The Volokh Conspiracy

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Academic Freedom

Academic Freedom Alliance Letter on a Disinvitation at University of Dayton

The AFA calls on the University of Dayton to allow its faculty to hear from the speakers they want


The Academic Freedom Alliance released a public letter to the University of Dayton calling on the university to reaffirm its own commitments to freedom of thought after an unfortunate administrative intervention into a scholarly conference organized by members of its faculty and held on the university campus.

The Human Rights Center at the University of Dayton organized a conference that was held on campus in December. Tlaleng Mofokeng was invited to be a keynote speaker to discuss the public health issues relating to the pandemic. Mofokeng is a Special Rapporteur with the United Nations. She is also a medical doctor in South Africa and has apparently performed abortions. The university leadership disinvited Mofokeng, stating that the Mofokeng's actions relating to abortion were contrary to the Catholic mission of the university and that her presence threatened to cause "negative reactions" that would "disrupt" the conference.

Although a religious institution, Dayton has in place a fairly robust academic freedom policy that simply replicates the standard American Association of University Professors principles. Given that commitment to faculty, the university's actions in intervening in an academic program and disinviting a speaker is a significant intrusion into academic freedom principles and undercuts the university's stated commitments.

The University of Dayton sent the Academic Freedom Alliance a letter similar in substance to the one posted at the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, which contended that the university remained committed to robust debate on campus but that Mofokeng's actions as a doctor made her unwelcome on a Catholic campus. Unfortunately, the university's response suggests that the administration feels free to intervene to overrule faculty decisions on how to construct academic events if such events are "highly visible" and "widely promoted." This is deeply at odds with how universities that commit themselves to traditional principles of academic freedom should behave.

If the University of Dayton prefers to maintain such an administrative veto over scholarly programming organized by its faculty, then it should say so plainly and revise its faculty handbook to clarify that its faculty will not, in fact, be entitled to the same robust form of academic freedom that professors might enjoy at other American universities.