Academic Freedom in America is At Risk


Institutions of higher learning are what can be considered bastions of academic freedom. It’s where many minds, young and old alike, go to be exposed to different points of view and political beliefs. That is, unless a Republican politician disagrees with those viewpoints and beliefs.

A bill introduced by Republican Representative Alex Andrade, House Bill 999, would ban funding for diversity, equity, and inclusion initiatives at Florida state universities and colleges. This includes privately funded initiatives.

House Bill 999 bans general education courses that have curriculum based on ‘unproven, theoretical, or exploratory content’, that ‘teaches identity politics, such as Critical Race Theory’ and that define “American history as contrary to the creation of a new nation based on universal principles stated in the Declaration of Independence”.

Any major or minor in “Critical Race Theory, Gender Studies, or Intersectionality, or anything derivative of them”, would no longer be allowed. This would encompass gender studies, women’s studies, and possibly even African American studies as well.

The proposed legislation is incredibly vague. It never defines what it means when it refers to “Critical Race Theory”. In actuality, it is a graduate level framework that examines how institutions perpetuate racism. Because of how vague it is, faculty would be required to guess what material lawmakers might label as “identity politics”, even if it’s relevant to the course.

Its prohibition of “unproven, theoretical, or exploratory content” could also completely ban professors and faculty talking about new theories or ideas. Again, because of how vague the bill’s language is, theories such as evolution and gravity may not be able to be discussed as well.

The bill also aims to take hiring decisions on new faculty away from existing faculty, and have trustees responsible for those hiring decisions instead. Tenure status could also be reviewed at any time, seemingly without cause.

House Bill 999 comes not even a year after Florida Governor Ron DeSantis signed the “Stop WOKE Act” into law, which regulates how schools and businesses discuss race and gender. House Bill 999 is just another step forward in Florida’s effort to restrict education and speech on these topics.

If House Bill 999 were to pass, public colleges in Florida could experience loss of faculty and colleagues unwilling to take over those jobs. Schools could also lose their accreditation status, which would put thousands of students’ federal financial aid at risk.

There are concerns copycat bills will begin popping up in other states and even become a national movement. If something similar to House Bill 999 were to somehow become law in Massachusetts, Fitchburg State University would be forced to completely drop a handful of its minor programs. The Center for Diversity and Inclusiveness, and all of the student run organizations it advises, would have to completely dissolve as well.

Academic freedom is a core tenet of higher education in America. It’s what keeps American colleges strong, and also why they are some of the best in the world. Restricting academic freedom is the exact point of legislation such as House Bill 999. How can institutions of higher learning expect to give students a well rounded education with barriers like this in the way?

But that is the overwhelming goal. Politicians pushing legislation that aims to restrict education and speech in schools don’t want students to have a well rounded education. An uneducated constituency is a constituency that’s unprepared to participate in the democratic process.

Make no mistake, this is an attack on public education, academic freedom, freedom of speech, and democracy. Education is important and shouldn’t be censored, regardless of if it suits a political party’s agenda or not.