Statement on Racial Justice in Higher Education

The AAUP issued the following statement today:

As the ongoing demonstrations of the past few weeks have shown, our nation is once again being called on to reckon with systemic racism and its impact on Black, Latinx, indigenous, and other people of color. Black lives matter, and the AAUP stands in solidarity with all those who are protesting racism and police brutality. We stand ready to support faculty, academic professionals, graduate students, postdoctoral fellows, and all those engaged in teaching and research in higher education whose affiliated institutions take or threaten to take negative action against them as a result of their exercising their right to protest. We recognize that our BIPOC members and colleagues are considerably more vulnerable when they exercise this right, and, as such, are most in need of support and protection. We call on our chapters, our members, and campus administrations to stand firm in their support of members of the campus community who speak out in the name of anti-racism and racial justice, and we offer the following guidance and recommendations.

Freedom of extramural speech, including comments made by faculty outside the classroom and on social media, is essential to the American conception of academic freedom that the AAUP has played a central role in defining and refining. All members of the academic community have a responsibility to defend academic freedom and freedom of speech and assembly.

Calls for civility and campus speech codes have the potential to restrict extramural speech of faculty. These calls are often deployed against faculty of color, and faculty of color are more likely to be disciplined for “uncivil” behavior. As we recognize in our statement On Freedom of Expression and Campus Speech Codes, “offensive style or opprobrious phrases may in fact have been chosen precisely for their expressive power.” Faculty must not be disciplined for engaging in “uncivil” or “offensive” speech.

In the current political climate, faculty who engage in protest are more likely than ever to face targeted online harassment as a result of their activities—harassment that, again, disproportionately targets non-white faculty. Institutions must recommit to the defense of academic freedom and institutional autonomy, which includes protecting the institution from undue public interference. We call on administrations and governing boards, in particular, to condemn targeted harassment and intimidation and to reject calls for dismissal or suspension of faculty members who have exercised their right to protest.

We further recognize that in the current political climate, Black studies, Latinx studies, indigenous studies, and other ethnic studies programs are especially vulnerable to political interference, including cuts to funding and program elimination. Threats to these programs have been exacerbated by the COVID-19 crisis. We call on our chapters, our members, and campus administrations to defend these programs from cuts and undue interference and to affirm the importance of programs that challenge systemic racism to fulfilling higher education’s fundamental contribution to the common good.

Publication Date: 
Wednesday, June 24, 2020