Academic Freedom Alliance Letter to Concordia University Wisconsin

The Academic Freedom Alliance released a public letter to Concordia University Wisconsin calling on the university to reaffirm the academic freedom of philosophy professor Gregory Schulz.

Schulz is active speaker and writer for public audiences on issues associated with the Lutheran Church, with which Concordia University Wisconsin is affiliated. Earlier this month, he published an online article, “Woke Dysphoria at Concordia,” critical of the rise of “wokeism” in American society, in the Lutheran Church, and at Concordia University Wisconsin and criticized in particular how the presidential search was conducted at the university. In apparent response to that public criticism of the university, Schulz was suspended and barred from entering the campus as the university contemplated the future of his employment there.

This controversy is all too familiar. Professor writes something for a public audience that is critical of university administrators, and university administrators respond by retaliating against the professor. From a traditional academic freedom perspective, this sort of thing is a cut-and-dried violation of the professor’s academic freedom under the American Association of University Professors standards. This sort of retaliation against “extramural speech” would also be a First Amendment problem for a public university.

The situation here is unusual, however, in that Concordia University Wisconsin is an explicitly religious institution. As such, it has not adopted traditional academic freedom protections and imposes some unusual restrictions on faculty speech. Even so, Concordia does have an academic freedom policy, and the university’s action in this case goes well beyond the bounds of what the university has reserved to itself when it comes to professorial speech.

Schulz is not challenging accepted Lutheran doctrine or subverting the mission of the university as a Christian institution. He is criticizing the policy decisions of the university administration and whether the administration’s actions should be regarded as consistent with Lutheran commitments properly understood. For the university to punish and suppress speech of that sort would be to dramatically limit professorial speech and call into question whether Concordia is capable of operating as a recognizable institution of higher education.

From the letter:

If robust criticism of university governance and policies is understood in itself to be a hindrance to the mission of the university or that participating in an ongoing public debate over the social commitments of the Lutheran church and Lutheran educational institutions is inconsistent with responsibilities of members of the faculty, then the university will have dramatically departed from ordinary understandings of the duties and responsibilities of professors in American universities, including American universities dedicated to a Christian mission. Of course, Professor Schulz has a responsibility not to “advocate a position contrary to that of the Synod,” but here he is participating in a public debate on what the implications of the Synod’s positions might be for the university. If faculty at the university must refrain from speaking in public about the future of the university and the fidelity of the university’s activities to the positions of the Synod, then the university’s commitment to the faculty to value their individuality and to engage in intellectual inquiry will be an empty promise.

Speech on such controversial social and political topics can sometimes be heated and disruptive, but universities should be places where scholars can in good faith engage in a robust debate over the principles and commitments of the community. If university leaders are willing to sanction faculty members for such speech, particularly when such speech involves criticisms of university administration, then free intellectual inquiry will be stifled rather than encouraged and the university will not be able to perform its charge  of supplying “the higher education services needed to accomplish the mission of the church.”

Read the whole thing here.

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