Fresh hope for campus free speech

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Here’s some fresh hope for free speech on US campuses: Some 200 scholars and professors from across the country last week launched the Academic Freedom Alliance, a nonprofit dedicated to fighting back against “cancel culture” efforts to silence faculty targeted by “woke” outrage.

Sparked by conversations among faculty at Princeton University about fading support for free expression on American campuses, the alliance aims to help educators “speak, instruct and publish without fear of sanction, bullying, punishment or persecution.” Membership fees and donations will help cover legal fees for professionals in hot water over free-speech controversies.

In recent years, universities have been hyperactive in penalizing staff for alleged insensitivity, as administrators strive to appease student outrage, no matter how unjustified and counter to the fundamentals of academic freedom.

In 2015, the University of Chicago released a statement affirming the centrality of free speech in education. Six years later, only 81 of the 4,000-plus US higher-education institutions have adopted or endorsed it.

Princeton’s Keith E. Whittington, a leader of the new group, points to two cases last year that show why faculty need protection.

In one, the University of Southern California put a prof on leave for lecturing about a common phrase in the Chinese language that some students felt sounded too much like the N-word. In another, Auburn University pulled a professor from the classroom for expressing an opinion about police on his personal Twitter account. Both academics later apologized — in effect, for exercising fundamental free-speech rights.

With members across the political spectrum, the alliance means to “foster a national conversation about these kinds of issues.” Cross your fingers that this will inspire more faculty to stand by their peers when politically correct mobs of students (and, all too often, faculty) start waving their pitchforks.

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