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Bioethicist Alice Dreger resigns from Northwestern over censorship

Alice Dreger speking at a TEDx event.

Bioethicist and author Alice Dreger has resigned from her professorship at Northwestern University’s Feinberg School of Medicine, citing continuing censorship by university administrators.

“An institution in which the faculty are afraid to offend the dean is not an institution where I can in good conscience do my work,” Dreger, a professor of medical education, medical humanities, and bioethics, wrote in a letter of resignation submitted last night to Northwestern Provost Daniel Linzer. “Such an institution is not a ‘university,’ in the truest sense of that word.”

Dreger points specifically to Northwestern’s ongoing censorship of the faculty-produced medical journal Atrium, of which Dreger is an editor. Torch readers will remember that Northwestern made national news when it censored Atrium’s “Bad Girls”-themed Winter 2014 issue. The issue included a professor’s account of a consensual sexual encounter with a nurse in the 1970s that administrators said was inappropriate and bad for Northwestern’s image. The University subsequently formed a committee to actively monitor and direct the journal’s content.

FIRE wrote to Northwestern in May over these threats to academic freedom and freedom of expression. Northwestern has yet to respond.

Dreger said she can no longer do her work, particularly her research on academic freedom, in an environment where her own academic freedom is uncertain.

“Vague statements of commitment to the principle of academic freedom mean little when the institution’s apparent understanding of academic freedom in concrete circumstances means so little,” Dreger wrote.

Dreger also expressed her gratitude for the controversial and important work she was able to do until recently, saying it “was made possible because I came to Northwestern University”:

It happened because, as I took on one controversial issue after another—first the Bailey transsexualism controversy, then the Chagnon/Tierney fiasco in American anthropology, then the prenatal dexamethasone intervention disaster—university leaders defended my academic freedom when they received often sharp criticisms of my work. Time and again, my academic freedom was protected by Northwestern University. Northwestern University enabled me to work effectively and confidently, for a full decade, in the service of the disempowered and the wronged. For that, I am deeply grateful. But I no longer work at that institution. I no longer work at a university that fearlessly defends academic freedom in the face of criticism, controversy, and calls for censorship. Now, I work at a university at which my own dean thinks he has the authority to censor my work.

Last night, Dreger posted a list of responses to frequently asked questions about her resignation on her personal website.

This morning, she addressed her departure on Twitter:

Dreger’s resignation is effective August 31.

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