Update: The deadline to submit proposals for FIRE’s conference has been extended to April 14.
Since our founding in 1999, university faculty members have been core constituents of FIRE, and several of our most notable cases from throughout the years involve our defense of faculty rights. While we’ve hosted student conferences for nearly a decade, we haven’t yet had the opportunity to draw faculty members from around the country together in a similar fashion.
That changes this year. FIRE is excited to announce our first-ever conference for college and university faculty, focusing on the topic of American academic freedom, and we invite faculty of all disciplines to submit proposals for presentation and discussion. Our conference is part of FIRE’s Speech, Outreach, Advocacy, and Research (SOAR) project, supported by the John Templeton Foundation. FIRE is pleased to partner with University of North Texas professor George Yancey in coordinating and presenting our conference.
The announcement of our conference comes at an interesting moment for academic freedom, as it faces challenges that have resulted from both recent cultural movements and changes in the nature and structure of modern universities that have been decades in the making. Tenure-track jobs have become increasingly rare, and outside the academy tenure is frequently viewed with skepticism. (In recent weeks, lawmakers in Missouri and Iowa have proposed abolishing tenure in public colleges and universities.) Universities have increasingly come to rely on contingent faculty members with no prospect of tenure, who in practice have very weak academic freedom protections because of the ease with which they can be terminated or simply not “renewed.”
Meanwhile, universities have become larger and more corporate in nature, with burgeoning administrative ranks whose growth has outpaced those of tenured faculty, with implications for their role in university governance. Add to that the more recent calls for the use of trigger warnings and the policing of microaggressions, debates over academic boycotts, and the targeting of faculty with politically motivated public records requests. Even before you get to the question of what Donald Trump’s presidency might mean for higher education, it seems clear that we’re at an inflection point.
We hope that our conference will ignite debate (and disagreement!) among our attendees as we discuss these and other challenges, their sources, and their potential solutions. To that end, each proposal that is selected for presentation will be accompanied by a panel discussion in which invited participants will give brief responses, followed by a discussion among all conference attendees.
Faculty whose proposals are selected will receive an honorarium of $3,000 for their completed papers and presentations, in addition to compensation for travel to and lodging at the conference. The conference is currently scheduled to take place from October 5–7, 2017, at a soon-to-be-determined location in the Dallas-Forth Worth area. The deadline to submit proposals is March 31, 2017, and selected presenters will be notified by May 1.
Faculty members interested in applying to present at the conference can review our call for proposals at thefire.org/resources/free-speech-resources-for-faculty/faculty-conference-2017. We will keep this site regularly updated with additional information, including the confirmation of the venue. More information for those interested in attending the conference will be available in the early spring, and we encourage interested faculty to email us at email@example.com with any questions.
Again, we encourage faculty of all disciplines to apply to present at our conference, and we look forward to seeing what debates are in store for us!