A Call for Institutional Neutrality
February 7, 2024 | Tags: REASON
Today the Academic Freedom Alliance, Heterodox Academy, and the Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression released a joint open letter calling for universities to adopt a policy of institutional neutrality. From the letter:
A useful maxim to guide decision makers is "if an academic institution is not required to adopt a position in order to fulfill its mission of intellectual freedom or operational capacity, it is required not to adopt a position." (See, e.g., Princeton Principles for a Campus Culture of Free Inquiry.)
For a neutrality principle to work, it must be publicly announced and adhered to on a consistent and faithful basis. Making an exception inexorably leads to pressure to make others and to allegations of bias.
Critically, institutional neutrality applies only to leaders and units of the institution. This is true not only for the central administration, but also for the units of the university, such as schools, departments, centers, and programs. It does not apply to faculty members and students (i.e., the "critics"), either individually or as members of voluntary, non-institutional associations.
I recently discussed institutional neutrality for a webinar sponsored by Heterodox Academy, which can be found here. My most recent written piece on the topic was in the Chronicle of Higher Education and can be found here.