Solidarity in Pursuit of Truth

The Protection of Freedom of Thought, Inquiry, Expression, and Discussion

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The Academic Freedom Alliance (AFA) is a non-profit organization whose members are dedicated to protecting the rights of faculty members at colleges and universities to speak, instruct, and publish without fear of sanction or punishment. We uphold the principles that are required if scholars are to fulfill their vocation as truth-seekers and colleges and universities are to be faithful to their mission as truth-seeking institutions.

An Attack on Academic Freedom Anywhere is an Attack on Academic Freedom Everywhere.

Members of the Academic Freedom Alliance come from across the political spectrum. We are united in our commitment to truth-seeking scholarship, and in recognizing that an attack on academic freedom anywhere is an attack on academic freedom everywhere.

Within established ethical and legal bounds, we pledge to defend faculty members’ freedom of thought and expression in their work as researchers and writers, as well as in their lives as citizens; their freedom to design courses and conduct classes using reasonable pedagogical judgment; and their right to be unburdened by ideological tests, affirmations, and oaths.

The AFA will in appropriate circumstances aid in providing legal support to faculty members whose constitutionally, statutorily, contractually, or other legally protected rights to academic freedom have been violated or are under threat.

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The AFA seeks to counteract pressures on employers to take actions against employees whose views, statements, or teachings they may disapprove of or dislike. We oppose such pressures from the government, college or university officials, and individuals or groups whether inside or outside these institutions. Recognizing the array of viewpoints that will be represented in a college or university that respects academic freedom, the AFA defends faculty members’ freedom of expression and other rights regardless of their views. We do not endorse content. Rather, what we defend is our members’ right to state what they believe to be true and to be free from coercion or pressure to affirm or appear to affirm what is contrary to their beliefs.

First Steps to Defend Yourself in a Free Speech Controversy

  1. Don’t lose faith in yourself or abandon your convictions. You have every right to think for yourself and speak your mind. Don’t rush to apologize if you have done nothing wrong and have nothing truly to apologize for.
  2. Don’t respond to public attacks until you’ve sought and received good advice. If you confess to an offense you didn’t commit, or if you concede to a claim or accusation that is factually inaccurate or not truly an offense, the admission can and will be used against you.
  3. Get clarity about what you are being accused of doing. If possible, get access to any formal complaints, including the identity of who is filing them. Figure out the charges and the relevant circumstances behind them. If the institution is unwilling to provide those documents and details, consider refusing to cooperate in any investigation or inquiry. Seek immediate legal help.
  4. Be ready to accept a difficult fact: Your institution may abandon you. Institutions have their own interests separate from yours.
  5. If the institution wants to meet with you, don’t go alone. Immediately consider bringing a friend, a colleague, or (ideally) a lawyer — someone you can trust completely to stand by you, even when things get difficult.
  6. To survive what could become an extended and emotionally draining fight, you will need a support network willing to stand by you as the pressure mounts. Frankly evaluate your own network, and identify and prepare your allies for a fight. If necessary, look beyond your familiar associates and build new contacts who can help see you through the controversy.
  7. Learn the relevant campus policies under which you have been charged and what rights you have. You will need to determine whether there is a credible case against you. Educational institutions have specific rules for academic freedom, harassment, discrimination, and the like. They also have public principles on the institutional mission and the signal significance of intellectual freedom and the pursuit of truth. Take advantage of those rules.
  8. The sooner you seek legal advice, the better positioned you will be for any eventual resolution. Campus administrators are most often not your allies in these controversies. You need an advocate who has only your interests in mind. Preferably, you will have a lawyer who shares your vision of what you want to accomplish and who understands the higher-education context.
  9. Decide what outcome you hope to reach and how you are willing to get there. Some professors hope for nothing more than to quietly resolve the dispute on terms they can live with. Others want a full exoneration and, to get it, are willing to engage in a lengthy and public fight. A lawyer can help figure out the options and the probability of success for each.
  10. A final point: Remember that in standing up for your own rights to think and speak freely, and to seek the truth and speak the truth as best as you understand it, you are not only protecting yourself; you are also defending the rights of other scholars (and students) and the integrity of the academic vocation.

* For further description see Donald Downs, Robert P. George, and Keith Whittington’s, “So they’re Trying to Shut You Up: How to Defend Yourself in a Free-Speech Crisis, Whatever Your Politics,” The Chronicle of Higher Education, October, 4, 2021, https://www.chronicle.com/article/a-faculty-first-aid-kit-for-your-free-speech-crisis.

What Our Members Are Saying About AFA

“The common good depends upon the free search for truth and its free exposition.” (AAUP, 1940 statement). This is part of the importance of academic freedom- the freedom to pursue ideas and to discuss them freely. It is no less important to ensure that scholars are not coerced into making ideological statements to secure or maintain their positions. The AFA is needed to protect both rights.”

Abigail Thompson, Distinguished Professor, Mathematics, University of California, Davis

“Instances of professors being disciplined or fired for protected speech are on the rise. Faculty members need strength in numbers to defend their academic freedom, and AFA provides it. AFA will counteract the pressures placed on school administrators to crack down on controversial views. The AFA’s defense will not depend on a faculty members’ viewpoint, nor will it endorse the content of what they express. It will simply defend their right to expression”

Keith E. Whittington, William Nelson Cromwell Professor of Politics, Princeton University

“It is a blessing and honor to be a part of this crucial organization.”

Cornel West, Professor of the Practice of Public Philosophy, Harvard University; Class of 1943 University Professor Emeritus, Princeton University

“As college professors, we’re supposed to expose students to challenging ideas. But more and more faculty are being disciplined for statements that run afoul of someone’s idea of what’s acceptable. It happens to leftists, it happens to liberals, it happens to conservatives. I’m excited about the AFA because it promises to be a counterweight to misguided campaigns to punish speech or ideas.”

David Greenberg, Professor of History and of Journalism & Media Studies, Rutgers University

“For my intellectual heroes like Bertrand Russell, intellectual freedom was never a matter of left vs. right. And it won’t be for the Academic Freedom Alliance, and that’s why I’m proud to join it today.”

Scott Aaronson, David J. Bruton Centennial Professor of Computer Science, The University of Texas at Austin

“Although other important organizations are doing significant work to promote freedom of speech and open inquiry on campus, AFA will play a unique, essential, complementary role: Mobilizing a diverse nationwide community of faculty members who will consistently, neutrally support the free speech rights of any faculty member who faces threats to those rights.”

Nadine Strossen, John Marshall Harlan II Professor Emerita, New York Law School; former national President, American Civil Liberties Union

Learn More About the Academic Freedom Alliance

Individuals at academic institutions should not fear suppression or retaliation for teaching, writing, or speaking. We encourage you to join the movement in supporting the flourishing of intellectual life and the pursuit of knowledge and truth at institutions of higher learning.