New AAUP Paper Examines Partisan Megadonors' Funding of Attacks on Higher Ed

Today, the AAUP’s Center for the Defense of Academic Freedom released a new white paper, Manufacturing Backlash: Right-Wing Think Tanks and Legislative Attacks on Higher Education, 2021–2023, detailing well-funded and widespread political and legislative attacks on higher education. During the 2021, 2022, and 2023 legislative cycles alone, more than one hundred and fifty bills were introduced in state legislatures seeking to undermine academic freedom and university autonomy. These bills included ninety-nine academic gag orders seeking to ban the teaching of “critical race theory” 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 and a promote ideological agenda.

Such legislation is often understood as an effect of a highly polarized political climate in the United States. The new white paper demonstrates, however, that this legislation is largely the outgrowth of a coordinated campaign to generate a culture-war backlash against educators and academic institutions. As we have seen this year with Congressional hearings into the operations of colleges and universities, these legislative attacks are now spreading to the federal level. 

The Center for the Defense of Academic Freedom was established with the aim of examining and confronting the recent surge of political and ideological attacks on American higher education. The Center will bring together higher education and academic freedom experts over the course of the next two years to develop a comprehensive understanding of the scope and nature of political interference in higher education and develop means of informing the broader public about the nature of these attacks and strengthening support for higher education.

The full white paper is available here.

Publication Date: 
Tuesday, May 28, 2024