Historians for Peace and Democracy
A CALL TO ACTION
American democracy is under attack as never before – and educators at every level are on the front lines of the new culture wars.
Reactionary and opportunistic politicians and operatives tied to the Republican party hope to mobilize voters in 2022 by demonizing efforts to combat the racism and other forms of oppression that have deformed America’s past. In more than twenty states, they have already banned teaching about racism and other “controversial issues.” Worse than McCarthyism, these educational gag rules are an unprecedented assault on academic freedom and historical reality.
We must act NOW! We cannot stand by and let politicians distort the truth.
1. What are we asking?
As right-wing attacks on educators spread across the United States, we call on faculty members to take collective action by urging their university senates or similar official bodies to pass resolutions asking their administrators and trustees to join them in upholding academic freedom.We are supporting a campaign organized by the African American Policy Forum (AAPF)to promote a resolution entitled “Defending Academic Freedom to Teach About Race and Gender Justice and Critical Race Theory” that we hope faculties will customize for their campuses.
2. How does the AAPF’s campaign operate?
This is a national effort designed to show that the academic community is united in its opposition to the current culture wars. As members of the Historians for Peace and Democracy, we urge all our fellow historians and other concerned colleagues to join the AAPF’s campaign to encourage their Faculty Senates or other official bodies to pass resolutions that not only oppose the educational gag rules but also ask their trustees and administrators to support that opposition.
This project is enormously appealing because it stimulates collective action on the part of faculty members, who ordinarily tend to remain passive about threats to academic freedom and governance until they confront a crisis at their own schools. Taking a stand against the current right-wing attack on the teaching of controversial issues should not be a hard sell. Today’s culture wars are such a blatant violation of the academy’s values that a measure enabling the academic community to express its disapproval of them should gain considerable traction.
3. Why should we pass these resolutions if our own institutions are not threatened?
Besides ramping up the academy’s general opposition to these repressive measures, the resolutions have the advantage of enhancing faculty governance by showing administrators and trustees that their faculties are willing to act collectively on the issue. Accordingly, even before a crisis develops on the campus, adopting such a resolution by an official faculty body should make an institution’s leaders think twice about responding to outside pressure before taking a repressive action that could trigger a strong faculty pushback. This is what happened last fall when the University of Florida administration’seffort to keep several professors from testifying before the state legislature encountered immediate resistance within the university, created a national tsunami of outrage, and cost the U-F’s president his job.
4. Are the Faculty Senate resolutions effective?
Even as we write, the AAPF’s campaign – spearheaded by a trio of AAPF and AAUP activists — is beginning to make an impact, as a recent article from Inside Higher Ed reveals. Already the faculty senates at nine universities – Ball State, DePaul, Ohio State, Portland State, and the universities of Alabama, Colorado, Delaware, Minnesota, and Oregon – have passed the resolutions and had them affirmed by the administrations. The Molloy College senate also adopted the resolution, though the administration did not accept it. Meanwhile, faculty groups at several other institutions – Boston University, the California Faculty Association, Stanford, and the universities of California-Riverside, Georgia, Massachusetts-Lowell, Mississippi, Rhode Island, South Carolina, and Texas-Austin, among them – have responded favorably. Their resolutions are progressing through the system and will probably be acted on in the spring.
These actions represent significant victories. At the University of Colorado, for example, the resolutions passed overwhelmingly by the system-wide Faculty Council and the Boulder Faculty General Assembly prevented the Board of Regents from adopting a wide-ranging measure to ban nine controversial concepts dealing with race, ethnicity, or gender from the university’s training and academic programs.
5. How can I help launch this campaign?
Spread the word! Contact as many friends and sympathetic colleagues as possible in your department, union local, AAUP chapter, or other faculty group to ask your Faculty Senate or other official body to pass such a resolution. Reach out as well to your networks of colleagues at other colleges and universities. The more people involved, the stronger your voice will be.
You do not have to reinvent the wheel. Here are some sample resolutions and other materials that you can copy and/or alter to fit the needs of your own institution. The Minnesota Resolution, for example, is particularly cogent and might be a useful template for other faculty groups to crib from along with the other documents and templates that the AAPF campaign has produced and posted on its website. If you would like additional background information, see the excellent recent PEN report.
Finally, if you have any questions, please contact Jennifer Ruth, professor of film studies at Portland State University, Emily Houh, professor of law at University of Cincinnati, or Valerie Johnson, professor of political science at DePaul University.
Molly Nolan, Margaret Power, Ellen Schrecker
For the Steering Committee of the Historians for Peace and Democracy