Over 100 professors and scholars were targeted for their personal views for the second year in a row, according to a report from the Foundation for Individual Rights (FIRE).
Targeting incidents are up to 111 in 2021 compared to 30 in 2015, according to FIRE documentation and its new report “Scholars Under Fire: 2021 Year in Review.” Professors and scholars were most often targeted for comments pertaining to social issues in legal, English, political science and medicine disciplines.
More than two-thirds of targeting incidents came from sources more politically left of the scholar, the report found. As a result of the targeting, over 60% of instances resulted in sanctions, including 28 investigations, 18 suspensions and 14 terminations.
For the second year in a row, we documented more than 100 scholars targeted for punishment due to ideological disagreement.
— FIRE (@TheFIREorg) March 2, 2022
Since 2015, FIRE has documented 537 incidents where a target was targeted over what they believe to be constitutionally protected speech, according to the Scholars Under Fire Database.
FIRE argues that the First Amendment protects these individuals from being legally punished at public institutions. Although private institutions are not bound by the First Amendment, FIRE has found that they usually promise individuals some level of protection allowing for free speech and academic freedom.
“Even one attack on free speech is one too many,” said FIRE Research Fellow and one of the report’s authors Komi German. “Our colleges should be built on the foundation that differences of opinion should give rise to debate and discussion — not sanctions and firings. If you asked someone which country had 111 scholars targeted in 2021, they might guess an authoritarian regime like China or Russia, not a democratic nation like the United States.”
Bright Sheng, a former professor at the University of Michigan was forced out of his position after he received backlash for showing the 1965 film “Othello,” where starring actor Sir Laurence Olivier uses skin-darkening makeup to portray Othello, FIRE previously reported. Even after apologizing to his students that the casting and character portrayals in the move were “racially insensitive and outdated” and releasing a formal apology to the entire university department, Sheng was still removed from his post in September.
Another professor, Christopher Trogan, was terminated by Fordham University in October 2021 for confusing the names of two black students, The Observer reported.