FIRE is pleased to announce that University of Delaware professor and FIRE friend Jan Blits will receive the Jeane Jordan Kirkpatrick Academic Freedom Award tonight at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) from Michael Grebe of the Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation. The $10,000 award is given annually to a person who has been outstanding in upholding academic freedom and the ability to speak freely at America's colleges and universities. In 2009, Professor Blits received FIRE's own Prometheus Award for his efforts in ending the University of Delaware's appalling political indoctrination program.
Blits, along with fellow University of Delaware professor Linda Gottfredson (co-recipient of FIRE's Prometheus Award), was instrumental in ending the University of Delaware's Residence Life program, which sought to indoctrinate every student in its dorms with a heavily politicized definition of "sustainability." Aspects of the program notoriously included defining "racist" as a term that applies "to all white people," as well as intrusive—and frankly creepy—questions to students from their dormitory resident assistants like "when did you discover your sexual identity?" Students who resisted these attemps at indoctrination, such as one who answered the intrusive question about her sexual identity with "none of your damn business," were written up in "incident reports" and reported to Residence Life authorities. These details and more are available in the most popular FIRE video ever, with more than 100,000 hits on YouTube: Think What We Think... Or Else: Thought Control on the American Campus.
As bad as it was to have this program in place at Delaware, it could have been worse. Until Blits and Gottfredson brought the program to the attention of FIRE and joined us in working to end it, the program was poised to go national. As detailed in FIRE Vice President of Programs Adam Kissel's award-winning article in The Lantern, FIRE's academic journal, the University of Delaware was holding annual "Residential Curriculum Institutes" to spread its peculiar gospel of "sustainability." Officials at more than 35 schools from across the United States and Canada attended the first such conference in 2007. And Residence Life officials who conceived of and designed the program, most prominently including Director Kathleen Kerr, were taking to the pages of national academic magazines to advocate widspread adoption of such initiatives.
FIRE often says that colleges cannot defend in public what they do in private—a maxim that was manifestly borne out in the case of Delaware, which axed its program only two days after FIRE exposed it to public scrutiny. Had this not happened when it did, nobody knows how widespread the program might have become on America's college campuses, and how much harder it might have been to roll back its coercive excesses. Professor Blits was an indispensable part of the effort to stop this program of campus indoctrination, and is a worthy recipient of the Kirkpatrick Award.
A link to Blits' Kirkpatrick Award speech is available here. Free registration is required.