After FIRE wrote Troy University about a leaked email exchange between Troy trustees that suggested interference with faculty’s academic freedom, the university assured us it “supports professors’ research without influence or consideration of political factors.”
In a previous blog post, FIRE reported that Alabama politicians and large businesses were displeased with Middle Tennessee State University economics professor — and previous Troy professor — Dan Smith for criticizing Alabama’s economic incentive programs at a panel held at Troy’s Manuel Johnson Center for Political Economy. Troy trustees were frustrated with the negative spotlight Smith’s criticism focused on Troy and took to email to discuss.
While FIRE appreciates Troy affirming its commitment to academic freedom in the face of political public pressure, we will be keeping a watchful eye.
In a March 15 thread, Troy Chancellor Jack Hawkins, Jr. said that “uncontrolled freedom of speech or academic freedom” cannot be allowed at the Johnson Center, and that he was going to meet with administrators “to discuss the Center and ‘how’ it prioritizes and vets topics which are appropriate for MJC staff to pursue.”
But it seems he forgot the public university has a First Amendment obligation to respect academic freedom.
Any attempt to “control” legitimate faculty research would be a clear violation of this obligation — regardless of whether some might disagree with a thesis or because it might make the university look bad. FIRE urged Troy to confirm it does not — and will not — impose viewpoint restrictions on faculty research. And to the extent any faculty have already been directed to vet their research, we urged Troy to remove those mandates.
On April 27, Troy representatives assured FIRE the university “supports the pursuit of ideas that expand knowledge and understanding of our world and society. Accordingly, academic freedom is a central pillar of Troy University’s mission . . . Troy University supports professors’ research without influence or consideration of political factors.”
FIRE has yet to hear from any MJC staff — or any other faculty members — that their research has been rejected or redirected for political or viewpoint-discriminatory reasons. While FIRE appreciates Troy affirming its commitment to academic freedom in the face of political public pressure, we will be keeping a watchful eye. Should we become aware the university is meddling in a faculty member’s research, Troy can expect to hear from us again.
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).
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