College professors fight critical race theory bills
The latest skirmish broke out in Texas.
On Monday, the Faculty Council of the University of Texas at Austin approved, by 41 votes to 5 with 3 abstentions, a resolution rejecting “any attempt by bodies outside the faculty to restrict or dictate the content of the academic program at any time”. matter, including racial and social justice issues. The resolution stated that the board would “stand firm against any encroachment” on the faculty’s authority, including by the legislature.
Afterwards, Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick (R) denounced the resolution. “I will not sit idly by and let the crackpot Marxist professors at UT poison the minds of young students with critical race theory,” he wrote in a post. Tweeter. “We banned it in publicly funded K-12 and we will ban it in publicly funded higher education.” On Friday, Patrick said he would support an end to the job protection measure known as tenure for professors who teach critical race theory.
UT Austin declined to comment on Patrick’s statements or the faculty resolution.
Critical Race Theory is both an academic framework for examining how policies and laws perpetuate systemic racism and a catch-all a term that many GOP politicians have adopted to describe various kinds of lessons about race and racism that they find objectionable.
Through laws and guidelines, several states have recently taken steps to govern teaching and training about race in elementary and secondary schools. A few of the laws, including one in Idaho, also directly affect higher education. More and more proposals have emerged in legislatures, with an increasing number targeting universities. PEN America, an organization that advocates freedom to write, is tracking 113 bills across the country that it describes as proposed “educational gag orders.” More than 40 relate to higher education. It is not known how many will be enacted.
Many proposals seek to severely restrict how teachers talk about gender, race and American history, said Jonathan Friedman, director of free speech and education for PEN America. “What was once a relatively limited list of things that were prohibited is being creatively embellished and expanded in new ways,” he said.
Among the “divisive concepts” targeted in these bills are the idea that an individual is inherently racist or sexist, whether consciously or unconsciously; the idea that “meritocracy” and “hard work ethic” are racist or sexist terms, created to oppress people; and the idea that someone should feel discomfort, guilt, anguish, or some other form of psychological distress because of their race or gender.
Collectively, Friedman said, the bills pose a threat to open academic inquiry in schools and universities. “The increase in these bills is certainly having a chilling effect on how teachers might think, teach or write about these issues, how students learn about them, what people feel comfortable talking about in classrooms,” he said.
Culture war policies propelled the bills. Many Republicans want to emulate the example of Glenn Youngkin (R), who was elected governor of Virginia last fall after a campaign focused in part on attacking critical race theory in schools.
“If you don’t think universities are indoctrinating your kids, everybody needs to wake up,” said Alabama State Rep. Ed Oliver (R), sponsor of one such bill, on “The Jeff Poor Show” on Mobile Talk Radio in June. He said opposing critical race theory is “how we oppose revival”.
Many historians and educators argue for perspective. “Students’ ability to learn American history that is taught with professional integrity is not a partisan issue,” said James Grossman, executive director of the American Historical Association. “No state wants its students to graduate ignorant.”
In a growing number of colleges and universities, professors are fighting back. The African American Policy Forum, a think tank advocating for racial justice, gender equality and human rights, has more than a dozen faculty resolutions that have been approved in recent months in favor of academic freedom. The forum has distributed a template for the resolutions, but professors involved in these efforts say professors usually adapt them to their own campuses or write them from scratch.
At the University of Alabama, the Faculty Senate approved a resolution on academic freedom Dec. 14 by a vote of 38 to 15.
The resolution did not mention race. But he said “any legislation pending in the Alabama legislature that undermines academic freedom and expression is anathema” to the ideal of academic freedom. The resolution also stated that the Faculty Senate “expects” the university president to “recognize that the University of Alabama opposes proposed and future legislation that infringes on academic freedom and, therefore, to the historic purpose of higher education, and expects the Board to maintain its stated commitment to academic freedom.
Asked about the resolution, the university said in a statement: “Academic freedom is fundamental to higher education. The University of Alabama…provides many and varied perspectives in the classroom and aspires that students be exposed to a multitude of viewpoints while forming their own opinions and beliefs. Academic freedom allows professors to research and teach the topics in which they have expertise and allows students to learn more about those topics, even if they disagree. The University of Alabama System Advocacy Team provides state leaders with input and feedback from the campus community.
It is not yet clear what the Republican-led legislature in Alabama might approve. Among other proposals, a bill would prohibit public institutions of higher education from requiring students to consent to certain “dividing” concepts about race, gender or religion. An example of a divisive concept, according to the bill: “That as far as American values are concerned, slavery and racism are anything other than deviations, betrayals, or breaches of the founding principles of the United States. United, which include freedom and equality.
Sara McDaniel, an Alabama special education professor who backed the faculty’s resolution, said many faculty members were nervous about speaking out, especially those whose job protections were in jeopardy. limited or non-existent. “I think we’re in a hyper-politicized environment,” she said. “It’s a balancing act. We will all be careful about what we say and share. But McDaniel said it was important to “lay a marker” for the principle of academic freedom. “I don’t think any of us want to just sit back and hope for the best and shut up about it,” she said.
At Ohio State University, faculty leaders won December 2 approval from the university’s Senate, by a vote of 95 to 5, for a resolution that denounced in explicit terms efforts to restrict how the breed is taught. “There are no ‘two sides’ to racism,” the resolution said, “any more than there are two sides to the Holocaust or to the roundness of the earth; there are only truths that must be taught well to ensure a better future for all citizens.
Caroline Clark, professor of teaching and learning at Ohio State, helped draft the resolution. Clark said professors must stand up for academic freedom, not only in universities, but also in K-12 schools. “Silence is a choice, isn’t it?” ” she says. “It’s not neutral. It is a position in itself. »
Another resolution on academic freedom was approved by the Pennsylvania State University Faculty Senate on January 25, by a vote of 117 to 23. The resolution denounced efforts to control academic content in calling some teaching approaches “divisive”, and rejected efforts by outsiders “to restrict or dictate the academic curriculum on any issue.
Such votes can also illuminate divisions among professors.
A transcript of the Penn State Senate meeting shows some faculty members raised concerns about how the resolution was drafted. A professor warned that there is a perception that academics tend to distort the views of their critics, “hiding behind principles” in an effort to protect their own power. “I don’t think that’s true here,” the professor said. “But we’re playing right into that narrative.”
At UT Austin, a video recording of the Faculty Council meeting showed Richard Lowery, an associate professor of finance, opposing Monday’s action. He called the resolution “incredibly hypocritical” and said it failed to take an even-handed approach to free speech issues. “It’s entirely one-sided,” he said. “You promote the idea that academic freedom is the collective right of faculty to decide what ideas are allowed on campus, not the individual right of faculty to express their own ideas.” He said professors should not be allowed to turn the university into a “social justice indoctrination camp”.
Elizabeth Gershoff, a professor of human development and family science, responded, “What you miss is that it’s not a prescriptive resolution. That doesn’t mean you personally need to say anything about it. But it is giving others permission to do so.
Across the country, teachers are paying attention. Jennifer Ruth, a film professor at Portland State University, has been active in a campaign to promote academic freedom resolutions nationwide. One such measure has been approved at his university in Oregon. She said many professors realize they have a stake in the debate even if history or race is not their field.
“One thing the resolution seemed to accomplish on nearly every campus is that individual faculty members who vote for it go from ‘I don’t have a dog in this fight’ if they don’t critically race to ‘Oh okay we all have a dog in this fight because it’s critical race theory this time but it’ll be climate change or x or y next time and I’m making climate research,” Ruth said in an email.
Solidarity matters, she says. “The faculty must be united.”