USA: Joint Submission to the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the Right to Education

Posted February 29, 2024

On February 12, 2024, SAR and the Coalition for Academic Freedom in the Americas (CAFA) filed a joint submission to the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the right to education. The submission reviews legal protections for academic freedom in the United States – and their limitations – and details recent challenges to academic freedom and freedom of expression in educational institutions including:

  • The passing of legislation in several states, including Florida, Texas, Ohio, Tennessee, and Oklahoma, limiting the teaching of so-called “divisive” concepts,” such as critical race theory or DEI. 
  • Florida Governor Ron DeSantis’s efforts to alter the functioning of the state’s public higher education institutions, such as the administrative takeover of the New College of Florida in 2023.
  • Broad failures by institutional authorities to respect, protect, and promote academic freedom on campus, including responses to campus tensions following the October 7 Hamas attack on Israel and the subsequent war in Gaza.
  • A decline in most indicators of academic freedom, according to the Academic Freedom Index (AFi) since 2016, with a significant decline in 2020.

SAR and CAFA also caution against the conflation of academic freedom and freedom of expression, which are related and overlapping, but not synonymous. The failure to distinguish between the two undermines crucial aspects of academic freedom such as obligations concerning quality, expertise, sourcing, and ethical/professional standards. Such failure can lead to the politicization of academic spaces, and may deter scholars from informing public discourse for fear of retaliation. 

Read the full submission below and download it here.

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