Academic freedom under fire at Kansas: Will the AAUP be consistent?

Writing at National Review’s The Corner, David French wonders “Will the AAUP and other national academic organizations defend academic freedom at Kansas with the same zeal they defended it at UVA and Wisconsin?” For more on this issue, see KU records request seen as political attack and Art Hall: My decision to fight for academic freedom.

Academic Freedom Under Fire at Kansas: Will the AAUP Be Consistent?
By David French

When it comes to threatening core liberty interests, activists can be nothing if not industrious — sometimes using even well-intentioned laws as sledgehammers against disfavored views and disfavored speakers.

Witness the emerging use of state open-records laws to harass dissenting professors. The tactics are simple: Take advantage of the fact that most major research universities are public institutions to engage in wide-ranging fishing expeditions of individual scholars’ e-mail accounts and other records — including of personal e-mails — in the hopes of finding something, anything to shame or embarrass the scholar into silence. The threat to academic freedom is obvious: Scholars often engage colleagues, interested members of the public, and others to test ideas and theories before they’re ready for prime time, and the thought that every written thought can now be splashed across the Internet will lead to timidity and self-censorship. High-quality research depends on a free-wheeling exchange of ideas. Compelled disclosure of all communications will inevitably suppress academic discourse.

This is particularly true for minority viewpoints on campus. Or for those engaged in controversial speech. If you think conservative professors have enough challenges on campus, imagine a world where they navigate the minefield of hiring committees only to enter a world where their every email — no matter how tenuously it relates to their work as a “public official” — is read by a gang of hostile, angry third parties who are ready to twist every utterance to shame and humiliate them. How many people would want to work in that environment? How many people would find that environment conducive to scholarship and research?

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