Academics form university alliance amid growing intolerance

NEW YORK (AP) – About 200 academics from across the country have formed the Academic Freedom Alliance, whose mission is to help college educators “speak, educate, and publish without fear of punishment, intimidation, punishment or of persecution “.

Launched on Monday, the nonprofit was born out of discussions among some faculty members at Princeton University about how to counter what they see as growing intolerance of divergent views. They plan to defend those they believe have been unfairly attacked and provide money for much needed legal support. Members will pay an annual membership fee of $ 50 if they are full professors; $ 35 for others; and the alliance is also seeking donations.

“We were looking for a way to foster a national conversation on these kinds of issues,” says Keith E. Whittington of Princeton, who chairs the alliance’s academic committee. Members come from a wide variety of political views, organizers said. When asked if the alliance was a response to “culture cancellation,” however defined, Whittington called it an “amorphous phrase” but added that “some of what is characterized as the cancellation of culture constitutes a threat to a free society tolerant of dissent. “

They include: Cornel West of Harvard University, a supporter of Bernie Sanders, to Carol Swain, a retired Vanderbilt University professor, a supporter of former President Donald Trump. Other members of the alliance include constitution scholar Sanford Levinson, based at the University of Texas Law School; award-winning novelist Charles Johnson, professor emeritus at the University of Washington; and Nadine Strossen, past president of the ACLU and professor emeritus at New York University.

Some members have been involved in controversies over freedom of expression. Northwestern University professor Laura Kipnis has been condemned by some students for her 2015 essay “Sexual Paranoia Strikes Academe,” in which she challenged the school’s ban on teachers and students dating. Steven Pinker, a Harvard professor and successful linguist, was criticized by members of the Linguistic Society of America in 2011 for his alleged insensitivity to racism and sexism. (The group’s board of directors defended Pinker, saying, “It is not the mission of the Society to control the opinions of its members, nor their expression”).

Whittington, whose books include “Speak Freely: Why Universities Must Defend Free Speech,” said the alliance would be “closely focused on issues of free speech and academic freedom.” He cited two recent examples of why he says the covenant is necessary.

– Last summer, Professor Greg Patton at the University of Southern California gave a talk on Zoom about the use of filler words in the language and mentioned a handful of Chinese terms that some students said sounded like a racial insult in English. Patton was put on leave and only returned after a school investigation found that “the use of the term Mandarin had a legitimate educational purpose.

– Also last summer, Auburn University professor Jesse Goldberg faced calls for his dismissal and, he said, threats of violence, after posting a secular tweet which included: “The police don’t protect people. They protect capital. They are instruments of violence in the name of capital. Auburn called his tweet “inexcusable and utterly antithetical to Auburn’s Creed,” and reassigned Goldberg from the classroom to a research post.

When asked if the alliance was a response to “culture cancellation” by any definition, Whittington called it an “amorphous phrase” but added that “some of what is characterized as the cancellation of culture constitutes a threat to a free society tolerant of dissent. “

“To the extent that there are organized efforts to suppress and sanction professors who espouse controversial or unorthodox views, the alliance seeks to counter these pressures. Such pressures predated what is now characterized as a culture of cancellation, but they overlap somewhat, ”he said.

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