In June 2021, the American Political Science Association joined 155 organizations and associations in a joint statement against state legislative proposals that sought to restrict teaching and discussions about racism in classrooms and on campus. Divisive concepts laws and proposed legislation can chill the speech of all scholars teaching in these states and place an outsized burden on contingent and junior faculty who lack tenure protections. These laws are a direct threat to academic freedom. As leaders of the American Political Science Association, we write today to reaffirm our strong opposition to these bills and to share our support for all scholars who may be subjected to them.
Research from PEN America found that 39 percent of these “educational gag orders” introduced in 2022 targeted higher education. The laws, which often restrict discussion or training related to race, gender, and sexuality, are typically vague and broad. Their imprecision and breadth create additional uncertainty and fear for scholars and educators. APSA is committed to open enquiry and scholarly pluralism. Our discipline benefits from diverse methodological and theoretical approaches to research and education. Promoting high quality teaching and education about politics and government is also a core objective of the association, and the free flow of information and ideas is critical to this objective. Education about history and government lays a foundation for students to become informed and engaged citizens. Interference in their education does students a disservice and undermines the democratic value of an informed public. The legislation restricting teaching certain concepts, ideas, or facts is in direct opposition to APSA’s mission and values.
As the organizers of the joint statement wrote, “legislation cannot erase ‘concepts’ or history; it can, however, diminish educators’ ability to help students address facts in an honest and open environment capable of nourishing intellectual exploration.” Political scientists are skilled at helping students engage critically and productively with the world around them. We play an important role in teaching students about our political systems at all levels and encouraging students to be engaged with both our history and our civic institutions. Government interference in such scholarly endeavors is unacceptable and threatens freedom of speech, academic freedom, and the free exchange of ideas—rights historically protected under the first amendment to the U.S. Constitution.
Lisa Martin, President
Mark E. Warren, President-Elect
John Ishiyama, Past President
Steven Rathgeb Smith, Executive Director