The University of Oklahoma’s AAUP challenges FIRE’s free speech claims

The American Association of University Teachers and the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education are both organizations with stated commitments to academic freedom and free speech.

But the University of Oklahoma’s AAUP chapter says FIRE got it wrong in its description of a program in Oklahoma where faculty members trained other faculty members on how to put students minorities at ease and excel in the classroom. FIRE says speakers on the program have shown insensitivity to academic freedom and freedom of speech.

Anti-racist rhetoric and pedagogies was one of nine professional development offerings for professors who teach composition in first grade in Oklahoma. Other sessions focused on topics such as scoring and teaching during the COVID-19 pandemic. No faculty member or graduate student was required to attend any of the sessions.

“Do you think Black Lives Matter shouldn’t engage in property destruction? We’ll have to ‘readjust’ your thinking,” says a description of the program on the FIRE website. “If you are a student at the University of Oklahoma, congratulations! Your instructor may have already thought for you. But beware: deviating too much from an instructor’s personal opinions can cost you dearly. -The Racist Rhetoric and Pedagogy Workshop acquired by FIRE is sounding the alarm on the state of free speech and freedom of conscience at Oklahoma’s flagship university. “

FIRE’s description says: “One of the workshop facilitators, Kelli Pyron Alvarez, explained in the recording how undergraduates in one of her Introductory English classes are” a little more emboldened to be racist. “To combat this, she bans huge tapes of classroom speech, including” derogatory remarks, criticism and hate speech, “as well as” ideas or sources of supremacy. blanche ”, unless the student uses these sources to dismantle racism.”

The post was written by Daniel Burnett, FIRE Communications Director, and Sabrina Conza, FIRE Program Analyst. It includes a link to the full FIRE recording obtained from the program.

Belinda Higgs Hyppolite, of the University of Oklahoma, vice president for diversity, equity and inclusion, responded to the article with a note that read, “The University of Oklahoma values ​​without equivocates freedom of expression and diversity from all points of view… tolerates censorship of its students. “

She added that the workshop topics reflect instructors’ interests in “the areas of teaching that are difficult.”

But the AAUP at OU went further.

He issued a statement that said, in part, “As FIRE well knows, the tradition of academic freedom embodies a different understanding of speech in the classroom than that captured by the general invocations of the First Amendment. All opinions are they also valid in a university classroom? “

The AAUP continued, “Homework is carefully designed to invite students to write about issues that interest them. The purpose of homework is to help students understand how to speak and write to those who think differently from them. – themselves – to explore multiple sides of a problem and to investigate how stakeholders of that problem are engaged in it. ALL students should explore a problem from multiple angles, whether their initial position is progressive or conservative. This work builds capacity students to be engaged citizens. “

The association concluded its statement by saying, “The OU AAUP strongly condemns FIRE’s efforts to intimidate these faculty members.

Julie Ann Ward, assistant professor of 20th and 21st century Latin American literature in Oklahoma, said the faculty members who presented at the training session were not in the process of being tenured and the AAUP felt it was important to support them, and provide “full support” to academic workers.

She said it was “absurd to say” that Oklahoma students are censored, or that the program would encourage censorship of any kind.

Burnett supported FIRE’s criticism of the training.

“The characterization of the training by the OU AAUP is not correct, and we invite anyone with questions to watch the full video and decide for themselves,” he said via email. “FIRE has been reporting threats to student rights in the same way for over two decades, and an OU training that requires teachers to conduct their lessons in the ways depicted in the video is an obvious threat to student rights. “

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