What Is Academic Freedom? Statement That Alarmed Professors at U. of Texas Sets Off Debate

Zlindsay Ellis:

Who gets academic freedom at the University of Texas at Austin? In a court filing on Monday, three professors at the state’s flagship argued that it depends on whom you ask — and in what context.
Lawyers representing UT-Austin as part of a campus-carry lawsuit argued in January that academic freedom, if it exists, belongs to the institution and not to individual professors. In response to recent inquiries, the flagship’s president, Gregory L. Fenves, affirmed to faculty leaders that the principle of freedom remained central to the campus.

But the debate continued this week. A lawyer representing the professors — Jennifer Glass, Lisa L. Moore, and Mia Carter — wrote on Monday that the two positions were “inconsistent.” A lawyer representing the state and the university fired back on Tuesday, saying academic freedom was a “workplace policy,” not a First Amendment right.

The statements suggest that there may be a line beyond which a pledge to support academic freedom doesn’t matter, some supporters of the professors say. The lawsuit was initially dismissed, and for its appeal, lawyers for the state are representing Fenves; Ken Paxton, attorney general of Texas; and the UT regents.

Renea Hicks, a lawyer for the faculty members, said if Fenves disagrees with the brief, he must tell UT’s legal team to change their tune. The president’s letter doesn’t offer much protection, he said.