SAR’s Academic Freedom Monitoring Project investigates and reports attacks on higher education with the aim of raising awareness, generating advocacy, and increasing protection for scholars, students, and academic communities. Learn more.

Date of Incident: March 27, 2024

Attack Types: Other

Institution(s):Multiple Institutions

Region & Country:Americas | United States of America

New or Ongoing:New Incident

On March 27, 2024, Governor Greg Abbott of Texas signed an executive order requiring all of the state’s higher education institutions to update their policies on free speech in a manner that threatens to limit political expression on campus.

The order requires higher education institutions to revise their free speech policies to conform to the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s (IHRA) contested definition of antisemitism. Organizations, including the American Civil Liberties Union, Middle East Studies Association, and American Bar Association, view the IHRA’s definition as overly broad and restrictive of protected political speech, particularly that critical of the State of Israel. The order requires higher education institutions to establish specific punishments for violating the updated free speech policies and to ensure that university administrators enforce those punishments. Moreover, the executive order singles out two student groups for punishment: the Palestine Solidarity Committee and Students for Justice in Palestine.

The executive order gave colleges and universities 90 days to submit a report to the Office of the Governor, Budget and Policy Division that explains the revisions made to free speech policies and provides evidence that the policies are being enforced.

The executive order came six months after a Hamas attack on Israel on October 7, during which over 1,200 Israelis and foreign nationals were killed and more than 200 abducted, and the Israeli military’s subsequent bombardment of the Gaza Strip which, as of mid April 2024, has reportedly killed more than 33,000 Palestinians. The ongoing violence led to heightened tensions around free speech on campus across the US and globe.

Scholars at Risk is concerned about ideologically driven, government encroachments on universities’ authority to set policies regarding free speech on campuses and about government restrictions on protected political expression on campus. Government officials should refrain from interfering in the functioning of higher education and research institutions. Such interference undermines academic freedom, institutional autonomy, and democratic society generally.