an AAUP member.

Donate to the AAUP Foundation and support the fight for academic freedom.

We need to keep our message to students, to fellow faculty, to administrators, and to the public consistent and strong. Education is about learning. It’s about being exposed to new ideas. It’s about debating openly and without fear. Watchlists be damned.

Beth L. Lueck
Professor of English,
University of Wisconsin, Whitewater