Indiana University Board of Trustees Faces Criticism for Rushed Free Speech Policy Changes

Staff report

Bloomington, IN – July 7, 2024 – Faculty across Indiana University’s campuses have united in protest against the Board of Trustees’ (BOT) expedited push for new regulations on free speech. The proposed “expressive activity” policy, released on June 21, allows only three weeks for public comment and is set to be enacted by August 1, prompting calls for a more deliberate and inclusive process.

Last semester, IU President Pamela Whitten faced backlash for involving the Indiana State Police during protests in Dunn Meadow, resulting in the arrest of 57 students and faculty members. The incident has fueled current concerns about the BOT’s approach to policy changes.

Leaders of the American Association of University Professors (AAUP) chapters at IU have criticized the BOT for bypassing the university’s tradition of transparent shared governance. The Executive Committees of several AAUP campus chapters issued a unified statement condemning the BOT’s haste.

Dr. Moira Marsh, President of the Indiana Conference of the AAUP, stated, “IU has well-established systems for governing itself that have worked well for decades. The Trustees are bypassing shared governance, and I fear this unreasonable and unnecessary haste will lead to trouble.”

Dr. Jake Mattox, President of the IU South Bend AAUP chapter, echoed these sentiments, pointing to the administration’s recent history of secretive policy changes. “The BOT’s approach illustrates a disturbing lack of understanding of how a healthy public university should function,” Mattox said.

Dr. Alisa Clapp-Itnyre, President of the IU East AAUP chapter, expressed personal concern as a mother of an IU Bloomington student involved in the April protests. “The new policy opens too many possibilities of students innocently protesting but missing a new rule that could get them arrested or treated similarly in the future,” she said. “We need time to think through—and get student input—on any new policy which will affect them.”

Dr. Laverne Nishihara of IU East warned that the draft policy could attract negative national media attention, similar to the coverage following the Dunn Meadow protests. “It is imperative to allow more time to construct a policy that upholds academic freedom and free speech rights,” she urged.

Bob Eno, past president of the IU Bloomington AAUP chapter, criticized the draft policy as an attempt to codify recent administrative policy violations. “Existing IU policy on expressive activities is clear and effective. The administration has made no case for replacing the current policy,” Eno asserted.

In their formal statement, the Executive Committees of the AAUP chapters in Bloomington, Richmond, and South Bend called on the BOT to withdraw the demand for feedback within three weeks. They argued that such a brief period is insufficient for careful deliberation, especially during the summer when faculty and students are dispersed.

“Expressive activity lies at the core of the practice of academic freedom central to American university culture and IU tradition,” the statement read. “No policy adopted under the rushed, opaque, and arbitrary procedure the General Counsel proposes will be credible.”

The AAUP chapters urged that consideration of the new policy be extended through the fall term to allow for proper public deliberations by established governance bodies across all IU campuses. They also recommended that the Board consult with faculty experts in First Amendment law from IU’s Maurer and McKinney Schools.

As the August 1 deadline approaches, the call for a more inclusive and transparent process grows louder, highlighting the tension between the BOT and the university community over the future of free speech at Indiana University.

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