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More than 150 bills designed to “undermine academic freedom and university autonomy” were introduced in 35 state legislatures across the country between 2021 and 2023, according to a new white paper released by the American Association of University Professors (AAUP) on Wednesday.

Twenty-one of those bills were signed into law.

The report, titled Manufacturing Backlash: Right-Wing Think Tanks and Legislative Attacks on Higher Education, was conducted by the AAUP’s Center for the Defense of Academic Freedom, which first launched in February. It details the origin, evolution and effects of what the center describes as a campaign of “well-funded and widespread” legislative attacks on higher education through academic gag orders, DEI bans and anti-tenure bills. The report highlights 11 right-wing think tanks that it says have played a significant role in fomenting public distaste for higher education.

“Such legislation is often understood as an effect of a highly polarized political climate in the United States,” AAUP leaders said in a press release. “The new white paper demonstrates, however, that this legislation is largely the outgrowth of a coordinated campaign to generate a culture-war backlash against educators and academic institutions.”

“As we have seen this year with Congressional hearings into the operations of colleges and universities, these legislative attacks are now spreading to the federal level,” the release said.

The paper argues that the attack on higher ed can be traced back to September 2020, when right-wing pundits criticized higher education institutions for allegedly stoking the Black Lives Matter protests. It concludes that after four years of framing higher education as a system that makes students “woke,” right-wing organizations have succeeded in chilling faculty speech and empowering governing boards to prioritize conservative viewpoints in curricula and hiring.