Congratulations to Professor Don Downs for winning the 2013 Jeane Jordan Kirkpatrick Prize for Academic Freedom! The annual award, sponsored by The Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation, includes a $10,000 prize. It goes to "an individual who has dedicated his career to academic freedom or has taken a public stand to further the cause of free inquiry and free speech." Downs received his award this past weekend at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) in Washington, DC.
Professor Downs is certainly deserving of this honor. For years, Downs, a political science professor at the University of Wisconsin-Madison (UW), has led the Committee for Academic Freedom and Rights (CAFAR), the "go-to" organization for protecting student and faculty rights at UW.
Downs’ work with CAFAR has resulted in a number of victories for individual rights within the UW system. These include:
- Leading the movement to abolish UW’s faculty speech code in 1999—an unprecedented event in higher education at the time;
- Eliminating campus-wide programs that encouraged individuals to make anonymous complaints about "insensitive" speech;
- Abolishing improper "professional conduct" codes in departments and schools that were speech codes in disguise; and
- Leading efforts to amend university rules to provide explicit protection of faculty members who criticize university policies and practices.
In addition to his work with CAFAR, Downs teaches a large lecture course on the First Amendment that is now legendary on the UW campus. He is also the author of Restoring Free Speech and Liberty on Campus, which Choice described as a "[a] must-read for anyone concerned about freedom of academic inquiry."
Past winners of the Kirkpatrick award include FIRE Co-founder and University of Pennsylvania professor Alan Charles Kors in 2008 and University of Delaware professor Jan Blits, who worked with FIRE to successfully end the University of Delaware’s shocking thought-reform program in 2011.
FIRE caught up with professor Downs last summer at our annual Campus Freedom Network (CFN) Conference, where he was a keynote speaker, to discuss the history of free expression in American higher education and how students can ensure their rights are protected. Check out the video!