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  • Writer's picturePete Gallego

In Defense of Academic Freedom


The recent attacks on academic freedom at Texas A&M explain a lot about the direct assault on higher ed that we saw in the Texas Legislature earlier this year. I had the opportunity to share these concerns with a national audience recently in the pages of the Chronicle of Higher Education.

 

As a lifelong Texan and now the parent of a college student, I worry about the future of our

state. But with a combined 26 years as a former lawmaker and university president at a Texas public university, I am neither surprised nor shocked that certain politicians and ideologues are attempting to micro-manage our universities. I’ve seen it before.

 

At Texas A&M this summer, faculty tried to bring in the most qualified person to reboot their

journalism program — a fellow Aggie with a deep track record and personal history in both the newsroom and classroom. She was also a Black woman who had worked for The New

York Times and had her own thoughts on diversity.

 

University leadership and their outside allies didn’t like her background or her thoughts, so they derailed her even after a commitment had already been made . . . and paid $1 million to make her go away.

 

Around the same time, a respected faculty expert on the opioid crisis appeared to make a true statement on the impact of a specific (and perhaps unwise) legislative decision supported by our state’s lieutenant governor. A few phone calls later, the free speech everyone claims to love was not such a good idea. That faculty member was censured for expressing an inconvenient truth.

 

Like panicked kids with their hands in a cookie jar, a president and dean resigned after these

 

I learned from Watergate that the coverup is always worse than the crime. It violated what are supposedly core tenets of everyone involved. The Academy aims to reveal and understand truth— not suppress it. In politics, as in life, the best rule is “When you’re in a hole, stop digging.”

 

These deliberate efforts to drown out specific ideas are a case study of why some Texas lawmakers tried so hard this year to eliminate tenure — and why they successfully banned

equity, diversity, and inclusion efforts from campuses.

 

Sadly for Texas, this shows we are now eating our own.

 

Many new Texans who moved here 200 years ago proudly wrote “Gone to Texas — GTT” on

their doorposts. Thanks to efforts to dismantle academic freedom in our state, many Texas

professors may soon write the opposite — “Gone from Texas — GFT” in their classroom.


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