Faculty, student freedoms discussed at Faculty Senate

For the second time in two months, university counsel Michael Norton and senior vice president and provost Jonathan Wickert addressed faculty academic freedom and student freedom of expression during the Jan. 26 Faculty Senate meeting.

Faculty workshops

University counsel Michael Norton, senior vice president and provost Jonathan Wickert and associate provost for faculty Dawn Bratsch-Prince will lead a pair of faculty workshops through Zoom on Feb. 3 (11 a.m.-noon) and Feb. 18 (noon-1 p.m.) to discuss faculty academic freedom and student freedom of expression and answer questions.

Norton gave a more comprehensive overview to senators as the issue continues to be significant on campus and at the other Board of Regent universities.

The university and its employees cannot restrict expression because of its message, ideas, subject matter or content. The required syllabus statement sets a standard of how the First Amendment affects the classroom and students, Norton said.

"We are trying to be proactive and be out in front of these issues," Wickert said. "This is to protect students' constitutional rights, but also to affirm our commitment to academic freedom of our faculty."

The syllabus statement is not introducing anything new since ISU policy and the law have always protected student free expression, Wickert said. An FAQ has been posted by the provost's office.

The syllabus statement was first used for winter session courses.

"Generally speaking, faculty did not report any significant problems," Wickert said. "Some said it was helpful, some said it didn't make any difference in their class."

Academic freedom allows faculty to discuss any topic related to their expertise in the classroom and applies to assignments, discussions and materials as long as it is relevant to the subject matter of the course. Faculty members select the course material and decide how best to present it. They also have the responsibility to teach in a professional manner while respecting the rights of students to offer differing opinions.

"Students have the right to disagree with faculty members and express divergent opinions," Norton said. "But they can't steer the discussion in class to unrelated topics, can't monopolize discussion to the point others can't participate and they are expected to express viewpoints in an appropriate manner."

Whatever a student's personal viewpoint is, they are responsible for learning the course material, Norton said.

"Faculty members have to hold students responsible for the fundamental understandings of what is being taught, but not impose that view on them or require them to have the same view as the faculty member," Norton said.

Norton has given the presentation to deans, department chairs and also will present to the provost council and college workgroups in the coming weeks. Senators had numerous questions following the presentation, and there are two faculty workshops through Zoom scheduled for Feb. 3 (11 a.m.-noon) and Feb. 18 (noon-1 p.m.) to help address them. An invitation will be emailed to faculty this week.

Trolling and doxing

Wickert addressed the rise of trolling and doxing of faculty at ISU and on campuses across the country. Trolling is deliberately following and provoking others online, often with offensive content. Doxing is publishing private or other identifying information with malicious intent.

"There are external actors looking to criticize higher education," Wickert said. "The attacks -- a tweet, Facebook post -- can become intense extremely fast.

"If you or anyone in your department is subject to one of these attacks, elevate it immediately to your chair, dean and my office."

The university has developed a safety resource document to help faculty, departments and colleges understand and manage situations that may occur.


Jon Perkins, associate professor of accounting, was voted the next president-elect. He will take office in May, when current president Carol Faber (graphic design) passes the gavel to president-elect Andrea Wheeler (architecture).

Other business

Senators voted to approve:

  • A name change for the department of sociology to the department of sociology and criminal justice. It reflects the current makeup of the three distinct majors in the department -- sociology, criminal justice, and agriculture and society. In fall 2019, 376 undergraduates were enrolled as  criminal justice majors and 61 in sociology.
  • Revisions to the Faculty Handbook that include faculty documenting equity, diversity and inclusion activities and the impact of that work on teaching, research, extension and other areas of job responsibilities.
  • Changes to the Faculty Senate Constitution to replace "nontenure eligible" with "term" faculty, use gender neutral language and note a past-president is a voting senate officer of the executive board and Faculty Senate.