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New Paper Examines Funding of Attacks on Higher Education

A new white paper, released by the American Association of University Professors’ (AAUP) Center for the Defense of Academic Freedom, details an outgrowth of a coordinated campaign to generate a backlash against academic institutions.

Dr. Irene MulveyDr. Irene MulveyManufacturing Backlash: Right-Wing Think Tanks and Legislative Attacks on Higher Education” describes well-funded, widespread political attacks on higher education, comprising legislative pursuits that undermine academic freedom and university autonomy.

AAUP President Dr. Irene Mulvey made this case in a May 22 statement durimh the House Committee on Education and the Workforce hearing with higher education administrators.

“Academic freedom is essential to promote open inquiry, debate, and discussion, and to provide an environment to support education in service of understanding and an appreciation of different points of view, even in disagreement,” said Mulvey.

The Center for the Defense of Academic Freedom white paper explores whether and how 11 think tanks helped created a self-reinforcing echo chamber of reports, commentary, webinars, op-eds, and other content villainizing faculty and academic institutions.

More than 150 bills were introduced in 35 state legislatures between 2021 and 2023, including 99 academic gag orders seeking to ban the teaching of “critical race theory” or other so-called “divisive concepts,” according to the paper. Several states have successfully begun efforts to defund campus diversity, equity, and inclusion initiatives and weaken tenure and accreditation.

In April 2023, AAUP joined the American Federation of Teachers in a statement describing the collective effort as a “coordinated attack against public colleges and universities with legislation that would undermine academic freedom, chill classroom speech and impose partisan agendas on public higher education.”

The AAUP further described the efforts in January 2024 as “seeking to marginalize, and even criminalize, teaching and research on issues of race and gender,” in a way that “subvert[s] the possibility that, as a site of free inquiry, the university can serve the common good” and, instead, serve to “reinforce racist and white-supremacist interests.”

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