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Academic Freedom

Faculty Letter to SUNY Fredonia in Support of Stephen Kershnar


The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education has posted a faculty letter in support of Stephen Kershnar, the philosophy professor currently barred from the SUNY Fredonia campus for publicly engaging in a philosophical discussion of the immorality of sexual acts between children and adults. You can find more background about the controversy here.

It remains to be seen how SUNY Fredonia would distinguish Professor Kershnar's discussion of these issues on the Brain a Vat podcast in 2022, which happened to attract the attention of conservative activists, from his discussion of these issues in a scholarly monograph published in 2015 or in his 2001 or 2008 articles in scholarly journals that first developed those arguments.  Interestingly, he was promoted to full professor after the publication of the first of those articles and was serving as department chair when the book was published. It is almost as if the university recognized that he was doing ordinary philosophical work until the outside world started calling for his head. And almost as if SUNY Fredonia would be equally willing to throw any other professor under the bus if their scholarly work suddenly attracted public controversy.

The initial signatories to the letter are primarily scholars working in the area of philosophy and applied ethics, but it is open for more signatories. If you would like to join the list, contact

From the letter:

Although you have described the video podcast as "widely shared," in fact the podcast in which Professor Kershnar discussed arguments on ethical issues relating to sexual contact with children has not been widely viewed. What has been widely shared is a brief clip from the podcast. Universities should be places where scholars can safely engage in the task of carefully thinking through the logic and implications of arguments about ethical human behavior, and that is what Professor Kershnar and his interlocutors do in this podcast. Society will be impoverished if such inquiries cannot take place and if ideas about morality are suppressed and censored because they are unpopular or offend the sensibilities of the broader public. If Professor Kershnar's ideas are wrong, then we all benefit from seeing those errors exposed through intellectual engagement.

Read the whole thing here.

Earlier letters from the Academic Freedom Alliance and from FIRE explaining the academic freedom concerns raised by this case can be found here and here.