Despite years of political, civil, and technological advances across the globe, the 21st century has ushered in a dangerous and alarming era in which one’s fundamental right to free speech is being challenged.
In Washington state, Professor Stuart Reges is embroiled in a free speech conflict with his employer, the University of Washington (UW). The ongoing clash is over Professor Reges’ course syllabus, which included a land acknowledgment statement referencing his view of the original owner of the land upon which the university currently sits.
The University of Washington encourages its faculty to write land acknowledgments on their course syllabi and even provides an example from which professors may use as a basis. Like his computer science colleagues, Professor Reges wrote a land acknowledgment statement based on the example provided by the school.
Professor Reges’ modified land acknowledgment statement was singled out by the Computer Science Department’s director, who called the message offensive and inappropriate. In fact, according to the director, the mere existence of this revised statement created a toxic environment.
When Reges refused to comply with the director’s request, UW started an investigation. Then the school created a shadow course to compete with Professor Reges, so students could avoid “being forced” to take a specific class from a professor who disagreed with the administration-approved language. Ironically, the issue in question was irrelevant to the contents and objectives of the computer science class as well as the professor’s skill and reputation.
With a higher education motto of Let there be light, the University of Washington’s actions are beyond hypocritical as they infringe upon Professor Reges freedom of speech and expression. While the school has every right to suggest examples for faculty to use, they cannot mandate the faculty to use the university-sanctioned statements; or stay silent for fear of retribution for having differing opinions from the university’s party-line statement.
In the wake of this unfortunate event, Professor Reges has enlisted the help of the Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression – FIRE. Together they intend to hold the university accountable for its actions which violate the protections iof Americans’ freedom of speech and expression.