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Statement on Legislation Restricting Teaching about Race

The AAUP released the following statement in response to partisan attacks on critical race theory and recent attempts by state legislatures to ban or restrict teaching about race and racism.

Critical race theory (CRT) is a well-established academic discipline that emerged within the legal academy decades ago in the early and mid 1980s. CRT is an analytical approach that legal scholars use to explore and understand how race impacts law, and how law impacts race. Over the past forty years, CRT has developed into a robust field of scholarship that, like most capacious academic approaches, has been employed by scholars in many different fields. Within the past year, it has suddenly come under sharp and partisan political attack. Senator Ted Cruz (R-Texas), in an egregious example of false equivalency, publicly decried CRT as “a lie” that is “every bit as racist as the Klansmen in white sheets.” To date, eight states, including Texas, have taken legislative or administrative action to ban or limit the teaching of CRT and similar concepts deemed “divisive.” Much more alarming, at this time, twenty-five states have considered legislation to limit how and whether race and racism are taught in schools.  

For more than a century, the American Association of University Professors (AAUP) has prescribed that institutions of higher education function as sites of unfettered scholarly inquiry and teaching. The 1915 Declaration of Principles, the AAUP’s founding document, states: “It is . . . not the absolute freedom of utterance of the individual scholar, but the absolute freedom of thought, of inquiry, of discussion and of teaching, of the academic profession, that is asserted by this declaration of principles.” The Association’s 1940 Statement of Principles on Academic Freedom and Tenure, which has been endorsed by more than 250 scholarly and educational groups, makes plain that “teachers are entitled to freedom in the classroom in discussing their subject.” In addition, the Statement on Government of Colleges and Universities, jointly formulated by the AAUP, the American Council on Education and the Association of Governing Boards of Universities and Colleges, defines “curriculum, subject matter and methods of instruction” as areas in which the faculty has “primary responsibility.” And in the 2007 statement Freedom in the Classroom, the Association stated its opposition to efforts by groups that “sought to regulate classroom instruction, advocating the adoption of statutes that would prohibit teachers from challenging deeply held student beliefs or that would require professors to maintain ‘diversity’ or ‘balance’ in their teaching.”

The recent attempts to abolish or curtail teaching about the role of race in US history, and the ongoing repercussions of racism and slavery, represent the latest example of the same phenomenon. When politicians mandate the academic content that faculty can and cannot teach or the scholarly areas they can or cannot research or study, they prevent colleges and universities from fulfilling their missions. Such actions also severely violate both academic freedom, the cornerstone of American higher education, and the faculty’s primary role in institutional decision-making. The lasting results—which should be unacceptable to politicians across the ideological spectrum—are the impoverishment of student education and the diminution of the purpose of American higher education in a free society. To be clear, those most harmed by these cynical attempts of partisan political interference are the students. When legislators take actions like the ones we are seeing these days—actions which essentially legislate ignorance —our students are denied the opportunity to learn and grow.

Since its founding in 1915, the AAUP has steadfastly opposed political interference in the conduct of this country’s institutions of higher education. Today the AAUP condemns in the strongest possible terms the recent actions to ban, limit, or distort the teaching of history and related academic subjects. 

Publication Date: 
Wednesday, August 4, 2021