July Update from the Academic Freedom Alliance
Calling Out Texas A&M
Earlier today, we sent a letter to Texas A&M regarding its suspension and investigation of a faculty member over comments critical of Texas Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick. According to published reports, Pharmacy Professor Joy Alonzo made the comments while participating as a guest lecturer on the opioid crisis at the University of Texas on March 7, 2023. When a student complained, Alonzo was suspended, investigated, and formally censured by Texas A&M. She was cleared of wrongdoing, but university leaders sent an email to faculty about the incident clearly designed to discourage constitutionally protected speech.
In our letter to the university, Keith Whittington wrote that the actions “represent an egregious violation of the principles of academic freedom and the university’s responsibilities under the First Amendment. Texas A&M is a state university subject to the limits of the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution as well as its own contractual commitments.”
Whittington continued, “The university needs to take explicit steps to reaffirm its commitment to academic freedom and to reassure the faculty that they will not be threatened with termination if they say critical things about state policy when the discussion of such policies is entirely germane to the courses being taught. State university classrooms are not a ‘safe space’ for state politicians, and university officials should be prepared to explain to state officials that students and faculty have a constitutional right to say critical things about them.”
The Latest in Our Interview Series
In the latest installment of our interview series, the AFA’s Howard Muncy spoke with James Hartley, Professor of Economics at Mount Holyoke College and a member of the Academic Freedom Alliance. Prof. Hartley provided his perspective on academic freedom from the vantagepoint of a professor teaching at a small liberal arts institution in western Massachusetts. Read the full interview here.
As Prof. Hartley put it, “This problem of silencing unpopular opinions is greater at smaller educational institutions. In a school this size, community norms can become monolithic. I have talked with many students who expressed an unpopular opinion and suddenly became friendless. Many faculty fear the same sort of ostracism. It is even more important at small institutions than at large ones to have an administration which is extremely vocal about the importance of academic freedom and is visibly willing to match its words with actions. Sadly, far too many college administrators prefer to handle controversy by encouraging a professor or student to refrain from expressing unpopular views in order to preserve the harmony of the community.”
Spotlight on ACTA
As part of our ongoing effort to shine a light on other organizations contributing to the academic freedom movement, we spotlighted the American Council of Trustees and Alumni, which does great work to safeguard the free exchange of ideas on campus. It works with trustees, faculty, students, alumni, and the public to promote academic freedom.
Through its “Free to Teach, Free to Learn” campaign, ACTA helps institutions preserve and foster a campus culture that promotes intellectual diversity, open inquiry, and the free expression of ideas. We encourage you to check out their website and give them a follow on Twitter (or “X”) here.
This month, our membership grew by 11 to 793 members. We continue to accept new members on a rolling basis. Please send any nominations to AFA Director of Operations Howard Muncy at firstname.lastname@example.org.