NYCLU Warns Barnard College New Faculty Speech Policy Violates Academic Freedom 

By Audrey Sawyer

NEW YORK, NY — An incoming policy that requires departments to submit the content of their websites for review and approval by the Office of Provost was recently implemented at Barnard College, but the New York Civil Liberties Union said in a letter sent to Barnard College President Laura Rosenbury that it has concerns.

The NYCLU wrote, “Such ‘prior restraint’ flies in the face of both free speech principles and academic freedom and comes at a time when many universities face public pressure to limit what research, teachings, and discourse are acceptable on campuses.”

“If private campuses decide that they can stifle political discourse they don’t approve of, then schools are no longer a haven for debate, discussion, and learning,” said Donna Lieberman, Executive Director of the New York Civil Liberties Union.

Lieberman added, “Barnard’s new review process stifles the give and take of political and academic scholarship and is a flagrant example of ‘prior restraint,’ the most restrictive kind of censorship because it curtails speech before it is uttered.

“In this moment, when academic freedom is under attack, the academic community must encourage more speech to refute ideas that may be objectionable, invite more voices into difficult conversations, and create an environment where faculty and students can voice their beliefs.”

For Barnard, the policy emerged after its Department of Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies posted a statement in support of the Palestinian people while simultaneously denouncing Israeli and Hamas attacks alike on citizens. As a result, the Barnard administration had removed the language from its website before announcing the new review policy.

Elizabeth Bernstein, the Chair of the Department of Women’s, Gender and Sexuality Studies, said, “As scholars and educators, we feel that it is our mandate and our duty to share our expertise on these issues and to bring forth resources people can rely on to reach their own evaluations. The new policy has interfered with this mission, infringing on our academic freedom but more importantly by constraining our scholarship and resources with our students and the general public.”

The NYCLU letter added, “At a time when academic freedom is under attack by donors and politicians, it is vital that the academic community stands together in support of its most fundamental principles.”

According to the American Association of University Professors, a basic tenet of freedom is that donors, administrators, and politicians cannot dictate the content of academic speech or intrude into scholarly discourse.

About The Author

Audrey is a senior at UC San Diego majoring in Political Science (Comparative Politics emphasis). After graduation, Audrey plans on attending graduate school and is considering becoming a public defender.

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