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‘Inquisitions And Purges’: Star Harvard Professors Form Group To Counter Attacks On Academic Freedom

Harvard University faculty members are joining forces to uphold freedom of speech through a recently formed Council on Academic Freedom, according to a Boston Globe article penned by two Harvard professors.

The Council consists of 50 Harvard faculty members dedicated to protecting free inquiry, intellectual diversity and civil discourse and are concerned about the current state of academic freedom in higher education, according to the op-ed published by Steven Pinker, psychology professor, and Bertha Madras, psychobiology professor. The group will hold “workshops, lectures, and courses” about academic freedom, provide information to new faculty members, advocate for policies that protect academic freedom and offer support.

“Harvard is just one university, but it is the nation’s oldest and most famous, and for better or worse, the outside world takes note of what happens here,” the professors wrote. “We hope the effects will spread outside our formerly ivy-covered walls and encourage faculty and students elsewhere to rise up. Eternal vigilance is the price of liberty, and if we don’t defend academic freedom, we should not be surprised when politicians try to do it for us or a disgusted citizenry writes us off.”

There were 877 attempts to punish professors for First Amendment-protected speech between 2014 and 2022, according to a Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression report cited by the professors. Of these attempts, 60% received sanctions including either censorship or firing — which the professors allege contributes to a rising number of students and faculty self-censoring their speech on campus.

“The embattled ideal of academic freedom is not just a matter of the individual rights of professors and students,” the professors wrote. “It’s baked into the mission of a university, which is to seek and share the truth — veritas, as our university, Harvard, boasts on its seal.”

Harvard University adopted its “Free Speech Guidelines” in 1990, according to the Council’s website. The guideline reinforces that free speech is “uniquely important” and that the “free interchange of ideas is vital” to perform its “primary function of discovering and disseminating ideas through research, teaching, and learning.”

The group officially formed in March 2023 and its members represent a variety of academic fields and opinions, according to the website.

Pinker and Madras did not immediately respond to the Daily Caller News Foundation’s request for comment.

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