To the Editor:
Current debates around academic freedom, most recently covered by Amna Khalid and Jeffrey Aaron Snyder (“DEI Goals Are Worthy. Campus DEI Bureaucracies Fail Them,” The Chronicle Review, March 15) and Stacy Hawkins “Sometimes Diversity Trumps Academic Freedom” (The Chronicle Review, February 28) assume a collision course with diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI). This reveals a fundamental misunderstanding. Academic freedom isn’t unbridled autonomy, and a commitment to DEI doesn’t mandate thinking. Both sides are adopting a naturalistic fallacy, which takes as a given the simplistic (and let’s face it, ideological) ways in which these principles can be applied.
The purpose of academic freedom is for faculty to teach and conduct research based on their professional expertise and for students to learn freely—advancing the open exchange of ideas in a democratic society. This means that academic freedom is a right with attendant responsibilities, not simply an entitlement. The right to express oneself as professor or student cannot be a defense for engaging in conduct that violates codes of ethics (including intellectual honesty), college policies (for example linked to reaccreditation) or laws (such as those prohibiting discrimination or harassment).
A commitment to DEI principles, in turn, is intended to promote practices that enhance human equality, not to mandate thinking. DEI principles are about practicing self-awareness, representation, and community across real-world differences. When viewed in this manner, there should be no inherent conflict between academic freedom and a commitment to DEI, although moments of controversy will certainly be messy and require doubling down on engagement and conversation across our divides. There is no other way to practice integrity in today’s Academy, which should be a model for public life.
Dean of Faculty, Vice President for Academic Affairs, and Professor of Political Science