AFA Sends Letter to University of Idaho on Abortion Guidance

Sep 29, 2022 | Press Release

AFA Sends Letter to U. of Idaho Regarding Classroom Discussion of Abortion

Letter expresses concern over guidance that faculty should remain neutral on the topic

PRINCETON, NJ – The Academic Freedom Alliance (AFA) today sent a letter to the University of Idaho responding to a guidance memo from the university’s general counsel regarding faculty compliance with the state’s new abortion laws, particularly the memo’s guidance that faculty should “remain neutral on the topic” of abortion during classroom discussions. The general counsel’s memo warns that, due to new state laws against abortion, those found to be “promoting” abortion could face penalties including mandatory loss of state employment, bars on future state employment, prison time, and fines.

“The ability to freely teach and discuss controversial issues in the university classroom is a core principle of academic freedom and an important First Amendment value,” wrote Professor Keith Whittington in the AFA’s letter. “We write to express our deep concern with the guidance that the general counsel’s office has provided to employees.” 

“We, of course, understand that the university wants to make faculty aware of their legal obligations and caution them about possible legal risks under state law,” Whittington continued. “However, it is critical that universities assume a leadership posture in such situations and emphasize to state political leaders the importance of preserving academic freedom in state universities and the risks that they create with imperfectly crafted statutes and regulations.”

The AFA’s letter continued, “It is imperative that the University of Idaho not merely inform the faculty of the potential risks of teaching with such a law on the books but also strongly voice its objections to any such interpretation or application of the state law. The general counsel’s guidance sends a chilling message to every member of the faculty who must discuss difficult and controversial material relating to abortion as part of their teaching duties. The statute itself might not recognize ‘academic freedom [as] a defense to violation of law,’ but the First Amendment is an overriding limitation on the power of the state legislature to impose such a restriction on classroom teaching in state university classrooms.”

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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.

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    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.