Opinions, Letters To The Editor

Letter to the Editor: Resolution Defending Academic Freedom As It Relates to Teaching About Race, Gender, Sexuality, and Critical Race Theory 

Co-sponsored by the BC chapter of the AAUP and University partners:

Since its founding in 1915, the AAUP has steadfastly opposed political interference in the conduct of this country’s institutions of higher education. Today the AAUP condemns in the strongest possible terms the recent actions to ban, limit, or distort the teaching of history and related academic subjects.

Since September 2020, legislatures in 36 states have introduced more than 58 so-called “divisive concepts” bills, many of which have been enacted into law. These bills seek to limit the examination of the history of racism in the United States and related issues in schools, colleges and universities, by excluding particular approaches that are deemed to be “divisive” and likely to cause discomfort among some students. Such efforts to control academic conversations are in direct conflict with the standards of academic freedom that are essential to the work of investigating, discovering, and informing within educational institutions. Further, we see these efforts as a direct contradiction to the explicitly stated principles to which our University is committed: the mission statement of Boston College upholds “a firm commitment to academic freedom” and “regards the contribution of different religious traditions and value systems as essential to the fullness of its intellectual life;” the University Statutes affirm the necessity of “freedom of inquiry as indispensable for attaining truth.” Legislation that forbids the examination and discussion of specific ideas contradicts academic freedom and directly undermines the practice of free inquiry that is essential to the discovery, curation, and improvement of knowledge.

In Summer 2021, the national AAUP issued two statements in response to these legislative acts: the Joint Statement on Efforts to Restrict Education about Racism, in June, and a Statement on Legislation Restricting Teaching about Race, in August. The Joint Statement was authored by AAUP in collaboration with PEN America, the American Historical Association, and the Association of American Colleges & Universities, and received endorsement from over one hundred forty-five academic organizations. 

In solidarity with the national AAUP and with more than 145 signatories to the Joint Statement, BCAAUP and University partners offer the following resolution. We join our colleagues at institutions of higher learning around the country in rejecting the restraints that these bills impose on learning and inquiry. Further, we wish to reaffirm the long-term benefits of pursuing critical understanding of social issues, no matter how uncomfortable this might be. We invite University partners to join us in affirming that our academic community rejects any attempts by bodies external to the faculty to restrict or dictate University curriculum on any matter, including matters related to racial and social justice, and will stand firm against encroachment on faculty authority by legislative bodies.

WHEREAS state legislative proposals are being introduced across the United States that target academic discussions of racism and related issues in American history in schools, colleges and universities; 

these legislative proposals vary but all seek to prohibit or restrict what they often call “divisive concepts” in the teaching and education of students; 

the term “divisive” is indeterminate, subjective, and chills the capacity of educators to explore a wide variety of topics based on subjective criteria that are inapposite from the goals of education and the development of essential critical thinking skills; 

over 145 organizations have co-signed the Joint Statement on Legislative Efforts to Restrict Education about Racism and American History authored by the American Association of University Professors (AAUP), the American Historical Association (AHA), the Association of American Colleges and Universities (AACU) and PEN America stating a 

“firm opposition to a spate of legislative proposals being introduced across the country that target academic lessons, presentations, and discussions of racism and related issues in American history in schools, colleges and universities. . . . In higher education, under principles of academic freedom that have been widely endorsed, professors are entitled to freedom in the classroom in discussing their subject. Educators, not politicians, should make decisions about teaching and learning;” 

in a nation that has for centuries struggled with issues of racial inequity and injustice, ignorance of history remains a dire problem that Universities are uniquely equipped to address through free inquiry and pedagogy; 

educating about barriers to the flourishing of a diverse democracy should be understood as central to developing engaged and informed citizens; 

THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED that, in keeping with the longstanding principles of the AAUP, we resolutely reject all attempts by bodies external to the faculty to restrict or dictate University curriculum on any matter, including matters related to racial and social justice, and will stand especially firmly against encroachment on faculty authority by legislative bodies across the US; 

that we stand with our K-12 colleagues throughout the country who may be affected by legislation of this ilk;

and that we endorse the Joint Statement on Efforts to Restrict Education about Racism authored by the AAUP, AHA, AACU, and PEN America, issued on June 16, 2021.

Endorsed by: 

Boston College chapter of the American Association of University Professors (BCAAUP)

The African and African Diaspora Studies Program

The Art, Art History, and Film Department

The Center for Teaching Excellence

The Classics Department

The Communications Department

The English Department

The History Department

The Music Department

The Physics Department

The Psychology and Neuroscience Department

The Romance Languages and Literatures Department

The Sociology Department

The Theater Department 

April 7, 2022
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