Two hundred professors launched the nonpartisan Academic Freedom Alliance this week to advocate for free speech in academe and, in some cases, legally defend professors’ academic freedom. Members include Cornel West, Robert P. George, Jeannie Suk Gersen, Jay Parini and Claire Potter. Membership is currently by invitation only, but the group plans on opening up to all academics.
“The AFA will provide strength in numbers for its members,” physicist Shivaji Sondhi of Princeton University said in a statement. “As membership continues to expand, administrators will have to think twice before baselessly censuring or terminating an employee.”
Lawyer Lisa Blatt, a member of the AFA’s Legal Advisory Council, said, “Academic freedom should be synonymous with higher education. Celebration of diversity of thought in academia would go a long way toward reducing polarization in society and perceived elitism in American colleges. If we can’t celebrate it, I guess we have to litigate it.”
Keith E. Whittington, William Nelson Cromwell Professor of Politics at Princeton, and chair of the AFA’s Academic Committee, in an interview said that the group’s makeup -- which spans the ideological spectrum -- is key to promoting free speech and academic freedom.
“There are people on university campuses as well as off university campuses who are not very committed to those principles and would like to see them significantly modified or changed,” Whittington said. “I think it's important that we be able to talk across some of these divides in order to convey the real sense that there's a sense of shared threat here. I do think it's true that those on the right and those on the left can easily imagine that they're the only ones being threatened.”