May 2024

May 31, 2024 | Monthly Newsletter

May Update from the AFA

The AFA has been hard at work throughout May on our existing cases, as well as reviewing several additional support requests from professors under fire for speech or conduct. While we took up a new case this week, the details are not yet public. In the meantime, here are additional updates from May. 

New Letter to Penn on Amy Wax

On May 6, we sent a letter to the University of Pennsylvania’s Senate Committee on Academic Freedom and Responsibility (SCAFR) urging it to reject proposed sanctions of Professor Amy Wax. The letter follows two previous letters from the AFA, in January 2022 and July 2022, in defense of Professor Wax regarding her classroom teaching and extramural speech. The AFA was moved to write a third time after becoming aware of the Faculty Senate Hearing Board’s report detailing the Board’s conclusions and proposed punishment of Professor Wax.

“As the final arbiter, SCAFR has an opportunity to demonstrate Penn’s commitment to free speech and academic freedom,” said Lucas E. Morel, AFA Academic Committee Chair, in the AFA’s letter. “It can do so by rejecting categorically the Faculty Senate Hearing Board’s proposed sanctions of Professor Wax. The report’s charges of ‘flagrant unprofessional conduct’ and ‘controversial views’ that ‘inequitably impact the learning environment’ are a pretext to punish or force out Professor Wax. The economic and professional ‘sanctions’ cited in the report, including loss of pay and affiliation with the Penn Carey Law School, are not only unjust to Professor Wax, but they will create a chilling effect on professorial speech more broadly.”

New Book from Keith Whittington

Keith Whittington, founding chair of the AFA’s Academic Committee, is out with a new book titled You Can’t Teach That!: The Battle over University Classrooms. Published by Polity Books, You Can’t Teach That! is an explanation and defense of academic freedom principles and a deep dive into the First Amendment problems with legislative restrictions on classroom discussions.

As the book’s description states, “A battle over the control of the university classroom is now brewing, and the courts will be called upon to establish clearer guidelines as to what – if any – limits legislatures might have in dictating what is taught in public universities. In clear and accessible prose, Whittington illuminates the legal status of academic freedom in the United States and shows how existing constitutional doctrine can be deployed to protect unbridled free inquiry.”

Spotlighting Faculty for Yale 

The AFA is continuing to spotlight other organizations working to promote academic freedom. This month, we shined the light on Faculty for Yale, a group of faculty from across the Yale community that believes the university must rededicate itself to its fundamental mission: to preserve, produce, and transmit knowledge. 

Faculty for Yale’s commitments include insisting on the primacy of teaching, learning, and research as distinct from advocacy and activism; confirming Yale’s commitment to robust free expression, including institutional neutrality; and urging greater administrative transparency and increased faculty oversight of all pedagogic and academic activities. Some of these changes pertain to the freedom of academic expression; others do not. But all are motivated by the perception that Yale today appears to be struggling to meet its most important responsibilities in a clear and consistent way.

Welcoming New Member Nominations

As always, the AFA continues 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 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.