Civility and Academic Freedom after Salaita

By David Moshman and Frank Edler


The 2014 unhiring of Professor Steven Salaita by the University of Illinois raises at least three distinct issues: (1) the right of faculty to speak out in public on matters of public concern; (2) the academic freedom of academic departments to make academic decisions; and (3) the role of civility in education. After differentiating the third issue from the first two, we extend the discussion to other recent cases involving civility in education. The cases range from overt coercion to implicit threats and subtle pressures. We explain that uncivil speech is generally protected by the First Amendment but that this is generally not so within educational contexts. Even where censorship of uncivil speech is legally permissible, however, such censorship is not required and is a serious threat to academic freedom. Educators can promote civility without censorship by modeling and urging mutual respect, engaging students in serious argumentation, and evaluating the academic quality of their arguments.

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