The Volokh Conspiracy
Mostly law professors | Sometimes contrarian | Often libertarian | Always independent
The Academic Freedom Alliance today issued its first guidance statement. These statements will address broader policy issues in American higher education that implicate academic freedom but that might not involve any particular incident at a specific university or relating to a specific individual professor.
This statement relates to the increasingly common demand by university officials that professors affirm their belief on some question of contested values or political sentiment. Of late, many of these incidents involve diversity statements or anti-racism statements, but these sorts of demands can range across the political and ideological spectrum and involve a wide range of specific issues. It is inappropriate for university officials to demand that professors engage in compelled speech, regardless of the topic or the popularity of the opinion to be expressed.
But it is a serious intrusion on the freedom of speech of the faculty to mandate or otherwise direct that such statements must be included in individual course syllabi or otherwise adopted or embraced by individual professors. The inclusion of anti-racism statements in course syllabi must be voluntary and left to the conscience of individual professors.
Mandatory anti-racism statements currently being developed are in principle indistinguishable from myriad other statements of belief that university officials have sometimes attempted to force members of the faculty to endorse in the past. No matter how widely shared or normatively desirable any particular statement of values might be, individual professors should not be directed or coerced to endorse or accept such statements.
For public universities, mandating that professors embrace such statements is a clear violation of the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. For private universities that have chosen to accept as their own comparable standards of individual conscience, such mandates violate those commitments. For private universities that have adopted broad principles of academic freedom, such mandates are at odds with those principles.