public statements

AAUP Purdue rejects SB 202, asks Gov. Holcomb to veto

March 7, 2024

West Lafayette, IN – The Purdue University (West Lafayette) chapter of the American Association of University Professors stands firm in its rejection of Senate Bill 202 which passed a House and Senate vote in the Indiana legislature last week. The Bill seeks to enable the state legislature and university administrations to monitor and restrict classroom teaching, faculty expression, and the student right to learn; it does so using the vague and misleading rhetoric of “intellectual diversity,” a term with no definition in Indiana law. 

AAUP Purdue has consistently rejected the bill as invasive, censorious political overreach by conservative legislators, and most importantly a threat to the quality of higher education at Purdue and in Indiana. Such a system normalizes punitive, politically-motivated surveillance over faculty working conditions and speech while undermining crucial protections to academic freedom.

AAUP Purdue also stands firm in its criticisms of the Purdue administration, which, prior to the House vote, made no public comment against the bill or in support of its faculty, unlike many of the other administrations at  state institutions in Indiana. This silence persisted despite repeated appeals for administrators to respect and prioritize the rights of teachers to teach, and students to learn, made in the University Senate (which passed a statement opposing SB202 by over 94%) and in other public forums. Furthermore, the Purdue administration’s response to the AAUP was the first time they openly disclosed that they had been working to “quietly and effectively” improve this fundamentally flawed legislation. This lack of transparency deeply undermines principles of shared governance. 

Since the House vote, the Purdue administration has released a statement which both underestimates the potential impact of SB202 and misunderstands the nature of academic freedom and tenure. The Administration statement vows that the University will continue to defend academic freedom, which AAUP welcomes. AAUP notes that there is still time for the administration to demonstrate its commitment to academic freedom by publicly speaking out against the bill, which still can be vetoed by the Governor.  A strong public statement against SB202 by the University administration would be the best way for Purdue to “walk the walk” in defense of academic freedom and tenure. AAUP also affirms the Faculty Senate vote overwhelmingly rejecting SB202 and encourages the Senate to recommit itself to academic freedom.

Purdue’s current statement in response to SB202 also fails to acknowledge that academic freedom is a principle created and enshrined by university faculty themselves; it is faculty, not the Board of Trustees or academic deans, who guarantee academic freedom. In 1915, more than 100 years ago, the American Association of University Professors Committee on Academic Freedom and Tenure formulated its “Declaration of Principles,” enshrining academic freedom and tenure as principles for all in higher education. These principles are crucial for ensuring that university research and learning are free from undue political influence and suppression.

SB202 is meant to undermine more than 100 years of higher education’s commitment to these principles. It is meant to give the right to determine what is taught, thought and said in a University classroom to interfering political elites. It gives the power to hire and fire University employees to ideologically driven non-experts. It also attempts to shift responsibility over the teaching of engineering, biology, literature, chemistry and mathematics from trained experts who are passionate about their subject matter and who are already subject to tried and true mechanisms for accountability by qualified experts in their fields and academic communities, towards invasive political figures at the state capitol who only care about being elected to office.

In the wake of SB202 developments, it is crucial for Purdue’s current administration to communicate what they have concretely done to protect and defend academic freedom, and particularly, the freedom to research, develop, and implement best practices for creating diverse, equitable, and inclusive academic communities.  

If Purdue’s administration is really committed to its students, it will publicly support those who care most about them — their faculty — and publicly reject SB202. It is not too late to show a real commitment to academic freedom and tenure. Failing this, Purdue’s AAUP chapter and faculty will continue to monitor the administration leadership in order evaluate whether it remains confident in the administration’s ability to protect both academic freedom and shared governance. Purdue faculty can also build our collective strength by joining the AAUP so that together, we can protect the conditions that allow us to work, think, and speak from the standpoint of our expertise, not what politicians prefer to hear.

AAUP Purdue asks citizens of Indiana to please call or write Governor Eric Holcomb and ask him to veto SB202.

Passed by the AAUP Purdue executive committee 3/7/24