AHA Supports Academic Freedom and Honest History, Opposes Cutting of Humanities Majors
Throughout February and March, the AHA has continued our commitment to opposing attacks on academic freedom in Florida, issuing statements about Governor Ron DeSantis’s political takeover of New College and the harmful higher education bill HB 999. In Virginia, AHA staff provided testimony on proposed learning standards, provided advocacy information to Virginia historians, and partnered with the National Council for the Social Studies and four Virginia educational organizations to provide a thorough review of the current proposed standards. The AHA also wrote to Marymount University president Irma Becerra about the university’s proposed elimination of humanities majors and to US secretary of state Antony J. Blinken in support of a history teacher imprisoned in Russia.
AHA Manager of Teaching and Learning Testifies before Virginia Board of Education
On February 2, Brendan Gillis, AHA manager of teaching and learning, testified at the Virginia Board of Education’s hearing on the history and social studies standards revisions process. He spoke in support of the collaborative Combined History and Social Science Standards for Virginia developed by the AHA, the Virginia Social Studies Leaders Consortium (VSSLC), and the Virginia Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development (VASCD). Gillis reported on the AHA’s involvement in “The Uncertain Future of Social Studies in Virginia” in Perspectives Daily. The AHA has also shared action alerts with Virginia members encouraging in-person testimony and written comments on the draft standards.
AHA Signs On to ACLS Statement in Support of Academic Freedom and New College of Florida
On February 14, the AHA signed on to a statement from the American Council of Learned Societies (ACLS) “in support of ex-President [Patricia] Okker, the New College community, and faculty and students at institutions of higher education around the country” following Florida governor Ron DeSantis’s politically motivated “overhaul” of New College of Florida. “Their attacks threaten public understanding of our nation’s history and culture, and they undermine key principles of academic freedom and faculty governance,” the ACLS wrote.
AHA Sends Letter to Marymount University Opposing Proposed Elimination of History Major
On February 16, the AHA sent a letter to Marymount University president Irma Becerra opposing the “short-sighted decision to propose to Marymount University’s governing board the elimination of history and other humanities majors” at the university. “We urge Marymount University to reconsider this decision, which undermines the university’s commitment to ‘intellectual curiosity, service to others, and a global perspective,’” the AHA wrote. The Marymount board of trustees voted on February 24 to eliminate the history major, along with eight other majors and one graduate program, most of them in the humanities.
AHA Letter Expressing Concern for US Citizen and History Teacher Imprisoned in Russia
On March 2, the AHA sent a letter to US secretary of state Antony J. Blinken expressing “grave concern” for Marc Fogel, a US citizen and history teacher currently imprisoned in Russia, and urging that he be designated as “wrongfully detained” under the Robert Levinson Hostage Recovery and Hostage-Taking Accountability Act. “We respectfully urge the reclassification of Mr. Fogel and the respect of his civil and legal rights,” the AHA wrote. “We ask for immediate attention to this matter to ensure Mr. Fogel’s health and well-being.”
AHA Statement Opposing Florida House Bill 999
On March 3, the AHA released a statement on Florida House Bill 999, “express[ing] horror . . . at the assumptions that lie at the heart of this bill and its blatant and frontal attack on principles of academic freedom and shared governance central to higher education in the United States.” “What has previously best been characterized as unwarranted political intervention into public education has now escalated to an attempt at a hostile takeover of a state’s system of higher education,” the AHA wrote. “This is not only about Florida. It is about the heart and soul of public higher education in the United States and about the role of history, historians, and historical thinking in the lives of the next generation of Americans.” As of April 12, 84 organizations had signed on to the statement; it was printed in the April issue of Perspectives.
AHA Signs On to ACLS Statement Opposing Florida House Bill 999
On March 6, the AHA signed on to a statement from the ACLS opposing Florida House Bill 999, “protest[ing] this proposed legislation and call[ing] on citizens to recognize the danger it poses to higher education in this country.” If HB 999 passes, the ACLS wrote, “it ends academic freedom in the state’s public colleges and universities, with dire consequences for their teaching, research, and financial well-being. . . . Academic freedom means freedom of thought, not the state-mandated production of histories edited to suit one party’s agenda in the current culture wars.”
AHA, NCSS, and Virginia Educational Organizations Release Collaborative Strikethrough and Review of Proposed Draft Standards
On March 13, the AHA, the National Council for the Social Studies, the Virginia Council for the Social Studies, the VSSLC, the VASCD, and the Virginia Geographical Alliance released a Collaborative Strikethrough and Review proposing revisions to the History and Social Science Standards of Learning for Virginia Public Schools. This document suggested specific changes to improve draft standards as the Virginia Department of Education prepared for a final round of edits before anticipated adoption in April. The AHA encouraged Virginians to attend public hearings and provide written comments on the proposed standards, and developed an action alert, including a briefing memo, to help Virginians navigate the public review process.
Rebecca L. West is operations and communications assistant at the AHA. She tweets @rebeckawest.
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