ACLS Statement Regarding the Effort to Undermine Academic Freedom in Florida House Bill 999

The Effort to Undermine Academic Freedom in Florida House Bill 999

Originally Published: March 3, 2023

What is academic freedom? In the American context, it means: 

— Faculty and students at public universities are free to investigate, study, and teach without fear of government censorship.

— The state, in the person of elected politicians, administrators, and political appointees, does not determine hiring, evaluation, or curriculum content. 

— Faculty determine the curriculum, hire faculty, and evaluate the performance of students and faculty. 

The new bill proposed in the Florida legislature (HB 999) is a frontal attack on these principles. If it passes, it ends academic freedom in the state’s public colleges and universities, with dire consequences for their teaching, research, and financial well-being.

The American Council of Learned Societies and the signatories below protest this proposed legislation and call on citizens to recognize the danger it poses to higher education in this country. 

The promise of academic freedom has played a key role in the growth and strength of higher education in the United States. Thanks to the protection of the free discovery and exchange of knowledge and of faculty decision-making, American colleges and universities have long been the envy of the world. These institutions are valued for the basic and applied research that they conduct; for their role as anchors of industry and of local communities; for providing equitable access to opportunity, increasing over time, for those who have not had such access, including women, people of color, and first-generation college students; and for their capacity to prepare students to be thinking and feeling people in a world larger than their hometowns and states.

The bill also threatens to take higher education in Florida several steps backward in terms of access and quality. In a country where nearly half of all undergraduates receive federal financial aid, Florida’s loss of accreditation and of federal dollars would risk preventing thousands of students from going to college. The bill states that “banned” coursework and activities advancing diversity and equity cannot be offered even with independent funding: this bodes ill for fellowships and grants for faculty and graduate students.

Academic freedom means freedom of thought, not the state-mandated production of histories edited to suit one party’s agenda in the current culture wars.  

Events in the US and around the world lead us to expect that threats to academic freedom will increase in frequency. While ACLS cannot respond to every development on this front, we stand firm on the principles expressed here, and we commit to continue working in collaboration with others on constructive advocacy for academic freedom and faculty governance.  

*Regarding the “hiring” of faculty in the above description of academic freedom, ACLS recognizes the role of faculty in making recommendations for hiring, while the hiring contract is between the institution and the individual.

Learned Societies and Higher Education Institutions (as of March 9, 2023)

American Academy of Religion
American Anthropological Association
American Association for Italian Studies
American Folklore Society
American Historical Association
American Musicological Society
American Philosophical Association
American Political Science Association
American Society for Environmental History
American Sociological Association
Association for Slavic, East European, and Eurasian Studies
Association for the Study of African American Life and History
Association of University Presses
College Art Association
German Studies Association
Latin American Studies Association
Linguistic Society of America
Medieval Academy of America
Middle East Studies Association
Modern Language Association
National Council of Teachers of English
National Council on Public History
National Women’s Studies Association
Organization of American Historians
Rhetoric Society of America
Sixteenth Century Society & Conference
Society for Ethnomusicology
Society for Music Theory
Society for the History of Technology
Society of Biblical Literature
World History Association

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