FIRE Warns Occidental Against Proposal to Create ‘Institutional Orthodoxy’

November 25, 2015

In a letter sent yesterday, FIRE urged the faculty governance board at Occidental College to reconsider a resolution that, if implemented, would seriously harm the free speech, academic freedom, and freedom of conscience rights of Occidental’s faculty.

The draft resolution, proposed by the college’s Faculty Council and scheduled for an intra-council vote on December 1, calls for “widespread institutional change in the culture of the College” in response to protests over racial inequality that have swept college campuses across the country. However, in his letter to the council’s president, Professor Anthony Chase, FIRE’s Director of the Individual Rights Defense Program, Peter Bonilla, wrote that the proposed changes would “effectively impose an institutional orthodoxy on faculty that is incompatible with the college’s academic mission.” Specifically, Peter wrote:

These provisions include mandatory diversity training for faculty, proposals to re-center college curricula around issues of diversity, social justice, and identity, and the call for a new system to report “microaggressions” committed by Occidental faculty. In its current state, the faculty should reject this resolution as a threat to their fundamental rights.

In the letter, FIRE noted that while many Occidental faculty may support the underlying concerns that motivated the proposal, imposing mandatory diversity training and diversity curricula risks pressuring faculty “to adopt specific ideological viewpoints that infringe on both their private conscience and their academic freedom.”

Addressing the resolution’s most troubling provision in a statement provided to Reason yesterday, FIRE President and CEO Greg Lukianoff said the proposed creation of a microaggression-reporting system would violate the most “basic tenets of academic freedom and scholarly independence”:

Given that microaggressions can be unconscious and often exist in the eye of the beholder, the call to “address and report” professors’ microaggressions creates a bottomless pit of speech policing.

In his letter to Occidental, Peter described how this mandate will chill dialogue on campus:

Faculty will inevitably choose to self-censor rather than offer honest scholarly or personal opinions on difficult or controversial matters, knowing that even the smallest perceived slight might result in their speech being reported to the administration, possibly for investigation and discipline.

In light of these grave concerns, FIRE urges Occidental’s faculty to consider the harmful implications of this ill-conceived resolution and vote against its passage.

Schools:  Occidental College

Cases:  Occidental College: Faculty Council Considers Resolution Threatening the Academic Freedom and Freedom of Conscience of Whole Faculty