Open Letter on Academic Freedom to Teach about Race and Gender Justice

University and College Faculty

As educators, we know that the proliferation of “divisive concepts” bills enacted in eleven states and introduced in over a dozen more must be condemned in the strongest of terms. As previously articulated by the American Association of University Professors, the American Historical Association, the Association of American Colleges and Universities, and PEN America in their June 16, 2021 joint letter signed on by over 149 additional organizations, this repressive legislation is nothing more than “an infringement on the right of faculty to teach and students to learn.” We cannot allow partisan politicians to dictate what can and cannot be taught in our classrooms over the professional judgment of college and university faculty.

We write now to urge those in higher education to take the next step in voicing our strongest opposition to these attempts to censor classroom discussions of structural racism, sexism, and inequalities that permeate our society. We must push back against these insidious censorship bills by calling upon our institutions of higher learning to respect and support open and candid dialogue about our shared history and present-day conditions. We must also work in solidarity with K-12 teachers who are on the front-line of attack in states where such legislation has passed, and who are subjected to harassment, firing, and license decertification, even for those suspected of teaching “divisive concepts.” We must support K-12 teachers organizing against these regressive bills, like Black Lives Matter at School and those who have pledged to #TeachTruth.

As faculty facilitating classroom conversations, we are well aware that the term “divisive” is impossibly vague, indeterminate, and highly subjective. And that’s the point. These bills are designed to chill speech about race, gender, and structural discrimination and to deter faculty from exploring a wide variety of topics to foster critical thinking. For example, to enforce these censorship laws in the name of “viewpoint diversity,” individual students who may feel “discomfort” in classroom conversations are encouraged to film classroom discussions without instructor consent to use as evidence in criminal or civil proceedings against faculty. As Ellen Schrecker, respected expert on McCarthyism recently wrote, the attempt to use the state to restrict teaching about race and racism is, in fact, “worse than McCarthyism,” because “the red scare of the 1950s marginalized dissent and chilled the nation’s campuses, but it did not interfere with such matters as curriculum or classroom teaching.”

Even for faculty whose teaching and research expertise falls outside of the currently targeted areas, these bills represent a radical limitation of the right of faculty to design courses, curriculum, and pedagogy to best meet the needs of their students. Once such a precedent is established, lawmakers would be emboldened to pass similar restrictions on faculty teaching and research in other fields, including climate science, public health, reproductive medicine, election law, and even evolution.

We must collectively demonstrate that faculty are organized on our own campuses across the country to fight back. We must explicitly reject these bills, whether they have been proposed or passed in our particular states or not. How will we do this? Faculty must use our most powerful channel of shared governance—our senates and university assemblies—to make strong statements rejecting political interference in higher education to serve narrow partisan interests.

As signatories to this letter, we demonstrate our commitment to defending our academic freedom to teach about race and gender justice and critical race theory and to stand with our K-12 colleagues. To this end, please find the following useful resources. One is a resolution template you can propose at your Faculty Senate or University Council, entitled, “Defending Academic Freedom to Teach About Race and Gender Justice and Critical Race Theory.” The template can be adapted to what you think would be most effective at your institution. The next sample resolutions demonstrate how faculty at two campuses (Portland State and DePaul University) incorporated language from their governance documents and mission statement into the resolution.

We hope you share this communication with a few of your colleagues and, together, draft, introduce and help pass this resolution at your institution. Once you do, please share your resolution with us so we can list it on our website. If you have any questions, please contact Jennifer Ruth, professor of film studies at Portland State University, Emily Houh, professor of law at University of Cincinnati, or Valerie Johnson, professor of political science at DePaul University. Jennifer, Emily, and Valerie lead our Higher Education initiatives out of the AAPF’s #TruthBeTold campaign and will be happy to help you strategize about how to pass the resolution on your campus. If you are interested in joining our faculty resolution organizing team to help reach out to our flagship universities, Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCU’s), Hispanic-serving institutions (HSI’s) and other institutions, please email us at

Sincerely (list in formation; titles and institutions for identification purposes only),

2021 Critical Race Theory Summer School Steering Committee

DEVON CARBADO, Professor, UCLA School of Law

SUMI CHO, Professor, DePaul University College of Law (retired)

KIMBERLÉ CRENSHAW, Professor, Columbia Law School and UCLA School of Law

LUKE CHARLES HARRIS, Professor, Vassar College

DANIEL MARTINEZ HOSANG, Professor, Yale University

GARY PELLER, Professor, Georgetown Law Center

#TruthBeTold Higher Education Committee Conveners

EMILY HOUH, Professor, University of Cincinnati College of Law

VALERIE JOHNSON, Professor, DePaul University

JENNIFER RUTH, Professor, Portland State University

This is the list of people who have signed the Open Letter:

