Statement on Academic Freedom

Sept. 11, 2023

Delivered at the University Faculty Meeting

It is a pleasure to greet our new arrivals, and to welcome all of you, as we begin another scholarly year.

Given the importance of academic freedom to what we do, I wanted to begin the year by reaffirming this University’s steadfast support for it.  I say this now because it has unfortunately become common for university faculty members here and elsewhere to become the target of viral social media storms focused on controversial materials that they assign or teach.  That has sometimes extended to demands that the University should ban or condemn a book, cancel a course, or discipline a professor.

We of course will not do that.  Academic freedom protects your right to decide what to teach and how to teach it.  That right, like the right to free speech on campus, is very broad indeed, and we will protect it.

Of course, people are free to criticize syllabi or assigned readings; that, too, is part of free speech.  I would hope that such criticism is undertaken in a constructive spirit appropriate to this scholarly community.

Finally, the Dean of the Faculty and I want you to know that if you or a colleague get targeted by one of these social media storms, we hope that you will reach out to his office so that we can provide support where appropriate.  We want to make sure that all of you can do the teaching and scholarship, and participate fully in the intellectual freedom, that are essential to this University.