The University Senate may have found an acceptable way to uphold academic freedom. During the latter part of the September 15th plenary, Faculty Affairs Committee co-Chair Robert Pollack presented the Committee’s Report on Academic Freedom to the Senate. In his initial presentation, he emphasized that in a difficult time in this country, it was crucial to support academic freedom, especially since academic freedom can be distinct from other constitutional rights.
Within the report, the most salient point for some senators was the distinction between the freedom to disagree and the freedom to intimate. The report states towards the end that “we must all – students, faculty, administrators, staff – voluntarily accept that [the freedom to disagree does] not license us to abuse those with whom we disagree.” This was one of the many points of discussion within the Faculty Affairs Committee, which after much argument managed to approve the report unanimously.
However, the reception of the report was only slightly better than lukewarm amongst the 62 senators present. Some of them may remember last year when the Faculty Affairs Committee tried to affirm the University of Chicago Report on Freedom of Expression. Not least because this came right after UChicago had released a more controversial letter on safe spaces, trigger warnings, and freedom of expression, some senators blasted the effort for assuming that “freedom of expression and an inclusive campus environment” were mutually exclusive. Other senators were concerned about the impact of the UChicago report on Title IX investigations, given concerns amongst the faculty that anonymous comments could have triggered investigations under Title IX. The Senate tabled the decision to the next plenary. However, there isn’t any record of academic freedom in the following plenary in October 2016.
Given the lukewarm feelings on this year’s report, the Senate has delayed a report on this Report on Academic Freedom until October 20th, at the next plenary. Hopefully, there will actually be a vote.