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Alumni pop up to promote free speech on campus

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As the debate about academic freedom, “cultural cancellation” and campus changes intensifies, alumni groups are emerging at universities in many states to tackle the issue of free speech.

The Alumni Free Speech Alliance, announced last fall, includes more than 12 groups, including Harvard University, Bucknell University, Yale University, Cornell University, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Wofford University, and Davidson College. .. Organizers say hundreds of people from schools across the country have contacted them, all graduates they ask the questions they say they haven’t asked their traditional reunions.

Edward Inling, president of the alliance and one of the founders of the Princetons for Freedom of Speech, said that in order to participate, the group focused on freedom of speech, academic freedom and diversity of perspectives. He said it must be retained as a mission. “I feel like many universities are lost,” Yingling said. “There is little diversity of thinking.”

Alumni groups vary in size, personality, and sophistication. Some have clearly conservative roots, even if we try to ensure that all perspectives are expressed. One of the first to organize, Generals Redoubt, has fought to preserve the tradition of Washington and Lee University in Lexington, Virginia. And the University of Virginia.

Generals Redoubt President Tom Rideout said maintaining the legacy of General Robert E. Lee at school is one of the group’s priorities, but freedom of speech “as we progress.” It’s a big ongoing problem that will spend more and more time. ” “

Drewley Sackett, a spokeswoman for Washington and Lee, said the graduates have formed several groups of interest in recent years, while there is an official advisory board on behalf of the graduates. Mr. Sackett said he was fortunate to have his alumni involved and “welcomes a civil and productive dialogue on issues affecting the campus.”

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Other schools focus on whether faculty and students are free to talk and work on ideas across the political spectrum, or whether some topics are so charged that they cannot even be discussed. ..

The founders of the group claim that only graduates have the leading numbers and influence in the fight for free speech at the university. It threatens central research and debate in academia.

Critics say that some groups speak very little on campus and use the issue of free speech to curb long-deferred changes, especially on racial and identity issues.

Brandon Hasbrook, an associate professor in Washington and Lee, argued that the school should be renamed, saying that conservative students were discussing things in class and weren’t silenced by classmates and faculty. rice field.

“I see false stories being created, accepted, and organized,” he said. “Basically, we need to question the story itself.”

U-Va. Now, the Jefferson Council, the chairman of such an alumni group, was recently appointed by Virginia Governor Glenn Youngkin (R) to join the University Visitors Committee, greatly amplifying the group’s voice and influence. Did. “The pendulum,” said Bart Ellis, the new board appointed and entrepreneur, “looking back.”

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A few The alumni group ignited the flash point on campus, with speakers and professors rebelling against their opinions. The Princetons for Freedom of Speech spoke frankly in opposition to the dismissal of the professor for not cooperating in investigating sexual misconduct. His supporters say it was a retaliation for his remarks.

Some groups pointed to a survey of students and faculty members who showed self-censorship and other concerns. According to a survey released earlier this year by the Knight Foundation and Ipsos, the majority of college students believe that campus climate impedes freedom of speech. In 2016, a survey found that nearly three-quarters of students felt that their right to free speech was safe, but now less than half.

National Alliance leaders say they want to create something stronger and longer lasting than a typical alumni lettering campaign or a petition that burns and disappears quickly. National freedom of speech advocates such as the Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression, the Academic Freedom Alliance, and the Heterodox Academy offer several individual programs such as advice, support, coordination, and sponsored debates. I am.

It’s too early to know how effective those efforts are. However, while many alumni groups have taken the first step towards establishing a nonprofit in recent months, some groups are now hiring employees, paying surveys, and scrutinizing university decisions. We are in the process of sending regular newsletters and calling on educational institutions to hire them. Chicago Principles, guidelines written by the University of Chicago leaders to emphasize the school’s commitment to unlimited debate since it was adopted by many other universities. Some, like Cornell University’s Freedom of Speech Alliance, welcome faculty and students. Bucknell’s Open Discourse Coalition provides grants to students and faculty.

At the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, the MIT FreeSpeech Alliance was formed last fall after Dorian Abbot of the University of Chicago stopped giving a prestigious public talk in response to a Newsweek co-authored opinion piece on diversity, equity, and inclusion efforts. it was done. University campus.

MIT’s Provost at the time explained to faculty that the annual event was intended as an outreach featuring scientists and role models, and Abbott was asked to speak again to campus faculty and students. Abbott spoke about planetary science at MIT in May.

