Wednesday, January 24, 2018

From the AAUP: Resources Against Targeted Online Harassment

The American Association of University Professors (AAUP) has recently considered the wave of activity touching on the social media and online interactions of faculty with other stakeholders both within the public sphere and in the university itself. 
Over the last year, targeted online harassment of faculty has emerged as a significant threat to academic freedom. Fueled by websites such as Professor Watchlist, Campus Reform, and College Fix, campaigns of threats and harassment are directed against faculty members for what they are reported to have said in the classroom or posted on social media. (here)
AAUP has developed materials that speak to this targeting of faculty by those who may disagree with faculty views,writings or other work.   To that end it has developed an online Case Letters from the AAUP:A look at four of the recent harassment cases where the AAUP has intervened to protect academic freedom.

This post includes links to AAUP resources for faculty who believe they may be the target of harassment set out in a press release from the AAUP, which follows.  Also below the AAUP's one page "What You Can Do About Online Targeted Harassment." The AAUP is also interested especially in assaults against faculty on the cntemporary political left.  Its latest edition of Academe includes several articles that provide useful insights whatever the political source of attack.

What do you do if you or a fellow faculty member on your campus is subject to targeted online harassment?

In the current political climate, this has become everyday reality in higher education, and the AAUP has developed some resources to help guide you and your colleagues when these situations do arise. All of the resources can be found on our One Faculty, One Resistance site.

We’ve created a one-page guide to help you prepare to respond to cases of targeted harassment. By actively engaging with your administration to plan for cases of targeted harassment on campus and ensuring that institutional regulations or collective bargaining agreements reflect that academic freedom includes the freedom of faculty members to speak as citizens, you can help establish procedures for an institutional response when incidents occur.

We also developed a brief guide to social media policies. We believe that while institutional policies can provide guidance to faculty members who post in an official capacity, any such policies must recognize that social media can be used to address matters of public concern and thus that their use by faculty members speaking as citizens is subject to Association-supported principles of academic freedom.

Those guides along with a form to submit cases of targeted harassment and a look at some of work intervening on behalf of professors who have been targeted can be found on our One Faculty, One Resistance website.

Remember to share your thoughts and stories using the hashtag #FacultyUnderAttack

Mariah Quinn
Senior Program Officer, Digital Organizing


Targeted harassment of faculty members because of what they publish or say in the classroom or online is emerging as a serious threat to academic freedom. Harassment campaigns are intended to silence and intimidate those who are targeted, and they can also cause others to censor themselves. Thus, they can effectively curtail discussion of controversial topics in class, pursuit of research in certain areas, and participation of faculty in discussions of matters of public concern.
Faculty members can take steps to prepare for and respond to targeted online harassment.

Before an incident occurs:

• The senate, union, or AAUP chapter should engage with the administration to plan for cases of targeted harassment on campus.

• Institutional regulations or collective bargaining agreements should recognize that academic freedom includes the freedom of faculty members to speak as citizens. Relying only on the First Amendment may not be sufficient. At private institutions, the First Amendment provides no protection. At public institutions, the First Amendment may protect faculty members from adverse action by the employer for off-duty speech on matters of public concern and for work-related or classroom speech that is germane to the academic subject matter, so long as such speech is not unduly disruptive.
• Institutional regulations or collective bargaining agreements should include provisions for academic due process for suspensions and dismissals such as those found in the AAUP’s Recommended Institutional Regulations on Academic Freedom and Tenure. While institutional provisions for tenured or tenure-track faculty are frequently consistent with AAUP policies, the same is often not true for part-time faculty members or full-time faculty members on contingent appointments.
• Communications staff and other administrators who may be tasked with responding quickly when instances of targeted harassment occur need to have ready access to institutional policies on academic freedom and due process in order to represent them accurately.
If an incident occurs:
• Encourage the administration to condemn the targeted harassment and speak out in defense of the academic freedom of the targeted faculty member.
• Although the administration is certainly free to express disapproval of the faculty member’s speech, the administration may need to be reminded that a number of sensationalized reports of faculty members’ speech or online posts have been taken out of context. Reports may not correctly reflect the actual speech.
• Targeted faculty members and administrators at targeted institutions should contact the national AAUP at for advice. Targeted faculty members should contact the national AAUP especially if the administration has taken action against them.


The latest issue of Academe magazine comes at a timely moment, as it takes an in-depth look at the right-wing assault on academia. The issue includes a series of articles that specifically examine the targeted harassment of faculty.

A profile of the AAUP chapter at Trinity College in Connecticut offers insight into how the newly formed chapter mobilized over the summer on behalf of Professor Johnny Williams after he was attacked on social media and subsequently suspended by the school’s administration. A group of sixty colleagues demanded that the administration rescind its decision, and the chapter’s executive committee issued a statement of support for Williams, citing concerns about academic freedom, due process, and the stifling of “critical engagement with issues of race.” Read more here.

A feature article by Joshua A. Cuevas of the University of North Georgia documents how he was targeted by white supremacists waging a cultural war on what they perceive as the left-wing, intellectual elite. He details the waves of attacks he personally endured as a victim of targeted harassment and argues, “Academia has been too timid in countering such movements. We should not have to speak in hushed tones when we condemn hate groups. We should not have to be apprehensive when we promote democratic ideals and equality.” Read the full piece here.

If you’re interested in Friday’s Facebook Live conversation with Joan Wallach Scott and Hank Reichman, check out an interview Scott gave to Bill Moyers this past fall. Scott says that while attacks on academics are not new, the Trump election empowered a number of different groups whose aim is to stop the teaching of critical thinking. Check out the interview here.

In a final article of interest, Anita Levy, a senior program officer in the AAUP’s Department of Academic Freedom, Tenure, and Governance, provides summaries of several reports of harassment that the AAUP received after asking faculty last year to share their experiences. She notes that in many cases, the triggering event that led to the harassment occurred in the course of faculty members’ normal academic duties as teachers, researchers, or concerned citizen-scholars addressing the public. Read more here.

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