The state university system of Florida is under siege from right-wing extremists. Their vision of a return to an explicitly Eurocentric curriculum appeals to an anachronistic and false classicism, imposed without regard for university rules of shared governance, scholarly paradigms in any of the academic disciplines, or even the intent to center intellectual merit in running the university. At the highest levels, there is no respect for intellectual freedom or freedom of speech, nor for the integrity of knowledge production, research, and pedagogy. Academic freedom is stifled at every turn, creating distrust and suspicion between and among students, instructors, and administrators. Faculty learn of the latest twists and turns in university governance and what is illegal to say in the classroom from “breaking news” articles in local newspapers.
Between students who believe they are (re)experiencing the Holocaust, university administrations that declare categorical and unrestrained support for Israel, and the outlawing of Palestinian solidarity student groups by the state, the space for dialogue, dissent, and diversity of opinion is rapidly narrowing. Demonstrations both on and off campus have led to open fighting and the arrest of Palestinians and their supporters, while government and top university administrators accuse students, faculty and staff who criticize Israel’s siege in Gaza of antisemitism. Dissent and anti-war sentiments are expressed in hallway whispers or officially by a few brave souls already under attack. The pervasive threat of politically motivated termination is cemented by limitations on promotion and tenure that allow for faculty to be fired based on student complaints or the political whims of upper administration.
The censorship of anti-war and anti-colonial perspectives with regards to the killing of over 20,000 Palestinians and 1,200 Israelis comes in addition to already existing limitations on speech and pedagogy about race, gender, and social justice imposed by the state of Florida. These gag orders violate educators’ academic freedom and impose artificial limits on the researchers’ freedom to study the world, as well as to participate in the pursuit of and make contributions to scientific truth or disciplinary consensus. The state’s extreme repression and censorship of university faculty have contributed to the decomposition of true humanistic pedagogical practice – making it impossible and illegal in Florida – and to the deterioration of the international framework of human rights.
Faculty unions are the last line of defense and are also under attack. Unions have been disallowed from collecting dues as pay deductions and must secure 60% faculty membership minimums before upcoming deadlines pass, or else be eliminated, with collective bargaining agreements declared null and void. Some educators have understandably chosen to leave the state, finding work elsewhere rather than face these impositions and limitations on academic freedom, but many others have not given up and are actively organizing and resisting the implementation of these policies at all levels. We are also uniting with our students and other community members in calling for an immediate ceasefire in Gaza.
Educators of conscience in Florida stand united. We will not be silenced. Free Palestine!
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