Aaron Botwick | Bronx, NY

Aaron Roussell | Portland, OR

Alex Zukas | San Diego, CA

Alex Mabanta | Berkeley, CA

Alicia Virani | Los Angeles, CA

Amber Peplow | Cincinnati, OH

Amy Bitner York

Amy Agigian | Boston, MA

Amy Lind | Cincinnati, OH

Andrea Salyer | Portland, OR

Anita Fernander | Boca Raton, FL

Ann Hubbard | Cincinnati, OH

Ann F Thomas | New York, NY

Brant Lee | Akron, OH

Brian Dolber | Long Beach, CA

Brian Howe | Cincinnati, OH

Brigitte Humbert | Middlebury, CT

Carla Costa | London

Carolyn Quam | Portland, OR

Catherine Grosso | EAST LANSING, MI

Charles Lawrence | Honolulu, HI

Chris Busey | Gainesville, FL

Christina Rivers | Chicago, IL

Colleen Rost-Banik | Kapolei, HI

Daria Roithmayr | LOS ANGELES, CA

David Kinsella | Portland, OR

Dean Cristol | Columbus, OH

Denise Burgher | Newark, NJ

Devante Green | Parkville, MD

Diane Klein | Baton Rouge, LA

Elva Diaz | Davis, CA

Emily Houh | Cincinnati, OH

Emily Rutter | Indianapolis, IN

Ethan Madarieta | Syracuse, NY

Evan Torner | Cincinnati, OH

Eve Levin | Lawrence, KS

grant tietjen | Davenport, IA

Gregory Magarian | Saint Louis, MO

Gregory Downs | Davis, CA

Greta de Jong | Reno

Harriet Tubman Wright | San Leandro, CA

Heide Estes West | Long Branch, NJ

Helen Jaskoski | Fullerton, CA

Holly McGee | Cincinnati, OH

Ingrid Banks | Santa Barbara, CA

James Cherney | Reno

James Kainen | NY, NY

Jane Waite | Corvallis, OR

Janet Navarro | Allendale, MI

Janet Moore | Cincinnati, OH

Jeanette McVicker | Fredonia , NY

Jeffrey Sherman | Davis, CA

Jeffrey Green | New York, NY

Jennifer Horwitz | Providence , RI

Jennifer Ruth | Portland, OR

Jennifer Cognard-Black | St. Mary's City

Jennifer Selwyn | Portland, OR

Jenny Cooley | New York, NY

Jessica Goodkind | Albuquerque, NM

Jindi Zhang | Columbus, OH

John Hess | Dorchester

John McCullough | Columbia, MO

Jonathan Feingold | Boston, MA

Jonathan McKinney | Cincinnati, OH

Jonathan London | Davis

Joseph Tomain | Cincinnati, OH

Josephine Kim | Cambridge, ON

Josephine Ross | Washington, DC

Joyce Lionarons | Collegeville, PA

Judith Miller | Atlanta, GA

Julia Allwein | Columbus, OH

Kathleen Hurlock | Athens

Kim Idol | Las Vegas, NV

Kristin Kalsem | CINCINNATI , OH

Kyaw Tha Paw U | Davis, CA

Laura Markham | East Lansing, MI

Laura Steck York

Laura Jenkins | Cincinnati, OH

Lillian Cruz-Orengo | Davis, CA

Lindsey Davis | Newton, MA

Lindsey Roper | Cedar City, UT

Lisa Waterman Caldwell | ID

Luis Eduardo Guarnizo | Davis, CA

Lynne Layton | Brookline MA

Marina Reis | Los Angeles, CA

Marjorie Aaron | Cincinnati, OH

Marvin Lynn | Portland, OR

Mary Dockray-Miller | Cambridge, ON

Mary Louise Frampton | Davis, CA

Matthew Gold | New York, NY

Matthew Urwin | Chicago, IL

Maureen Curtin | Syracuse, NY

Merrill Cole | Macomb, IL

Mervyn Nicholson Kamloops

Michael Hrebeniak | Cambridge

Nancy Erbstein | Davis, CA

Nas Afi | Upper Marlboro, MD

Natalia Deeb-Sossa | Davis, CA

Nicholas de Villiers | Jacksonville, FL

Ornaith O’Dowd | Cincinnati, OH

Pranav Jani | Columbus, OH

R. Danielle Egan | New London, CT

Rachel Reinhard | Berkeley, CA

Rachel Kincaid | Waco, TX

Raquel Aldana | Davis, CA

Rebecca Irby | Montclair, NJ

Sarah Mattice | Jacksonville, FL

Sheer Ganor | Minneapolis, MN

Siobhan Senier | Durham, NC

Sonya Kapoor | Columbus, OH

Stacy Fahrenthold | Davis, CA

Stephanie Sadre-Orafai | Cincinnati, OH

stephen armstrong Brooklyn, NY

Stephen Garcia | Davis, CA

Steve Macek | Naperville, IL

Susan James | SEATTLE, WA

Suzie Garrett | Chico, CA

Tasha Souza | Boise, ID

Thomas Lynn Reading

Thomas Hochchild | Valdosta, GA

Tina Burdsall | Portland, OR

Tracey Mabrey | Chicago, IL

Waynele Yu | Honolulu, HI

Wendy Chrisman | Columbus, OH

Willard Sunderland | Cincinnati, OH

William Gleason | Princeton, FL

Sponsored by

To: University and College Faculty
From: [Your Name]

As signatories to this letter, we demonstrate our commitment to defending our academic freedom to teach about race and gender justice and critical race theory and to stand with our K-12 colleagues.