Over 160 professors from 23 California university campuses have signed an open letter defending free speech and open inquiry. The faculty members hope to defend academic freedom by encouraging people with dissenting opinions to be outspoken and form a community of like-minded individuals.
Professors and faculty members across the state began to connect online via email about a year ago, according to their "origin story" attached to the open letter. In the fall of 2021, the California University system members held their first online meeting.
The professors said they found common ground in discussing how diversity, equity, and inclusion requirements contributed to the suppression of free speech and open debate on campus.
During those online meetings, they "felt free to express opinions that, until then, were either whispered in hallways or kept to themselves."
The professors ultimately decided to write a letter addressing the lack of open discussion and self-censorship on California campuses.
"Intellectual discourse and scholarly truth-seeking require open debate and free inquiry. All ideas are subject to scrutiny and critique. Illiberal tactics that silence opinions and discourage dissent in the academy should be rejected," the letter read.
The professors' letter provided examples of the tactics used to silence dissent, including "speech codes, mandatory ideological statements, character assassination and/or reputation destruction, book bans, shouting down of speakers, and administrative discipline without due process (e.g., actions against faculty in response to anonymous bias reporting systems, unsubstantiated allegations, or social media campaigns)."
Arlette Baljon, an associate professor of physics at San Diego State University, told the College Fix, "The talk on campus is about building community, but it is a forced community."
The group cited several issues within the CSU system, including the lack of due process in administrative discipline, mandatory diversity statements, and required land acknowledgments for faculty.
San Diego State University English Professor Peter Herman told the news outlet, "We had a sense that there was an inchoate of unhappiness — even fear — that people were worried about the increasing pressure on them to mouth certain ideologies that they may or may not agree with."
Herman explained that the professors created the letter to address the growing concern about stifled free speech on college campuses and "thereby show some of the other folks that there is resistance to this, and it's principled resistance, and it's not rooted in white supremacy or racism."
Associate professor of geological sciences at California State University San Bernardino, Codi Lazar, told the College Fix that he hopes to inspire more people to speak out.
"It would be wonderful if the letter helped start a snowball effect to open up conversations and inspire authentic debates, to help break through this unfortunate dynamic in which would-be dissenters stay silent because they are afraid of being called a racist, or white supremacist, or some other form of oppressor, or being retaliated against for merely expressing an opinion," Lazar stated.
The letter was initially published in June but continues to gain signatures from California professors and faculty regularly. Members reported that some professors are now in the early stages of forming an advocacy group for the California State University system.