Faculty Network Conference

Faculty Conference 2021

Since 2017, FIRE has hosted an annual conference bringing together several dozen professors in different disciplines for a weekend of discussion and debate on current issues of free speech and academic freedom in American higher education. The FIRE Faculty Network Conference features presentations by faculty, which are selected through an open call for proposals. Presentations are accompanied by panel discussions led by other faculty participants, who offer responses to the presented material and help facilitate discussion among the attendees.

While our 2020 conference in Chicago was postponed due to the COVID-19 pandemic, we are planning to return to Chicago with our conference this fall, and are pleased to invite faculty to submit proposals for consideration. The complete text of our call for proposals is below, and questions can be directed by email to facultyoutreach@thefire.org.

Call for Proposals

Praise for FIRE’s Faculty Conference

“I have attended twice now and I have found both exceptionally important, both in terms of my own thinking about free speech issues and in being motivated to work on them at my campus. I hope it continues in the future. I think it’s making a real impact on developing a national network of like-minded individuals and setting the stage for important reforms.” – Matthew Mulvaney, Syracuse University

“Respectful disagreements are sometimes anathema in professional conferences. FIRE’s conference is a welcome breath of fresh air.” – Siddhartha Roy, Virginia Tech

“On many campuses dissenting against the stultifying orthodoxy can be a lonely and alienating experience. If nothing else, the FIRE faculty conference assures individual dissidents that they are not on their own and that they have allies elsewhere in the academy.” – Helen Baxendale, University of Oxford

“While it was great to interact with like-minded people, this setting enabled heated disagreement and substantive debate, without the looming fear and dread associated with such discourse on campus. I haven’t experienced this type of dialogue in a long time, and found it both refreshing and enriching.” – Matt Moreali, Southern Oregon University


Call for Proposals: 2021 FIRE Faculty Network Conference

After postponing our 2020 conference due to the COVID-19 pandemic, FIRE is pleased to plan for the conference’s return in 2021. This year’s FIRE Faculty Network Conference is scheduled to take place in Chicago from October 14-17, 2021. Conference sessions are to be held at the University of Chicago Booth School of Business’ Gleacher Center, in downtown Chicago.

As with our previous conferences, this year’s conference centers on the presentations of papers submitted for consideration by faculty through an open call process. FIRE welcomes proposals on a wide array of topics related to academic freedom and freedom of expression in modern higher education. The conference is highly interdisciplinary in nature, and faculty in all disciplines are encouraged to apply. Similarly, FIRE welcomes and encourages research taking a variety of approaches to its chosen subject. Presentations at previous conferences have included quantitative studies, law review articles, and critical essays, to name just a few. The published volumes from our previous conferences will give an idea of the variety of ideas and approaches we hope to showcase at our conference.

Accepted presenters who attend and present their completed papers will receive an honorarium of $3,000, in addition to reimbursement for travel and lodging.

Topics of Special Interest

While FIRE hopes to present research on a diversity of topics, we are especially interested in hosting a discussion of the contemporary issues of academic freedom brought to the forefront by major events of the past year. Among other things, higher education has contended with challenges to its basic model brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic’s remaking of the college experience, as well as new pushes for inclusivity brought on by nationwide protests against racial inequality and violence by law enforcement. In some cases, these pressures manifested as demands for censorship. This handful of articles published on FIRE’s Newsdesk in the past year give a sense of the scope of the issues:

We additionally chronicled these issues in our year-end report on FIRE’s faculty advocacy in 2020.

While we are eager for proposals on a wide range of issues, we hope that our 2021 conference provides the opportunity for in-depth discussion and debate of these major events and cultural shifts to take place in higher education over the past year.

Virtual options for 2021

While FIRE hopes that by the fall circumstances will allow us to conduct our conference at least mostly the way we have in previous years, much is obviously outside our control in terms of our vaccine response, and the extent to which local regulations will permit an in-person conference. We also recognize that some faculty may still not be inclined to travel even if it has become significantly safer to do so by later this year. For these reasons, FIRE plans to complement the usual in-person proceedings by giving Faculty Network members the opportunity to watch proceedings virtually, and will conduct the conference virtually to the extent conditions and regulations require. Regardless of our ability to conduct the conference in-person, we are committed to presenting the conference in 2021. We will keep faculty informed on all developments related to the conduct of the conference and our safety precautions.

Application details

  1. An abstract of up to roughly 300 words for the proposed presentation. Applicants may include partially or wholly completed drafts of proposed works, but this is not required; FIRE welcomes proposals for works at all stages of the research and writing process.
  2. A current CV
  3. Brief descriptions of the relevance of your proposal to the conference, and the resources you draw upon, or plan to draw upon, in your work.

The call for proposals is open to all faculty regardless of status (e.g., tenured, tenure-track, adjunct), in addition to advanced graduate students.

The deadline for application is May 31, 2021, and we plan to make our selections for the conference in June.

FIRE typically publishes a digital volume drawn from the conference papers in the months after the conference. Apart from its inclusion in the volume, all published work related to the conference remains the sole property of the author and may be submitted and/or revised for publication elsewhere as they wish.

There is no maximum length for papers presented at FIRE’s conference, but completed papers generally have run from 5,000-10,000 words.