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From the Editor: New Culture Wars

By Michael Ferguson

Fueled by political polarization and magnified by social media, the culture wars on college campuses seem to have taken on new ferocity in recent years. Efforts to stoke outrage about public remarks made by faculty members or about research in fields such as climate science and gender studies have led to campaigns of targeted harassment against individual scholars. Meanwhile, controversies involving students—often framed as battles over free speech and inclusion—have drawn wide media scrutiny. At times, claims about free speech have themselves become a weapon in the culture wars, advancing an agenda that appears to have more to do with provocation or with the suppression of protest than with the protection of free expression.

This issue explores the questions of speech on which many recent controversies have turned. How should faculty members respond to concerns related to free expression on campus? And how can they address the challenges posed by the current political environment—in the classroom and in public life?

The issue opens with Risa L. Lieberwitz’s analysis of the ongoing assault on the public mission of higher education. Faculty members have long been targets in attacks on progressive forces in US society, but the Trump administration, Lieberwitz argues, has ushered in qualitatively new threats to academic freedom, faculty collective bargaining, and social movements for equality. Jonathan Alger and Mark Piper, in the following article, survey the “hard free-speech questions” that confront faculty members, administrators, and students in today’s polarized climate.

Other articles focus on speech in specific contexts. The AAUP has long understood freedom of extramural utterance as a constitutive part of academic freedom, but Keith E. Whittington suggests that controversial public statements by faculty members should be protected on free-speech grounds, as a “prophylactic rule for protecting academic freedom.” Lara Schwartz and Daniel Ritter, in the next article, turn to questions about free speech that often arise in the classroom. Faculty members must push students to move beyond a narrow focus on speech rights, they argue, and encourage them to think instead about what it means to use speech “productively and wisely as members of a community.”

The print issue concludes with Michael C. Behrent’s analysis of the main lines of argumentation in current debates about free speech and inclusion: What are the limits of these arguments, and is it possible to move beyond the existing terms of debate? The conversation continues online, where you will find additional articles about free speech, targeted harassment, and other topics. Read more at https://

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