Academic Freedom

Academic Freedom and Electronic Communications

This revised report brings up to date and expands upon the Association’s 2004 report on the same topic, while affirming the earlier report’s basic principles. Academic freedom, free inquiry, and freedom of expression within the academic community may be limited to no greater extent in electronic format than they are in print, save for the most unusual situation where the very nature of the medium itself might warrant unusual restrictions,

Cuccinelli v. Rector & Visitors of the University of Virginia, 283 Va. 420 (2010)

In a 2012 decision the Virginia Supreme Court rejected attempts by then Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli to compel disclosure of university research records.  Cuccinelli who publicly opposes the theory of global warming, used his position to formally request emails and other documents relating to former faculty member and climatologist Michael Mann from the University of Virginia (UVA) arguing that he had authority to subpoena these records pursuant to the Virginia Fraud Against Taxpayers Act (FATA).  The Supreme Court of Virginia held that state universities, as agencies of the Commonwealth, do not constitute a “person” under the FATA and therefore Cuccinelli had no authority to require release of the records and his appeal was rendered moot. (In another related case, the Virginia Supreme Court rejected a request for these records under the Virginia Freedom of Information Act.)

The American Tradition Institute v. Rector & Visitors of the University of Virginia & Michael Mann, 287 Va. 330 (Va. April 17, 2014)

In this case the Virginia Supreme Court unanimously ruled that a professor’s climate research records were exempt from disclosure as academic research records, as AAUP argued in an amicus brief submitted to the Court.  The Court explained that the exclusion of University research records from disclosure was intended to prevent “harm to university-wide research efforts, damage to faculty recruitment and retention, undermining of faculty expectations of privacy and confidentiality, and impairment of free thought and expression.” While the decision was limited to a Virginia statute, it provided a strong rationale for the defense of academic records from disclosure.

Academic Freedom and Electronic Communications

On Thursday, June 12, 2014, the AAUP’s One Hundredth Annual Meeting convened in Washington, DC. Hank Reichman, chair of the AAUP’s Committee on Academic Freedom and Tenure, delivered the meeting's opening plenary address—“Can I Tweet That? Academic Freedom and Electronic Communications”—on the impact of digital documentation and communication on academic freedom.

Demers v. Austin, 746 F.3d 402 (9th Cir. Wash. Jan. 29, 2014)

In this important decision, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals reinforced the First Amendment protections for academic speech by faculty members.  Adopting an approach advanced in AAUP’s amicus brief, the court emphasized the seminal importance of academic speech. Accordingly, the court concluded that the Garcetti analysis did not apply to "speech related to scholarship or teaching,” and therefore the First Amendment could protect this speech even when undertaken "pursuant to the official duties" of a teacher and professor.

AAUP Takes UIUC to Task for Apparent Summary Dismissal

Actions taken against professor Steven Salaita appear to amount to summary dismissal, which is categorically inimical to academic freedom and due process, says a letter sent today to UIUC chancellor Phyllis Wise.

On Trigger Warnings

A current threat to academic freedom in the classroom comes from a demand that teachers provide warnings in advance if assigned material contains anything that might trigger difficult emotional responses for students.

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