As the Legislature considers a bill that would ban the teaching of critical race theory, the University of Mississippi’s faculty senate voted Tuesday to oppose efforts by lawmakers “that target academic discussions of racism and related issues in American history in schools, colleges and universities.”
The resolution passed, 32-8, following about an hour of debate over whether to include language that some felt went beyond the purview of the faculty senate.
The vote is part of a coordinated effort by the United Faculty Senate Association of Mississippi, a statewide organization that includes every public university but Mississippi State University, Daniel Durkin, the chair, told UM’s faculty senate Tuesday night.
In the past month, Jackson State University and University of Southern Mississippi have passed similarly worded resolutions. (MSU passed its own resolution about academic freedom on Feb. 11 that also addressed the recent bomb threats to the HBCUs.) As the House considersSenate Bill 2113, other faculty senates across the state will also consider passing measures affirming academic freedom. UFSA of Mississippi plans to pass its own resolution, with more specific language, if the bill is signed into law, Durkin said.
During discussion, Scott MacKenzie, a professor of English who was part of the committee that worked on the resolution, said the measure is “the minimum” that UM’s faculty senate can do to push back against SB 2113 and similar efforts by the Legislature.
“Whatever we do or don’t do will have no influence on the Legislature but is significant for students and faculty around us who are wondering why we haven’t spoken out against it,” MacKenzie said.
Though a majority of the senate ultimately voted in favor of the resolution, debate primarily centered around two paragraphs that expressed support for “our K-12 and community college colleagues in Mississippi and throughout the country” and affirmed a “Joint Statement on Efforts to Restrict Education about Racism” authored by the American Association of University Professors, PEN America, and other groups.
Some faculty senators said members of their departments had expressed concern that these paragraphs watered down what they saw as the main objective of the resolution: to support academic freedom in higher education.
“I believe the faculty should take the unilateral stance that we reject any outside authority trying to come in and regulate curriculum,” said Brian Reithel, a professor of management information systems. He added that he is “in favor of doing that as broadly as we can rather than becoming so micro-focused that this loses long-term substantial value to academic enterprise at the University of Mississippi.”
Carrie McCormick, a professor in the department of writing and rhetoric, concurred. She also took issue with part of the resolution that called on Chancellor Glenn Boyce and Provost Noel Wilkin“to affirm that they reject and will resolutely resist any attempts by bodies external to the faculty to restrict or dictate university curriculum on any matter.”
“That implies a wrongdoing on their part,” McCormick said.
Most faculty senate members supported the resolution as it was presented. Some said they thought it was important for faculty to “stand in solidarity” with public school teachers, because students bring the assumptions they learned in K-12 schools to college and university classrooms.
YvetteButler, a professor at UM’s School of Law, is not a faculty senator but she was invited to speak on the resolution because she teaches UM’s only class solely dedicated to critical race theory. She said she has taught undergraduates who have a limited understanding of the Civil Rights and Reconstruction eras. “Some of them were still taught about the ‘War of Northern Aggression,’” she said.
That creates a situation, Butler said, where she has to focus on catching students up so that her classroom can “get to talking about the law as opposed to doing straight up history.”
As discussion continued, Robert Barnard, a professor from the philosophy department who also opposed the two paragraphs, urged faculty to reach an agreement on the resolution. Barnard said a “divided vote could give the impression that there’s a serious disagreement in and among the faculty about the importance of these issues.”
After the faculty senate voted overwhelmingly to pass the resolution, one professor who voted against it lamented that now they could not even fix the typos in the resolution.
Also on Tuesday, the Associated Student Body at UM voted to condemn SB 2113, according to a report in the Daily Mississippian.
Molly Minta covers higher education for Mississippi Today, in partnership with Open Campus.