However, the controversy quickly became a national issue, spurring graduates such as Jim Rutt, a former CEO and former chairman of the Santa Fe Institute, to act. Rutt, who described himself as politically progressive and resolutely bipartisan with the MIT Freedom of Speech Alliance, said some MIT faculty members were increasingly restricted in their voices on campus. When he learned that, he said he was shocked and angry. “Something was fundamentally wrong,” he said.

The group recently received a two-year $ 500,000 grant from the Stanton Foundation and has hired a managing director in hopes of working with a group of students to attract speakers. They have launched a membership drive and donor-advised fund that channels donations to free speech programs that apply for grants.

The organization will hold a debate on campus this fall on whether practices and policies of diversity, equity and inclusiveness conflict with the principles of benefits, equity and equality. They have established a kind of free speech hotline that allows people to report allegations of violations and seek help. “This will show people that there are supporters for free speech,” Rutt said. “And now it’s safe to raise your head.”

Kimberly Allen, a MIT spokeswoman, said the Alumni Association is aware of the group and “has been working with sincerity and respect since its inception.” She said the university thanked each of its approximately 145,000 alumni and respected that “the entire group has different views on a number of topics.”

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In some schools, authorities have personally denied the group, saying older graduates have not been contacted. However, many groups say they are making sure they are open to everyone and are working to diversify their ranks. Established intellectual compatibility and intolerance.

“We really emphasize that we are not political,” said George Curzon, the leader of the newly formed Harvard Freedom of Speech. “We are neither conservative nor liberal. All sides are welcome to the work of free speech.”

These problems cause tension everywhere, but especially with U-Va. Since the Unite the Right Rally in Charlottesville in 2017, torch-bearing militants have arrived on campus. U-Va’s English Associate Professor, Lisa Woolfork, has some graduates talking about these lofty ideals: academic freedom, free speech, free speech, and freedom of expression. “But some of their fights feel quite far from it.”

Ellis, chairman of the Jefferson Council, said he was shocked by the sign that cursed the University of Virginia. The University of Virginia posted a student on the door to one of the school’s historic lawn rooms nearly two years ago. After trying to talk to the student and dropping the sign with a utility knife if she wasn’t at home, he and the other graduates later saved part of the school’s history and the issue of free speech. Formed a council to fight for.

Ellis said the Jefferson Council upheld the student’s right to say or post something, rather than the lawn that Thomas Jefferson designed as part of the U-Va. It is designated as a World Heritage Site. But not all are convinced. “What they actually seem to protect is a version of the right-wing ideology that is assembled as free speech and, when not neutral, as neutral,” Woolfolk said.

“If there’s one thing that all universities in the world have in common, it’s the graduates who believe that the school started to go downhill after graduation,” U-Va said. Larry Sabato, a professor of political science in Japan, wrote by email. But he said he believes the facts as the acclaimed universities continue to attract “diversified and talented students from all over the world” and continue to lead important issues through education and research. .. After spending more than 50 years at U-Va. In the community, he said, “I’m incredibly proud of the progress we’ve made in the meantime and excited about what the future holds.”

U-Va. Spokesman Brian Koy said the school has been working on a number of initiatives in recent years to address the issues of freedom of speech and intellectual diversity. U-Va. President James Ryan is a “sympathetic speaker and generous listener,” an idea unfamiliar to the various people on campus, a place that is significantly different from when only white men were allowed. Talking and writing about the need to work. I will study there.

U-Va. The Visitors Committee adopted a statement on freedom of speech and free research last summer, emphasizing that “all views, beliefs and perspectives are clearly expressed and deserved to be heard without interference.” .. This is the heart of the school’s mission.

However, Ellis and others are aware of the problem and some views are unwelcome or canceled. When the Jefferson Council praised Jefferson and tried to place an ad in the alumni journal, noting that the scholarship rejected the allegation that he had a child with Sally Hemings, a woman enslaved by Jefferson. The ad was rejected. The alumni association is separate from the university and has a policy of banning “overly political or controversial” advertising, Koi said.

According to Ellis, the council has more than 700 members. U-Va. There are about 250,000 alumni. Ellis blames, yells, and yells at people because there are groups that think something will happen in public, forcing them to leave rather than claim their position. He said he was drowning.

The Jefferson Council, like former Vice President Mike Pence, has partnered with a conservative student group, Young Americans for Freedom, to bring speakers to campus with donated funds this spring. I’m bringing you.

“There are many groups on campus who oppose us,” Ellis said. That’s why he believes the Jefferson Council needs to “get bigger and bigger and speak out for themselves.”

James Bacon, a spokesman for the Jefferson Council, said it would be difficult to bring about true cultural change. However, with the appointment of Ellis’ board of directors, he said: now, “We are getting their attention,” Ellis said.