AFA Statement on Mandatory Statements

Nov 5, 2021 | Press Release

AFA Statement on Mandatory Statements

AFA: Universities must not mandate that faculty embrace certain statements of values

PRINCETON, NJ – Today, the Academic Freedom Alliance (AFA) issued a statement regarding the rising incidence of universities requiring faculty to embrace certain statements of values or include them in course syllabi. Many of these statements now come in the form of anti-racism declarations. In this statement, the AFA offers general guidance to universities contemplating such requirements.

“Mandatory statements have become an increasingly prevalent form of compelled speech on campuses,” said Keith Whittington, chair of the AFA’s academic committee. “We’re releasing this statement today not in response to one particular occurrence, but many that have been brought to our attention in recent months. The AFA has already privately reached out to university officials to address some specific directives, but now we’re putting all administrators on notice that these statements constitute violations of academic free speech.”

Excerpts of the AFA’s statement can be found below, and the full statement is available here.

“Mandatory anti-racism statements currently being developed are in principle indistinguishable from myriad other statements of belief that university officials have attempted to force members of the faculty to endorse in the past. No matter how widely shared or normatively desirable any particular statement of values might be, individual professors should not be directed or coerced to endorse or accept such statements. 

“For public universities, mandating that professors embrace such statements is a clear violation of the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. For private universities that have chosen to accept as their own comparable standards of individual conscience, such mandates violate those commitments. For private universities that have adopted broad principles of academic freedom, such mandates are at odds with those principles. …

“As a general rule, government officials “may not compel affirmance of a belief with which the speaker disagrees.” Hurley v. Irish-American Gay, Lesbian & Bisexual Group of Boston, 515 U.S. 557, 573 (1995). Courts have recognized that these principles mean that university officials may not compel professors “to conform to a belief and a communication to which [they] did not subscribe.” Parate v. Isibor, 868 F.2d 821 (6th Cir. 1989). This might well be the case even when individuals agree with the message but do not wish to be compelled to say so or say so in a particular way.”

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. The Academic Freedom Alliance itself takes no position on the merits of the substantive content of faculty speech or writing.

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.