The San Diego State University faculty voted Tuesday to abolish a rule requiring them to include in their syllabi a “land acknowledgment” recognizing the history and culture of the Indigenous Kumeyaay people, the San Diego Union-Tribune reported.
Tuesday’s vote, held during a Zoom meeting of the University Senate, was tight: 35 members opposed ending the requirement, 40 supported the measure and seven abstained.
“The Senate voted to make this an option instead of a requirement in a very close vote,” said Adisa Alkebulan, chair of SDSU’s Department of Africana Studies.
While many universities encourage the inclusion of land acknowledgments in syllabi and at public meetings, few require them. Such statements have come under fire elsewhere, criticized by faculty, Native Americans and civil rights organizations.
The issue came to light at SDSU after aggrieved faculty members contacted the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, which wrote a letter to the university in January arguing that the land acknowledgment requirement violated First Amendment rights.
It “imposes an institutional orthodoxy” on faculty “that contravenes the university’s strong commitment to freedom of speech,” the letter read. “We urge SDSU to uphold its First Amendment obligations and promise of freedom to express differing perspectives by eliminating this mandate.”
At Tuesday’s meeting, the SDSU chair of tribal relations read a statement by Kumeyaay tribe member Michael Miskwish, who helped draft the original land acknowledgment, according to the Union-Tribune. It read in part:
“In helping to draft the land acknowledgement I sought to highlight the elements of our common humanity that I found most evident. It was presented as a gift, and, as such should only be willingly accepted … I would like to see the statement continue in the syllabus as a clear statement from the University Senate so that no individual feels they are being coerced to espouse a view they don’t agree with. However, I would rather see no land acknowledgement in the syllabus if the alternative is discord, divisiveness and resentment.”