Manufacturing Backlash: Discussing Right-Wing Think Tanks and the Legislative Attack on Higher Education

Today, higher education is under attack. During the 2021, 2022, and 2023 legislative cycles alone more than one hundred and fifty bills were introduced in state legislatures seeking to actively undermine academic freedom and university autonomy. These bills included ninety-nine academic gag orders seeking to ban the teaching of “critical race theory” (CRT) or other so-called “divisive concepts” as well as efforts to defund campus diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) initiatives, weaken tenure and accreditation, and establish academic programs, centers, and whole schools designed to teach conservative content. Join us for an online discussion of a new white paper out from the AAUP’s Center for the Defense of Academic Freedom—Manufacturing Backlash: Right-Wing Think Tanks and the Legislative Attack on Higher Education, 2021–2023—which examines the well-funded political operatives and conservative think tanks behind this legislative attack on higher education.

Isaac Kamola, the white paper’s primary author, will begin by briefly presenting its topline findings. Then we’ll have a moderated discussion with Nancy MacLean, a scholar of dark money influence in American higher education, and Barrett Taylor, whose book Wrecked examines Republican efforts to transform education policy in the state legislatures. The event will be moderated by Karma Chávez, who has been actively involved in responding to legislative attacks on academic freedom in Texas.


  • Karma Chávez is chair and Bobby and Sherri Patton Professor in the department of Mexican American and Latina/o Studies at the University of Texas at Austin. She is author and editor of several books including Palestine on the Air (University of Illinois Press, 2019).
  • Isaac Kamola is the director of the AAUP's Center for the Defense of Academic Freedom.
  • Nancy MacLean is professor of history and public policy at Duke University and author of several prize-winning books, most recently, Democracy in Chains: The Deep History of the Radical Right’s Stealth Plan for America.
  • Barrett Taylor is professor and coordinator of the higher education program at the University of North Texas.

Registration is available here.

Date & Time: 
Thursday, May 30, 2024 - 3:00pm to 4:00pm
All Day: