W&L's Commitment to Academic Freedom and Faculty Safety
To: W&L Faculty
From: Elizabeth Oliver, Lena Hill, Rob Straughan and Brant Hellwig
Date: Sept. 7, 2020
Re: W&L's Commitment to Academic Freedom and Faculty Safety
Charged discussions of racial justice, institutional history, and even course design compel us to condemn the harassment of faculty members who exercise their academic freedom. We do so. Unequivocally.
As the academic leadership of the University, we echo President Dudley in affirming our unwavering support for freedom of expression. When a faculty member is threatened with violence for the content of their teaching or scholarship, or the expression of their ideas, the very heart of our institutional character and mission as educators is threatened. As our 2015 Affirmation of Freedom of Expression states, "We are committed to the civil and unfettered exchange of ideas, confident that a vibrant intellectual community can withstand disagreement and debate and find common ground even where we disagree." We are proud to have faculty colleagues draw upon their scholarly expertise in public debate as well as when teaching our students to think rigorously and express their ideas in bold yet intellectually responsible terms.
We take seriously our role to protect academic freedom and ensure faculty safety. To this end, we are developing guidance to assist our community when we are called upon to respond to these increasingly common attacks by outside groups and individuals. This guidance will be shared with the W&L community when complete.
Calendar year 2020 has been and continues to be a challenging time for our nation and our community. But the stresses of the present moment do not excuse uncivil, offensive behavior by anyone. We uphold our commitment to academic freedom, and we support our colleagues in their practical ability to exercise it without fear for their personal safety.
Elizabeth Goad Oliver
Interim Provost and Lewis Whitaker Adams Professor of Accounting
Dean of the College and Professor of English and Africana Studies
Robert D. Straughan
Crawford Family Dean of the Williams School and Professor of Business Administration
Dean of the Law School and Professor of Law