Academic Freedom Alliance Formed


A group of scholars have created a new non-profit organization dedicated to supporting the academic freedom of higher education faculty

The Academic Freedom Alliance (AFA) aims to protect “the rights of faculty members at colleges and universities to speak, instruct, and publish without fear of sanction or punishment.”

Members of the AFA will “defend faculty members’ freedom of thought and expression in their work as researchers and writers or in their lives as citizens, within established ethical and legal bounds; freedom to design courses and conduct classes using reasonable pedagogical judgment; and freedom from ideological tests, affirmations, and oaths.”

The AFA will also help with “providing legal support to faculty whose academic freedom is threatened by institutions’ or officials’ violations of constitutional, statutory, contractual, or school-based rights.”

The AFA aims to be a viewpoint-neutral defender of academic freedom:

The AFA seeks to counteract pressures on employers to take actions against employees whose views, statements, or teachings they may disapprove or dislike. We oppose such pressures from the government, college or university officials, and individuals or groups inside or outside colleges and universities. Recognizing the array of political viewpoints in a college or university that respects academic freedom, the AFA’s defense of faculty members’ academic freedom does not depend on viewpoint, nor does it endorse the content of what they express. What we defend is members’ right of expression.

Membership in the AFA is currently by invitation only, though membership is not required in order to be recipient of its assistance. The organization currently has nearly 200 members, including many philosophers. You can learn more about the organization at its website and in an article in The Chronicle of Higher Education.

 

guest
12 Comments
Oldest
Newest Most Voted
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Tom cushman
Tom cushman
1 month ago

Just FYI . The organization was not created by Robert George though he played a central role.Report

Joel Pust
1 month ago

This is a very welcome development.Report

Grad Student4
Grad Student4
1 month ago

I’d be curious to hear from one of the organizers if/how this differs from FIRE’s advocacy efforts. Last month, I heard they launched a faculty defense fund including a 24/7 faculty hotline (though it looks like they would represent primarily *public* college professors).

I’m just wondering to whom I should donate!Report

Lara Buchak
Lara Buchak
Reply to  Grad Student4
1 month ago

I am on the academic committee of the AFA. The AFA is an organization of professors, and it focuses on rights of academic freedom specific to faculty.

I am not an expert on FIRE (or on the AAUP, another organization whose interests overlap with the AFA), but my impressions are: FIRE is focused on both student and faculty speech rights, and is somewhat focused on trying to change the state of the law rather than defending established legal rights; the AAUP is focused on faculty, but on both academic freedom and labor issues. So, we are more narrowly focused on the academic freedom of faculty than either organization.

Thank you for asking!Report

dmf
dmf
Reply to  Lara Buchak
1 month ago
Beendoxedbythesepeople
Beendoxedbythesepeople
1 month ago

I haven’t looked up all the names I don’t recognize, but a quick glance of this list (and I do recognize well more than half the names) suggests that this “content neutral” organization is far from it. The names lean quite far right. I’m dubious.Report

Lara Buchak
Lara Buchak
Reply to  Beendoxedbythesepeople
1 month ago

I don’t know the political mix of the membership in general, but the academic committee was intentionally chosen to include a mix of people across the political spectrum. I agreed to serve because I believe the organization is genuinely non-partisan.

Or at least: it has the *potential* to be genuinely non-partisan. If people believe it is (e.g.) conservative, then only conservatives will join or welcome/request the AFA’s support, and the AFA will end up defending only conservatives. The organization (and myself in particular) is very keen to avoid this outcome. It intends to show through the cases it defends that it is content neutral. So I hope that it actually has the chance to do so. But that will only happen if people give it the benefit of the doubt (join, bring their cases, etc.), at least until it has a track-record to exhibit.Report

CANDICE HELLEN BROWN ELLIOTT
CANDICE HELLEN BROWN ELLIOTT
Reply to  Beendoxedbythesepeople
1 month ago

After reading this comment, I became curious. It certainly is amazing to see how many are involved with very right leaning organizations / institution (e.g. Hoover Institute, Stanford).

But what is truly galling and ironic in the extreme that the list includes Deirdre McCloskey, who along with Lynn Conway, both professors and publically known transsexuals, were the perpetrators of exactly the type of anti-academic freedom attacks this new organization purports to be against and to aid in supporting its victims.

I speak of McCloskey’s scurrilous attack on Prof. J. Michael Bailey who wrote a pop science book on male femininity that touched on the well documented and fully established scientific theory of the Two Type Taxonomy of Transsexuality, “The Man Who Would Be Queen”.

If you are not familiar with McCloskey’s involvement, please read Alice Dreger’s excellent book, “Gallileo’s Middle Finger”. McCloskey and her two co-conspiritors, falsely accused Bailey of various academic, professional, and personal misdeads, all of which were eventually proven to be false. The did this specifically because they didn’t like what the scientific community was saying about the etiology of transsexuality (gender dysphoria) and most especially that Bailey was educating a lay audience about that science.

So, I too am VERY skeptical about the values and intentions of this new organization based on its membership.Report

Eric B Rasmusen
Eric B Rasmusen
1 month ago

I must say it was odd to see Harvard Law’s Jeannie Gersen on the list of members when she’s currently leading the charge to cancel her distinguished senior colleague J. Mark Ramseyer, to the extent of writing a New Yorker hit piece on how evil he is.Report

Daniel Greco
Daniel Greco
Reply to  Eric B Rasmusen
1 month ago

I would encourage readers to read Jeannie Suk Gersen’s <a href=”https://www.newyorker.com/culture/annals-of-inquiry/seeking-the-true-story-of-the-comfort-women-j-mark-ramseyer”>New Yorker Piece</a>. It strikes me as a model of substantive engagement and debate without threatening academic freedom. For example, she writes:

“After I spent time digesting my colleague’s reasoning, I spoke with him to say that we were about to have a public disagreement, but that I would not be joining or encouraging any possible calls for institutional penalty for his exercise of academic freedom to engage in scholarship or express his opinion.”

It’s true that she ends up more critical than she initially expected; in her judgment Ramseyer’s paper suggests that he has examined and based his argument on certain historical documents that, in fact, he admits he hasn’t. Read the piece for detail. It’s a serious criticism. But nothing in the piece supports the claim that she is “leading a charge to cancel” Ramseyer, or that it is a “hit piece on how evil he is.”

I’m wholly in support of the mission of AFA, and I’m happy that it exists. I think we should reject calls for institutional penalties for professors exercising their academic freedom. But we should also reject false equivalences between “calling for cancellation” and substantively criticizing research. And I say that as somebody who thinks there are plenty of “calls for cancellation” that should be opposed. Perhaps it’s hard to draw a bright line, but one natural place to do so is to insist that substantive criticism–e.g., of the accuracy of historical scholarship–should not be accompanied by calls for institutional sanction. Gersen is staying on the right side of that line.Report

Last edited 1 month ago by Daniel Greco
Caryl Ayala
Caryl Ayala
1 month ago

What about public school teachers? Is there an organization for them?Report