Faculty Senate expresses importance of academic freedom in resolution

The Baylor Faculty Senate passed a resolution in support of academic freedom to teach critical race theory (CRT). Photo courtesy of Baylor Faculty Senate

By Matt Kyle | Staff Writer

The Baylor Faculty Senate passed a resolution in support of academic freedom for faculty at the University of Texas (UT) and other public universities to teach critical race theory (CRT).

The March 15 resolution comes in the wake of comments from Texas Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, who proposed introducing legislation that would revoke tenure from university professors who teach CRT.

Last year, Texas passed a bill banning the teaching of CRT in public K-12 schools. In February, the UT Faculty Senate passed a resolution affirming academic freedom for faculty to teach CRT and gender justice, which drew the comments from Patrick.

“I will not stand by and let looney Marxist UT professors poison the minds of young students with Critical Race Theory. We banned it in publicly funded K-12 and we will ban it in publicly funded higher ed,” Patrick said in a Tweet.

Dr. Coretta Pittman, an associate professor of English and chair of the Faculty Senate, said her colleagues were concerned by Patrick’s comments about banning the teaching of CRT and revoking tenure from faculty who teach CRT.

CRT is a legal theory that examines how racism is embedded in American laws and policies and how systemic racism creates disparities in how African Americans are treated. Critics of CRT claim the theory is racist and teaches that America is inherently racist as a nation, with Patrick saying CRT teaches “that if you are white, you were born a racist.”

Pittman said she feels the media and legislators misunderstand what CRT teaches and should speak with experts instead of drawing their own conclusions.

“Ideas around critical race theory have been wrong since the conversation started,” Pittman said. “I don’t know if anybody ever even calls the experts who created that theory. What I’m hearing in the media is really questions about teaching American history. Some of that has to do with race, and it makes some students or parents uncomfortable.”

As a private institution, Baylor would not be impacted by a potential state ban on teaching CRT, but Pittman said the Faculty Senate wanted to pass the resolution in order to support faculty at public universities to teach within their areas of expertise without interference from legislators.

“It’s important that those of us who have expertise in our fields are allowed to teach the material to our students without the interference of legislators, who are not experts in our fields, telling us how and what we ought to teach,” Pittman said. “We’re not trying to impose views onto students. We want to give them information and allow them to engage with that information. Sometimes, that information makes us uncomfortable, but I think a classroom is a safe space where we can have those conversations.”

Pittman said tenure protects faculty from being arbitrarily fired, and tenure being revoked means faculty could potentially be fired for teaching CRT.

Pittman said the resolution was intended to support academic freedom in general.

“Our concern as a Senate was that academic freedom means the right to teach what we teach, not just critical race theory, because we don’t want to make it a one-sided issue,” Pittman said. “We don’t want anybody to be impacted — the research they are writing, they are teaching — to be impacted by an outside entity telling them how and what to teach. So we mean academic freedom at large, not just critical race theory. Whatever you teach, we want you to be able to teach that.”

Lynn Tatum, a senior lecturer in the Baylor Interdisciplinary Core and Texas State Chair for Academic Freedom with the American Association of University Professors (AAUP), said via email a ban on what can and cannot be taught in the classroom should cause Americans to “recoil,” and a ban would be unconstitutional in public universities, as it violates the First Amendment.

“Every totalitarian government makes one of its first priorities controlling and dictating what can’t be said in universities and what can’t be read in books,” Tatum said. “The courts have recognized that academic freedom, the right to discuss contested concepts in our classes, is a special concern of the First Amendment’s guarantee of free speech. Jefferson, the founder of the University of Virginia, would be horrified that a government official wants to enact laws that would prohibit critiques of the government’s laws.”

Tatum said Texas banning the teaching of CRT would be ironic.

“Critical race theory, by definition, looks at how society’s structures and laws either perpetuate or impede racial equality,” Tatum said. “It is deeply ironic, even Orwellian, that Lt. Gov. Patrick wants to enact laws against the discussion of enacting certain laws.”