(The College Fix) – Whether one is on the right, or the left – or somewhere in between – there’s one topic that often connects scholars from across the political spectrum: free speech.
Enter the Academic Freedom Alliance, a new organization comprised of current and emeritus faculty of American colleges and universities and dedicated to defending scholars’ freedom of thought and expression.
The nonprofit, which launched earlier this month, derived from discussions among Princeton University faculty members regarding how to combat the growth of viewpoint intolerance on college campuses.
The organization and its members seek to provide two key services in supporting faculty’s academic freedom.
First, the group’s 216 members vow to serve as advocates for academic freedom in their capacity as writers, researchers and everyday citizens.
Second, the organization commits to providing legal support to faculty whose academic freedom is threatened by institutions’ or officials’ violations of constitutional, statutory, contractual, or school-based rights.
The organization’s members span the political spectrum, including Harvard University’s Cornel West, a Bernie Sanders supporter, and Princeton University’s Robert P. George, who was deemed the “most influential conservative thinker” by the New York Times.
Such a robust cross-ideological membership is sure to lend the AFA more credibility for their future quarrels in defense of academic freedom.
The AFA is launched after a year that saw political intolerance on college campuses.
Last July, a professor of classics at Princeton University, Joshua Katz, openly criticized a letter of demands written by his colleagues that called for race-based financial rewards and the creation of a committee that would investigate traces of racism and discipline those responsible.
As a result of his public criticism, he was condemned publicly by his department. The president of Princeton, Christopher Eisgruber, said that Professor Katz had violated his obligation to use free speech responsibly.
In late August, the University of Southern California’s Greg Patton, a business communication professor, used a Chinese word that sounded like an English slur. Anonymous students threatened to boycott his class, and eventually, the university suspended him.
Recently, an assistant professor at the University of Vermont is facing calls to resign after creating a video that argues antiracism efforts on campus amount to racism against its white population. The University of Vermont’s provost has allegedly endorsed the efforts of a petition that calls for his resignation.
Keith Whittington, a professor of politics at Princeton University and the chairman of the AFA’s academic committee, was recently asked if the AFA’s creation is a response to cancel culture.
“To the extent that there are organized efforts to suppress and sanction professors who espouse controversial or unorthodox views, the alliance seeks to counter those pressures. Such pressures preceded what now gets characterized as cancel culture, but they have some overlap,” Whittington said.
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