AHA Advocates for Educators and Academic Freedom, Opposes Harmful Education Legislation
From April to July, the AHA released six statements, letters, and testimonies as part of the Teaching History with Integrity initiative, speaking out against bills, policies, and proposed education standards that would hinder educators’ and students’ freedom to teach and learn honest history. The AHA opposed legislation in Texas and North Carolina that would eliminate tenure at public universities. Letters to San Francisco State University and New College of Florida defended history professors’ academic freedom. Another to the Museum of the American Revolution opposed the museum’s decision to host an event for Moms for Liberty, a group that has promoted the harassment of teachers.
AHA Sends Letter to Ohio Senate Opposing Higher Education Bill
On April 12, the AHA sent a letter to the Ohio Senate registering “strong objection” to Ohio Senate Bill 83, which would “undermine the integrity of education in Ohio’s public universities.” The level of state oversight described in the bill, the AHA wrote, “smacks less of guaranteeing the ideological diversity cited in the legislation than government surveillance more closely resembling the Soviet Union or Communist China than a public university system in the United States. . . . If passed, SB 83 would undermine the quality of public higher education in Ohio by preventing qualified instructors from teaching honest and accurate history.”
AHA Sends Letter Opposing Proposed South Dakota Social Studies Standards
On April 14, the AHA sent a letter to the South Dakota Board of Education Standards registering strong concern that the social studies standards draft on the agenda for the Board of Education Standards’ April 17 meeting fails to satisfy the AHA’s Criteria for Standards in History/Social Studies/Social Sciences. “The document’s numerous flaws can be traced to a process that was rushed, secretive, and driven by political motives at the expense of the educational needs of South Dakota students,” the AHA wrote. “The AHA joins a clear majority of South Dakotans in its assessment of this unabashed attempt to interfere in K–12 social studies education.”
AHA Sends Letter to Texas House of Representatives Opposing Legislation to Eliminate Tenure
On April 26, the AHA sent a letter to the Texas House of Representatives opposing SB 18, which would eliminate tenure for new hires at public institutions in the state beginning in 2024. “Tenure helps to protect university classrooms and laboratories as spaces where learning is advanced and new knowledge is created, rather than any given political platform promoted,” the AHA wrote. “Were Texas to eliminate ‘tenure-track’ positions . . . any public university in Texas would immediately become an employer of last choice among scholars who desire an environment amenable to high-quality teaching and research.”
AHA Sends Letter to SFSU President regarding “Investigation” of History Professor
On April 27, the AHA sent a letter to San Francisco State University president Lynn Mahoney expressing “deep concern” regarding the university’s “investigation” of Professor Maziar Behrooz for showing a drawing of the prophet Muhammad in his course on the history of the Islamic world between 500 and 1700. “Sanctioning Professor Behrooz for showing an image relevant to the course on grounds that it offended a student would constitute a serious breach of the professor’s academic freedom,” the AHA wrote. “Any attempts to ban the teaching of primary sources on the grounds that they offend religious sensibilities would mean that SFSU would be taking a position on a theological matter—one that is well beyond the purview of institutions of higher education.”
AHA Sends Letter to Florida Senate Opposing Restrictive Education Bill
On May 2, the AHA sent a letter to the Florida Senate registering “strong objection” to SB 266, legislation that “proposes to allow the study of the past only through an exceedingly narrow and tendentious frame.” As an amended version of House Bill 999, about which the AHA “expressed horror” in March, “the new provisions would serve only to restrict the extent to which history faculty are allowed to introduce Florida students to non-Western civilizations. . . . [T]he bill’s repeated emphasis on teaching only a thin slice of history to all students in required courses would hobble students and deprive them of the chance to become global leaders.”
AHA Sends Letter to North Carolina House of Representatives Opposing Bill to Eliminate Tenure
On May 3, the AHA sent a letter to members of the North Carolina House of Representatives: the Education–Community Colleges Committee and the Education-Universities Committee. The letter opposed HB 715, which would eliminate tenure for new hires at state universities beginning in July 2024. This, the AHA wrote, was “a short-sighted and ill-conceived policy that would significantly undercut what has been accomplished over decades by the thousands of individuals responsible for building a university system that ranks among the best in the world. . . . Tenure helps to protect university classrooms and laboratories as spaces where learning is advanced and new knowledge is created, rather than any given political platform promoted.”
AHA Submits Testimony Opposing Ohio Learning Standards Legislation
On May 9, the AHA submitted testimony to the Ohio House Primary and Secondary Education Committee expressing “grave concern” about HB 103, which would create a new, politically appointed task force to produce state social studies standards. The legislation, the AHA wrote, “would create an entirely new bureaucratic apparatus as a strategy for overruling an open, democratic, and professional process.” Additionally, HB 103 singled out the American Birthright model standards, which emphasize “content in place of critical thinking . . . focus[ing] narrowly on lessons about how students should feel about the United States,” as the basis for “a radical overhaul of history and social studies education in Ohio.”
AHA Signs On to CIE Letter Urging Title VI Funding for FY 2024
On May 12, the AHA signed on to letters from the Coalition for International Education asking leaders in the US Senate and House of Representatives to approve “robust funding” for HEA–Title VI, International Education, and Fulbright-Hays programs. With this funding, the letter states, “students from all racial and socio-economic backgrounds would have more opportunities to obtain the international experience and skills in growing demand across a wide range of professional and technical fields impacting our global engagement, security and competitiveness.”
