Lariat Letter: Academic freedom should live on

By Dr. Lynn Tatum | BIC Senior Lecturer

Sometimes taking an incorrect position and then saying “I was wrong,” takes more courage than never taking a position at all. I was disappointed to see The Lariat’s article on Dr. Crenshaw last Monday. But I was proud to see the Lariat’s unequivocal statement of apology on Thursday. I was doubly proud to see that The Lariat posted the correction without any demand for an apology from the Baylor Administration. A free and independent press is vital to our nation. It is also vital to a healthy university.

Let me be clear on one point. I do not defend Dr. Crenshaw’s views on transgender rights; I disagree with them strongly. I believe, for example that Gamma Alpha Upsilon should be chartered at Baylor. I have said so repeatedly, and I have said so publicly.

I have communicated that to the members of Gamma Alpha Upsilon. I have communicated that to President Livingstone; and I have personally communicated that to the chair of Baylor’s Board of Regents, Mark Rountree. And I am making my support of Gamma Alpha Upsilon known here in the public pages of The Lariat. The university has, at least thus far, chosen to take a position contrary to my own view.

But, and this is the crucial point, I have been able to make my case without any fear whatsoever, that President Livingstone would investigate me, or Regent Chair Rountree would punish me, or that Provost Brickhouse would retaliate against me, for my “contrarian” views. And that, fellow faculty members and students, is what a great university is all about.

I have been a strong advocate for Academic Freedom for all of my thirty plus years at Baylor. For many years, I have been the Texas State Chair for Academic Freedom with the American Association of University Professors [AAUP]. Academic Freedom, the ability to talk about, write about, teach about contentious and controversial issues facing our society, is the very lifeblood of any great university. All of us must be able to contend about important ideas without fear of being unfairly labelled or without fear of being “investigated” by the university.

As I appreciated the Lariat’s statement of apology, I was equally appreciative of Provost Brickhouse’s unequivocal statement that Baylor would not investigate a professor over a tweet that did not violate Baylor policies. Since 1915, the AAUP has rightly advocated that what a professor says on public policy and social issues outside the university (i.e. extra-mural speech) is also a vital component of Academic Freedom.

In recent months several lesser Texas schools have disciplined or investigated professors for extra-mural speech. And those universities are poorer for it. In some of those schools, the “investigations” were prompted by complaints from liberal students that the professor was too “conservative”; more often, the complaints have been from conservative students that the professor was too “liberal”.

These investigations are equal opportunity destroyers. Inquisitions, punishments, and coercive sanctions are inimical to the free, contentious, and yes, even painful, debates that move our society. our community and our university forward. We can be proud that Baylor has maintained the highest standard of Academic Freedom.

So, Dr. Crenshaw, I disagree with your views. But I defend your right to articulate them. Perhaps, when this COVID crisis is over, we can meet and discuss them, debate them, examine our respective underlying principles — that, after all, is what a university is about. Perhaps we can do so in public. Imagine that, a civil, respectful discussion of an important but contentious religious and public policy issue. Now that’s a university!