January 2024

Jan 31, 2024 | Monthly Newsletter

January Update from the AFA

The AFA is off to a busy start in 2024. Here are some updates from January. 

Cases and Statements

The AFA is currently providing financial support in four cases, the details of which are currently private. We are in the process of reviewing several additional support requests from professors under fire for speech or conduct. The AFA is also at work developing the first policy and guidance statements of 2024 on a couple of important matters. Stay tuned for new details next week.

In the Press

AFA leaders Jeannie Suk Gersen and Keith Whittington published a pair of notable opinion pieces this month. 

Prof. Gersen, a member of the AFA’s Legal Advisory Council, secured the coveted “weekend essay” spot in The New Yorker this past week with a piece headlined, “The Future of Academic Freedom.” It is a thorough and illuminating take on recent developments in the academic freedom debate, and of the stakes for colleges and universities nationwide. She also mentions the work of the AFA.

Prof. Whittington, founding chair of the AFA’s Academic Committee, published a piece in The Chronicle of Higher Education titled, “Political Solidarity Statements Threaten Academic Freedom.” He draws on a recent controversy involving a social media post from an official Barnard College account expressing solidarity with Palestine, and makes a broader point about how these statements contribute to the erosion of institutional neutrality and academic freedom. 

Interview with Prof. Lee Jussim

On January 3, we published the latest in our interview series, a conversation with AFA member Lee Jussim, a professor of social psychology at Rutgers University with over thirty-five years of experience. In the conversation, titled “Unidentified Flying Harms and Other Problems,” Prof. Jussim discusses his view of the academic freedom debate from the perspective of a social psychologist. For example, he highlights a paper published in November that he co authored titled, “Prosocial Motives Underlie Scientific Censorship by Scientists: A Perspective and Research Agenda.” 

As Prof. Jussim described it: “Our sense was that when people, both in the public and academia, think of censorship, what they think about is government censorship. Whether it’s a state government or the federal government telling people what they can and cannot say. The most recent version of this are the various state laws prohibiting faculty from promoting or expressing support for Critical Race Theory or ‘divisive concepts.’ Historically, there has been an on and off again problem of state censorship. But in academia, in 2022, which is when we started work on this paper, and even in 2023 going forward, we believe that the worst problems of censorship were censorship of science or scholarship by other academics and other scientists.”

Spotlight on UChicago

The AFA is continuing to spotlight other organizations working to promote academic freedom. This month, we shined the light on The University of Chicago Forum for Free Inquiry and Expression, which builds on UChicago’s historic commitment to academic freedom to provide a focal point for understanding and applying free expression at the university and beyond. 

The Chicago Forum’s mission is to promote the understanding, practice, and advancement of free and open discourse in collaboration with faculty and the broader university community. Chicago Forum events and initiatives bring together students, faculty, higher education leaders and educators, and a diverse range of guests who navigate the challenges of free inquiry and expression. The Forum encourages curious listening, honest reflection, and the openness to expanding, modifying, or even disavowing one’s own views.

Continued Growth
We added 13 new members in January, bringing us to a total of 842. We continue to accept new members on a rolling basis. Please send any nominations to AFA Director of Operations Howard Muncy at hmuncy@academicfreedom.org.

As we continue to expand our membership and casework, we’re grateful to everyone who has donated to our organization and hope all of our members and friends will consider contributing here. We could not do our work without your generous support. 

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.