AFA Calls for an End to “Divisive Concepts” Legislation

Jan 9, 2023 | Press Release

AFA Calls for an End to “Divisive Concepts” Legislation

New wave of state level proposals seeks to ban instruction on race and gender topics

PRINCETON, NJ – The Academic Freedom Alliance (AFA) today released a statement urging policymakers to refrain from adopting “divisive concepts” policies that limit classroom discussion, scholarly inquiry, or public debate on controversial topics. The statement responds to the rising tide of proposed legislation seeking to ban the expression of viewpoints deemed objectionable by those in power. This trend followed a move by President Trump in September 2020 to prohibit “divisive concepts” in federal workplace training programs. 

“Of course, divisive concepts, like any concepts or theories discussed in a classroom setting, must be taught in such a way that students are never compelled to accept the beliefs of their instructors: indoctrination is antithetical to education,” wrote the AFA in its statement. “At the same time, instructors must have the academic freedom to express their beliefs and their reasons for holding them. There is no contradiction here: academic freedom is a two-way street that protects students against compelled belief and instructors against censorship.”

The statement continues: “We should leave the winnowing of good from bad ideas to the process of scholarly investigation and disputation and free and open classroom debate. Selective political interventions to override the free exchange of ideas on university campuses will inevitably damage our institutions of higher learning and hamper their ability to contribute to the advancement of knowledge. Bans on divisive concepts, or speech codes by any other name, whether they come from the right or the left, are incompatible with the preservation of great universities.”

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    The Academic Freedom Alliance is a diverse alliance of college and university faculty members who are dedicated to upholding the principles of academic freedom and professorial free speech. These principles are central to the mission of our institutions of higher education for the pursuit of truth and knowledge. The AFA is committed to defending universal principles of academic freedom and will come to the assistance of professors regardless of their individual views. As always, the AFA is not concerned with the substance or merits of a professor’s ideas but with the principle that universities should be places that tolerate controversial ideas and allow free inquiry and debate, not public opinion or political pressure, to separate error from truth.

    Learn More About the Academic Freedom Alliance

    No one, at any academic institution, should fear suppression or retaliation for speaking out publicly in any form. 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.