December 2017 news from our National Office in Washington, D.C.:
It’s been a busy fall semester! Next year looks to be no different, and we’re going to start off strong.
In January, an investigating team will visit the University of Nebraska-Lincoln to look into the case of a lecturer who was dismissed at the behest of Nebraska legislators after she protested a recruitment table for Turning Point USA, a radical right-wing organization that maintains the Professor Watchlist website. Her protest, which included the use of anti-fascist slogans, expletives, and and obscene gestures, was filmed by the undergraduate student staffing the table and was subsequently posted on websites such as Campus Reform. This case is one of many troubling recent incidents in which right-wing organizations have fomented outrage against higher education, and actions taken by university administrations or legislators in response have had particularly negative consequences for contingent faculty members and faculty of color. We’ll keep you posted as the case develops.
Starting January 22, we’ll devote a full week to sharing resources and information on the issue of targeted harassment of faculty. We’ll share stories from those who have been targeted, provide information on what you can do before and after an incident occurs on your campus, and hold a Facebook live event with a Q&A. Sign up to become part of our action team to help spread the word to as many faculty as possible. We all need to join in this important fight.
Our work fighting political interference on campus continues with a strong showing in the courts. We scored a victory for science this fall when a court rejected harassing public records requests against two University of Arizona faculty members. The case started with a lawsuit filed by a “free market” legal foundation that targets climate scientists in an effort to “put false science on trial.” In an amicus brief in support of the scientists, we argued that public records laws should not be not misused in order to chill academic freedom. The court agreed, but the foundation has vowed to “keep peppering universities around the country with similar requests under state open records laws.”
We’re working to ensure that the free flow of information and international academic exchange is not hindered by dangerous governmental interference like the Trump administration’s travel ban. In September the AAUP joined with the American Council on Education (ACE) and other higher education groups in an amicus brief before the US Supreme Court opposing the travel ban. As the case around the revised ban continues to move through the courts we will likely join ACE again in filing a brief. We’re also heartened by your support on this matter–our petition against the ban earlier this year was widely shared and signed.
In November, we filed an amicus brief supporting a challenge to a Texas mandate compelling faculty to permit concealed handguns in college classrooms. Citing decades of social science research, we argued that the presence of weapons has a chilling effect on the rigorous academic exchange of ideas. Our work on this case is ongoing, and we’ll keep you apprised of developments. Want to continue to support our legal work? Donate to the Legal Defense Fund now.
One case that could have a profound impact on the collective voice of those who teach and research in higher education is Janus v. AFSCME Council 31, set to be heard by the Supreme Court in the spring term. This legal threat to union rights is part of a broad and well-funded attack on working people, including faculty members and other academic professionals. We anticipate submitting an amicus brief in the case.
The urgency that our members and supporters feel in fighting such attacks is evident in the overwhelming response to provisions in the GOP tax bill that would devastate graduate education by reclassifying tuition waivers as taxable income and repeal the current student loan interest deduction, a change that would result in an increased cost of roughly $24 billion to student borrowers over the next decade. Thousands of you signed a petition to key members of the House, and many followed up with calls to the Senate and public activism both online and on the ground.
As we head toward January and prepare to shine a spotlight on the targeted harassment of faculty, it’s nice to be able to report a victory for academic freedom. Earlier this year, Professor Johnny Williams of Trinity College in Connecticut was subjected to threats of violence after the radical right-wing organization Campus Reform inaccurately reported on statements he had made on social media. Rather than receiving immediate support from his administration, he was suspended. When the AAUP came out strongly in his defense, the administration acknowledged that the social media posts were protected by academic freedom. We thank our Trinity College AAUP chapter and all those who worked hard to ensure that Williams’s academic freedom was protected.
We look forward to your active participation in our work as we head toward what promises to be an exciting year!