FAQs on Political Interference in Higher Ed

What does legislation being pushed in Florida, Texas, Ohio, and other states have in common?

  • It mandates or prohibits classroom content and curriculum.
  • It puts partisan political appointees directly in charge of campus policy and hiring.
  • It attacks protections for faculty academic freedom, including tenure and union rights. 
  • It takes away basic freedoms: to learn, teach, and join together to advocate for higher education. 

How widespread is this legislation? 

Do legislators have the responsibility or authority to decide what is taught in public institutions?

  • Politicians in a democratic society should not manipulate the curriculum to advance ideological aims or score political points.
  • Educators, not the government, should make decisions about curriculum and what materials to use.
  • The Supreme Court explained the rationale for protecting teaching from state interference: “The essentiality of freedom in the community of American universities is almost self-evident. No one should underestimate the vital role in a democracy that is played by those who guide and train our youth. To impose any straitjacket upon the intellectual leaders in our colleges and universities would imperil the future of our Nation. . . . Teachers and students must always remain free to inquire, to study and to evaluate, to gain new maturity and understanding; otherwise, our civilization will stagnate and die.” Sweezy v. New Hampshire, 354 U.S. 234 (1957)

What and where are "educational gag orders"?

  • At a time when the nation is confronting our deep-rooted racial inequity, legislators in a number of states have moved to impose educational gag orders that restrict teaching about oppression, race, and gender.
  • Hundreds of educational gag order measures have been introduced in the past few years at all levels of government (see a tracking map). 
  • Language varies significantly from state to state, in terms of exact topics or language that are prohibited and the types of punitive measures, if any, that have been proposed. Generally the bills prohibit teaching or training about vaguely defined “divisive concepts,” including racism and oppression. The bills also could preclude teaching about, or even discussing, topics such as systemic racism, anti-racist theory, or white privilege. Some apply to higher education while others focus only on K-12.
  • Of the educational gag orders that target higher education, many include punitive measures of some kind, from reductions in funding to allowing faculty to be fired to the elimination of funding.

What happens if one of these bills emerges in my state?

  • These bills can have a chilling effect on academic freedom in higher education even when they have not become law.
  • Up and until a bill is passed, campus and system administrators should not take action to implement it. Administrators and boards should robustly defend academic freedom and the freedom to teach and learn—not preemptively go along with legislation that has not passed or does not apply to higher education.
  • AAUP chapters and conferences can and should organize against these bills. See an example of a letter campaign from Ohio. See information on legislative actions your chapter can take

Back to Political Interference in Higher Ed main page