March 2024

Mar 29, 2024 | Monthly Newsletter

March Update from the AFA

The AFA celebrated its third anniversary this month with a number of new actions on behalf of faculty under fire for protected speech. In addition to the below mentioned cases, we are currently investigating three new incidents to determine whether action is warranted.

Defending Speech Regardless of Ideology

The AFA takes pride in defending speech regardless of the ideology of the speaker, and that was on display this month when we sent two letters in defense of professors who are on opposite sides of the same controversy. 

On March 6, we urged Texas Tech to revoke its suspension of Professor Jairo Funez-Flores over social media posts in which he criticized Israel. On March 4, the University announced that he was suspended pending an investigation into whether any of his “antisemitic sentiments” had “found their way into the class environment or work environment and are deemed to be discriminatory harassment.” We wrote that his statements were a clear example of protected extramural speech. 

On March 21st, we sent a letter to Columbia University regarding its investigation into a Jewish professor who criticized pro-Palestine student groups on social media–another clear example of extramural speech. Columbia’s Office of Equal Opportunity and Affirmative Action informed Professor Shai Davidai that it had begun the investigation based on complaints that he “harassed” members of the community, asserting that his “public commentary since October 2023 . . . is perceived to be anti-Palestinian/Arab.” As we wrote in that letter, “Harassment policies cannot be used as a backdoor means to censor, suppress, and punish unpopular political speech.”

New Memo Filed in Lawsuit Against Mayo Clinic

The AFA announced yesterday a new development in the lawsuit we are funding on behalf of Dr. Michael Joyner against the Mayo Clinic and its leaders. Dr. Joyner’s legal team this week filed a memorandum of law in response to the defense’s partial motion to dismiss claims that Mayo violated its contractual obligations when it punished Dr. Joyner for comments he made to press related to his scientific expertise. His comments were about sex-specific differences in sports performance and the use of convalescent plasma in the treatment of COVID-19. 

As the memorandum explains, “Among other breaches of the Academic Freedom Policy, Mayo imposed a gag order on any discussion of testosterone and human performance—which is a primary focus of Dr. Joyner’s research and expertise. … Yet in its attempt to read the academic freedom policy out of existence, Mayo’s motion to dismiss simply ignores the fact that speaking at academic conferences and freely publishing and discussing his research are specific requirements of Dr. Joyner’s academic appointment. … For all of these reasons, Defendants’ Partial Motion to Dismiss should be denied.”

The AFA has assisted Dr. Joyner from the outset of the controversy. You can find here our June 2023 letter to the Mayo Clinic in support of Joyner and our statement when Joyner’s original lawsuit was filed against the Mayo Clinic in November. The court will consider the defense’s motion to dismiss in a hearing on April 8th. 

An Interview with Don Downs

On March 11, we published the latest in our interview series: a conversation with Don Downs, the Alexander Meiklejohn Professor of Political Science Emeritus, an Affiliate Professor of Law and Journalism Emeritus at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. He has authored numerous works about free speech and academic freedom and was a founding member of the AFA. 

In our conversation, Professor Downs reflects on the AFA’s first three years. He shares how the events of October 7th “really supercharged concerns about what’s happening on campus” and how the AFA “has been right there amid all this turmoil that’s really taken on much more public notice and significance just in the last few years. And it’s not like it came out of nowhere. It did not come out of nowhere. It was already there, but it swelled, it grew, it metastasized.”

Spotlight on UC Berkeley 

The AFA is continuing to spotlight other organizations working to promote academic freedom. This month, we shined the light on The Berkeley Initiative for Free Inquiry (BIFI), a faculty group devoted to improving the climate for free speech on Berkeley’s campus. Among BIFI’s goals are to advocate for colleagues and students when they come under attack for the ideas they express, to advocate for the embrace of the Kalven Report and institutional neutrality on contested social and political questions, and to work to ensure the full spectrum of rights under Berkeley’s Academic Senate Bylaw 40.3: “No political test shall ever be considered in the appointment and promotion of any faculty member or employee.”

Continued Growth

We added 8 new members in March, bringing us to a total of 858. 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.