June 2023

Jun 29, 2023 | Monthly Newsletter

June Update from the Academic Freedom Alliance

It may be summer, but we’ve had a busy month at the AFA. Below is a summary of our key activities from June.

Taking on the Mayo Clinic

On June 6, the AFA sent a letter to the Mayo Clinic denouncing its treatment of Dr. Michael J. Joyner, a Mayo Clinic physiologist and Professor of Anesthesiology, over his comments to The New York Times about transgender athletes. The AFA has also funded Dr. Joyner’s legal representation since the proceedings began.

Dr. Joyner’s comments to the NYT, as well as later comments made to CNN about COVID that also led to reprimand from the Clinic, were related to his scholarly research and expertise and, as such, should be protected by principles of academic freedom and the Mayo Clinic’s own policies. Nonetheless, the Clinic has subjected Dr. Joyner to disciplinary action including a one-week unpaid suspension, denial of any salary increase at his next contract renewal, and threat of termination.

In the weeks since the AFA sent its letter, the controversy has attracted attention in major media outlets and on social media. While the outcome remains uncertain, the AFA is increasingly hopeful for an agreeable resolution that affirms Dr. Joyner’s academic freedom.

Other Cases in the News

The AFA often provides behind-the-scenes legal funding in cases that are not public knowledge. This month, two of these cases attracted news coverage.

One is the case of former Professor Will Moravits of St. Philips College in Texas, whose contract was not renewed after he allegedly made controversial statements in the classroom. Moravits denies wrongdoing and alleges he was terminated for expressing conservative viewpoints. The AFA is helping provide for his defense as he challenges the college’s decision.

The second case is that of Professor Scott Gerber of Ohio Northern University, who was escorted by police from his classroom for an unspecified infraction and barred from campus. Upon pressing the administration for answers, they cite only a “lack of collegiality.” Gerber alleges in Wall Street Journal op-ed that the ordeal stemmed from his criticism of the university’s DEI initiatives. The AFA is providing for Gerber’s legal defense.

The Academic Freedom Alliance’s ability to provide assistance for faculty under attack is a result of all the generous donations from our members and supporters. If you want to contribute again, or for the very first time, please visit our donation page.  We appreciate any support you can provide to help the AFA defend academic freedom.

An Amicus Brief on Florida’s Anti-Woke Law

On June 20th, the AFA filed an amicus brief with the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit as it considers Pernell v. Lamb, a case against Florida’s “Stop W.O.K.E. Act.” The AFA’s brief argues that Subsection 4 of the Act violates the First Amendment to the Constitution by preventing faculty from discussing “a wide range of concepts that appear in debates at the heart of many university courses.” The case is on appeal before the 11th Circuit, which has upheld a lower court’s injunction against the Act pending a final decision.

The brief states that, “The Florida Act abridges the First Amendment rights of a vast range of speakers—’woke’ and otherwise—by interfering with university professors’ ability to have honest and thorough classroom discussions with their students. It chills discussions on speech that is directly related to course content. And the illusory supposed safe harbor for ‘objective’ speech cannot provide constitutionally adequate protection.”

Read more about our amicus brief here.

First Ever AFA Conference

The AFA this month held our first ever in-person leadership conference in Princeton on June 11th and 12th. The conference gathered together AFA leaders from across our three governing committees–the Academic Committee, the Legal Advisory Council, and the Membership Committee–for discussions on the AFA’s work to date and how to continue growing and advancing our mission in the future. We also discussed difficult issues related to academic freedom in order to prepare for future cases and better direct our advocacy efforts.

AFA Conference

Membership Growth

This month, our membership grew by 20 to 782 members. 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.

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.