AHA Releases Statement Opposing Exclusion of LGBTQ+ History in Florida
On May 13, the AHA released a statement condemning the recent ruling of the Florida Department of Education (FLDOE) that bans educators from “provid[ing] classroom instruction to students in grades 4 through 12 on sexual orientation or gender identity unless such instruction is . . . expressly required by state academic standards.” “This erasure flattens the story of America’s long Civil Rights Movement . . . [and] bars students from examining cultures, religions, and societies—including Indigenous nations within Florida—that have embraced traditions of gender fluidity and homosexuality as meaningful categories of social identity and organization,” the AHA wrote. “We ask that the FLDOE reconsider its vague and destructive policy of censorship, and instead encourage the teaching of accurate and inclusive histories of the United States and the world.” To date, 51 organizations have signed on to the statement.
AHA Sends Letter to Alabama Senate Opposing “Divisive Concepts” Bill
On May 16, the AHA sent a letter to the Alabama Senate opposing SB 247, which would “make it virtually impossible for history educators to help students thoughtfully consider the continuing impacts of slavery and racism in American history.” By requiring public schools, colleges, and universities to teach that slavery and racism are solely “deviations from, betrayals of, and failures to live up to the founding principles of the United States,” SB 247 “would therefore prohibit teachers from asking students to consider a diverse set of primary sources and wrestle with one of the central academic issues in historical scholarship for more than 50 years: the historical relationship between slavery and freedom. . . . If passed, this bill would result in ignorance of basic facts about American history and undermine the education of Alabama’s students, including their ability to perform effectively in advanced coursework, whether in high school or college.”
AHA Endorses Senate Resolution Recognizing Anniversary of the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre
On June 5, the AHA endorsed a US Senate resolution “recognizing the anniversary of the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre and honoring the lives and legacies of the nearly 300 Black individuals who were killed and the nearly 9,000 Black individuals who were left homeless and penniless as a result.” Executive director Jim Grossman said about the resolution, “Everything has a history, including white supremacy and the many forms of violence, coercion, and cultural practices that have legitimated and enforced it. What happened in Tulsa was extreme, but not unusual. It is part of our nation's heritage. We must acknowledge that heritage, learn from it, and do whatever each of us can to ensure that it is just that—heritage, rather than continuing practice.”
AHA Sends Letter Opposing Museum of the American Revolution’s Hosting of Moms for Liberty Event
On June 26, the AHA sent a letter to the Museum of the American Revolution asking that the museum “reconsider its decision to rent event space to Moms for Liberty as part of that organization’s Joyful Warriors National Summit.” “Moms for Liberty has crossed a boundary in its attempts to silence and harass teachers, rather than participate in legitimate controversy. . . . [T]his isn’t about politics or different understandings of our nation’s past; it’s about an organization whose mission is to obstruct the professional responsibilities of historians,” the AHA wrote. “We encourage you to reconsider whether this organization should be granted the legitimacy of holding a major event at a museum with the reputation and professional standing of the Museum of the American Revolution.”
AHA Signs On to ACLS Statement on Supreme Court Affirmative Action Ruling
On July 5, the AHA signed on to the American Council of Learned Societies statement on the US Supreme Court’s ruling that “race-conscious admissions programs at colleges and universities [are] unlawful, thus rejecting widely accepted practices meant to encourage diversity that have been part of US higher education for more than fifty years.” “The active participation of diverse people in the scholarly enterprise is the best way to combat historic and systemic inequities,” the statement reads. “In partnership with academic societies, scholars, administrators, supporters, and peer organizations, we seek better ways to recruit and retain a diverse community of scholars across all fields of study and to serve a more diverse professoriate. We will continue our collective effort to ignite and advance systemic change within the academy.”
AHA Sends Letter Opposing Alabama Legislation Stripping Funding from Department of Archives and History
On July 21, the AHA sent a letter to the Alabama legislature opposing SB 1 and HB 4, “which would strip important supplemental appropriations recently designated for the Alabama Department of Archives and History,” the part of the state government “dedicated to identifying, preserving, and providing permanent access to records that tell the story of all Alabamians. Furthermore, the department’s Museum of Alabama plays a critical role in making the state’s history accessible to its citizens, families, and schoolchildren.” The archival collections relied on by “genealogists, students, historians, [and] journalists” “are essential to how we learn about our individual and collective pasts,” the AHA wrote. “Meaningful access to well-preserved archives of government activities is important to a free society and a vital aspect of government accountability.”
AHA Sends Letter to New College of Florida Expressing Concern over History Professor’s Nonrenewal
On July 26, the AHA sent a letter to New College of Florida president Richard Corcoran, expressing “deep concern about New College’s decision not to renew the contract of Erik Wallenberg, a visiting assistant professor in the Department of History.” “Our apprehension stems from evidence that Wallenberg’s contract was not renewed because of his politics and his comments about institutional governance, rather than his qualifications or job performance,” the AHA wrote. “Indiscreet tweets by a member of the college’s board of trustees raise concerns about the possibility of inappropriate governing board interference and a violation of academic freedom.”
Rebecca L. West is operations and communications assistant at the AHA. She tweets @rebeckawest.
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