Censorship Will Not Defeat Antisemitism

Statement from AAUP president Irene Mulvey:

The current clamor for political and financial interference in higher education in the name of fighting discrimination creates a climate of chilled speech and censorship that violates core principles of academic freedom. Attempts to clamp down on free expression do little to combat the scourge of antisemitism or other unacceptable forms of hatred and prejudice including those based on race, gender identity, sex, and religion.

The December 5 House hearing "Holding Campus Leaders Accountable and Confronting Antisemitism" characterized long-standing campus commitments to free and open inquiry as inherently antithetical to the safety of students, particularly Jewish students in higher ed. The resulting spectacle looked more like a performative McCarthy era witch hunt than a serious effort to improve campus tolerance and safety.

Universities have an obligation to protect the safety of their students and to promote a healthy campus culture. At the same time, universities have an obligation to ensure a climate promoting academic freedom and freedom of expression. These obligations are not in conflict. The AAUP unequivocally rejects all efforts to curtail academic freedom and compromise the autonomy of universities and the speech and associational rights of faculty and students through a false choice between “safety” and free inquiry.

We must not allow partisan actors to exploit this moment to demand further control over university curriculum and policy in order to shape American higher education to a political agenda. Politicians and donors must not be allowed to determine what speech or conduct is permitted on a campus, or to sow division in order to restrict what may be thought, said, or taught on our campuses.

The AAUP has long condemned discrimination and harassment on college and university campuses while also championing students’ right to hear and right to learn. Academic freedom and antidiscrimination initiatives can and should be pursued simultaneously. Equity and nondiscrimination will not be achieved if freedom of speech and academic freedom are compromised or legislated out of existence. Research, teaching, and the pursuit of knowledge must be allowed to occur openly, robustly and without political interference so that colleges and universities can fulfill their educational mission and model the intellectual conditions necessary for learning, for dialogue and productive disagreement, and for growth.

Publication Date: 
Tuesday, December 12, 2023