Indiana University School of Medicine refuses to take its medicine.
After ignoring FIRE’s warnings about the threat to academic freedom and expressive rights posed by adoption of a diversity, equity, and inclusion statement for faculty seeking tenure and promotion, IU School of Medicine now appears to require faculty to sign a politicized honor code as part of its training on mitigating bias. We told the medical school why that’s unconstitutional and asked it to clarify that the honor code is not mandatory — and the university blew us off. Again.
We filed a Freedom of Information Act request with the university and obtained a copy of training materials called “Mitigating Unconscious Bias in Decision-Making.” Part of that training includes the honor code, which appears to require that faculty pledge their “views, beliefs, actions, and inactions do not, intentionally or unintentionally perpetuate . . . inequity” in healthcare.
The honor code reads in full (emphasis added):
IU School of Medicine expects that its community members treat one another with respect and facilitate an atmosphere of cooperation and collegiality. The School demands excellence and expects that community members act with integrity at all times. Recognizing the damaging effects that bias, discrimination, and exclusion have on the work environment, patient care, medical research, medical education, and health care outcomes, IU School of Medicine strives to be a place that is diverse, welcoming, and inclusive for all and commits to identifying and dismantling hate, oppression, systemic racism, and discrimination in academic medicine. IU School of Medicine expects all in its community to reflect on these values and ensure that their views, beliefs, actions, and inactions do not, intentionally or unintentionally, perpetuate the problem of health care [sic] inequity. Being intentional with your learning while completing this module is part of the commitment to our Honor Code.
That bolded sentence could place faculty in the position of pledging not to engage in wrongthink — at least in the university’s eyes. That would be deeply chilling for faculty who may dissent from university-sanctioned orthodoxy. We wrote the university at the end of last year explaining that while it may encourage faculty to adopt or express certain views, it cannot punish them for holding views or beliefs that the university (or anyone else) believes “perpetuate” healthcare inequity.
The pledge is also overly broad and vague. As we wrote in our letter:
The lack of definition of key terms likely renders the policy overbroad on its face. A statute or law regulating speech is unconstitutionally overbroad “if it sweeps within its ambit a substantial amount of protected speech along with that which it may legitimately regulate.” IUSM’s policy ignores that a great deal of speech one may characterize as, for example, “inaction unintentionally perpetuating the problem of health care [sic] inequity,” is nonetheless entitled to First Amendment protection.
Relatedly, the regulation is unconstitutionally vague because it “fails to give adequate notice to people of ordinary intelligence concerning the conduct it proscribes” or “invites arbitrary and discriminatory enforcement.” The policy’s failure to properly define key terms to reach only an objective, narrow range of unprotected speech gives university administrators unfettered discretion to punish a wide range of faculty speech on the basis that it fails to sufficiently promote the university’s vision of “health care [sic] equity.”
FIRE is calling on IUSM to clarify that the pledge is optional for faculty, who should not have to pass an ideological litmus test to proceed with the training module, or with their pedagogical instruction or professional development. As it stands now, whether the pledge is required remains unclear. And the university has had plenty of time to respond.
This is the second time FIRE has flagged IUSM’s disregard for the First Amendment rights of its faculty members. We posted an update last July about the university’s then-newly adopted requirement that faculty seeking tenure and promotion embrace and advance the university’s sanctioned definition of diversity, equity, and inclusion. We wrote the university urging it to judge its faculty based on the quality of their work, not their allegiance to university-approved ideological tenets. The university ignored that letter, too.
IUSM is not alone in its emphasis on DEI statements in its hiring and promotion decisions. And if the university is, indeed, requiring faculty to sign an honor pledge, that’s hugely concerning. The university can advocate for its values, but it cannot punish faculty who dissent. One thing is for sure, though: FIRE will stay vigilant in confronting universities that flout the First Amendment for the sake of their approved causes.
FIRE defends the rights of students and faculty members — no matter their views — at public and private universities and colleges in the United States. If you are a student or a faculty member facing investigation or punishment for your speech, submit your case to FIRE today. If you’re a faculty member at a public college or university, call the Faculty Legal Defense Fund 24-hour hotline at 254-500-FLDF (3533). If you’re a college journalist facing censorship or a media law question, call the Student Press Freedom Initiative 24-hour hotline at 717-734-SPFI (7734).
- Academic Freedom
- Faculty Rights
- Indiana University - Purdue University Indianapolis
- Indiana University School of Medicine: Faculty Required to Submit Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Statements for Promotion and Tenure
- Indiana University School of Medicine: Faculty Required to Sign Honor Code During Bias Training