November Update from the Academic Freedom Alliance
It’s been a busy month at the AFA and we’re grateful for your continued support as we advance our mission. This Tuesday was Giving Tuesday, but if you missed it, please consider donating now to support the cause of academic freedom. We’re especially grateful as we move to meet our fundraising goals by the end of the year.
Two New Public Letters
This month, the AFA sent two new letters in support of professors under fire. The first was a letter to the University of Southern California regarding its decision to place a professor on leave after an encounter with student protesters. On November 9, Professor John Strauss engaged in a brief verbal exchange with protestors on campus. A video of the incident was posted online by Trojans for Palestine and was allegedly altered to make it appear that Professor Strauss yelled “death to Palestinians.” He was then involuntarily placed on paid administrative leave and barred from campus and from continuing to teach his undergraduate course. You can read coverage of the AFA’s letter in The LA Times and Fox News.
The second letter was to Spelman College denouncing its decision to terminate Professor Kendrick Morales from a tenure track position after the college received “significant complaints” from students “about certain of [Morales’s] grading practices.” Moreover, senior members of the administration altered student grades in Professor Morales’s classes without notifying or consulting him first. As our letter stated, “We strongly believe that fundamental principles of academic freedom require assessment of individual student performance to be made by the teaching staff appointed to teach each course.” Read coverage of the AFA’s letter in Inside Higher Ed.
Lawsuit Against the Mayo Clinic
On November 14, we announced that we were providing financial support to Michael Joyner, M.D. in his lawsuit against the Mayo Clinic and two of its leaders for violating his academic freedom. Joyner’s suit is part of an ongoing dispute related to comments he made to the New York Times about sex-specific differences in sports performance and to CNN about the use of convalescent plasma in the treatment of COVID-19, both areas pertinent to his scholarly expertise. The AFA’s funding for this lawsuit follows its earlier support for Joyner’s defense during his disciplinary proceedings.
Statement on Israel-Palestine Protests
After numerous controversies on campuses across the country, the AFA released a guidance statement regarding how the principles of academic freedom apply to campus speech surrounding the controversy in the Middle East. Our statement read, in part, “The Academic Freedom Alliance takes no position on the politics of the Middle East or attempts to adjudicate competing claims. The AFA does, however, have a substantial interest in how the discussion of those events is conducted and regulated on American college campuses. Universities are now under extraordinary pressure to police the speech and beliefs of members of the campus community. It is essential that universities resist the pressure to do so. … ”
A Win for Prof. Moravits
The latest entry in our interview series is a conversation with William Moravits, a former full-time employee at St. Philip’s College in San Antonio, Texas, and current lecturer for Texas State University. Moravits reached out to the AFA on February 13 to request help. He had been escorted by police out of his classroom and barred from campus without explanation. After nine long months, this matter was finally resolved a few weeks ago. In this conversation, Moravits discusses what happened at St. Philip’s and his outlook going forward.
Regarding the AFA’s involvement in his case, Moravits said, “The AFA’s assistance meant the world to me. Having them pay for such an accomplished attorney, Mike Allen, was a huge relief. There was no way I could afford an attorney of his caliber and the support of AFA allowed me to fight this injustice to my satisfaction. I am greatly indebted to the AFA.”
Spotlight on New Academy
The AFA is continuing to spotlight other organizations working to promote academic freedom. This month, we shined the light on the American Academy of Sciences and Letters, a new learned society established to honor outstanding scholarly excellence and intellectual courage in the humanities, social sciences, natural sciences, mathematics, and engineering, as well as in the arts and other learned professions. The organization launched earlier this month with an event at the Library of Congress, where it presented a medal to Sir Salman Rushdie and ten Barry Prizes for Distinguished Intellectual Achievement to scholars across disciplines. Learn more and follow the AASL on Twitter here.
We added three new members in November, bringing us to a total of 821. We continue to accept new members on a rolling basis, and we are particularly seeking members in Alaska, Hawaii, and North Dakota to expand our membership to all 50 states. Please send any nominations to AFA Director of Operations Howard Muncy at email@example.com.