January 2023

Jan 30, 2023 | Monthly Newsletter

January Update from the Academic Freedom Alliance

The Academic Freedom Alliance is off to a busy start in 2023. Below is a summary of our key actions from this month.

Letter to Hamline University

On January 2, the AFA sent a letter to Hamline University regarding its dismissal of a professor for showing a well-known medieval painting of the Prophet Muhammad in an art history class. Our letter called the case an “egregious violation of academic freedom” and called on the university to “immediately and without prejudice reinstate the instructor.”

The controversy at Hamline captured the attention of the academic community and prompted widespread backlash against the university. The AFA’s letter received media coverage in outlets including the Washington TimesAFPDispatchThe Art NewspaperRicochet, and the Star Tribune.

Statement on Divisive Concepts Legislation

On January 9, the AFA released a statement calling for an end to “divisive concepts” policies, which have become increasingly common in state legislatures over the past year. Divisive concepts policies seek to limit classroom discussion, scholarly inquiry, or public debate on controversial topics.

Our statement read, in part: “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.”

You can read more about our statement in Inside Higher EducationReason Magazine, and on our website. It is the third general guidance statement that the AFA has released, following our positions on DEI statements in 2022 and mandatory statements of values in 2021.

The Latest in our Interview Series

We released two new interviews as part of our regular series of conversations with leading scholars on academic freedom issues.

The first is a conversation with Christopher Tollefsen, a professor of philosophy at the University of South Carolina and a founding member of the AFA. Prof. Tollefsen shared his thoughts on academic freedom, the role of the AFA, and a recent series that he facilitated entitled “Free Speech and Open Inquiry in the University.”

The second is an interview with Jonathan Zimmerman, the Judy and Howard Berkowitz Professor in Education at the University of Pennsylvania and a founding member of the AFA. Prof. Zimmerman shared his thoughts on the history of academic freedom going back to WWI, as well as the “weaponizing of feelings” taking place today on campuses – and in state legislatures.

Additional Updates

  • This month, we also launched a new section on our website called Spotlight, dedicated to highlighting other groups around the country that defend academic freedom. The first organization we’re featuring is The Classical Liberalism Initiative of the Stanford Graduate School of Business, which is devoted to the study of classical liberal institutions and the interactions among individuals, corporations, markets, government, and civic institutions in a free society. 
  • In case you missed it, check out this December interview in Harvard Law Today with Janet Halley, co-chair of the AFA Academic Committee, and Jeannie Suk Gersen, a member of the AFA’s Advisory Council.
  • This month, our membership grew to 723 members. We continue to accept new members on a rolling basis. As always, please send any nominations to AFA Director of Operations Howard Muncy at hmuncy@academicfreedom.org.
  • For more updates on AFA activities and cases we’re tracking around the country, follow us on Twitter at @AFA_Alliance

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.