From the President: Our Commitment to Academic Freedom

Dear colleagues,
As the academic year draws to a close, I wanted to take a moment to thank you for yet another year of extraordinary teaching. Our classes ranged from fully in-person to fully remote, and many landed somewhere in between. This flexibility has not been easy, but it was necessary, and I am grateful for all you have done. I also reach out to you at what feels like a particularly unsettling moment in higher education as attacks against the academy grow, particularly attacks that threaten the core of what we do—the ability to teach, conduct research and engage in scholarly and creative activities free from censorship. I write today to assure you that I and other CSU leaders remain firm in our commitment to protecting academic freedom.
Earlier this month, we witnessed a chilling example of political intrusion after Dr. Jennifer Mnookin, dean of UCLA’s School of Law, was named the next chancellor of the University of Wisconsin at Madison. A renowned legal scholar, Dr. Mnookin was the unanimous choice of the University of Wisconsin System Board of Regents. Lawmakers, though, were quick to politicize her appointment criticizing Dr, Mnookin for her support for the teaching and research of critical race theory and for her advocacy for COVID vaccines for college students. While I am grateful to live in a state in which legislators proudly support ethnic studies courses and public health, the increasing attacks on academics leaves me, as it does us all, anxious.
SF State has not been immune from controversies surrounding academic freedom. In September 2020, Zoom “de-platformed” an open classroom event planned by Dr. Rabab Abdulhadi and Dr. Tomomi Kinukawa over a concern about an invited speaker. Until just hours before the scheduled class, the University and the CSU Office of General Counsel attempted to find a way to nevertheless offer the open classroom event. Ultimately, despite our efforts and my very vocal support for the rights of our faculty, Zoom and several other platforms refused to host the class because of concerns related to violating federal law. I strongly disagree with censorship in any form. National experts joined us in disagreeing with Zoom and supported the University’s stance. We continue to encourage faculty who do not want to use Zoom to work with Academic Technology to learn about the range of tools available to enhance online learning. 
The “deplatforming” of this classroom event was exceptional in many ways and has resulted in two recent statutory grievances being filed by CFA. These will be adjudicated through the statutory grievance process, in accordance with the collective bargaining agreement. I have, though, reached out to the Academic Freedom Committee (AFC) to see how we can continue to safeguard academic freedom. Incoming Provost Sueyoshi and I will meet with the committee in the fall. We very much share their goal of protecting the rights of faculty to teach and conduct their scholarship free from censorship. The current political climate makes it imperative that universities and their leadership remain steadfast in support of academic freedom. I look forward to working with the Senate and AFC next year.
A third statutory grievance was filed by CFA focused on, among other things, additional faculty hiring to support the Arab and Muslim Ethnic Diaspora curriculum (AMED). As some may know, the University has also been involved in state and federal litigation about the same issue, legal cases that long predate my arrival. These cases were recently resolved in the university’s favor, but that conclusion does not mitigate our responsibility to increase support for  AMED, particularly at a time of rising white supremacy and Islamophobia. To that end, the provost and I are approving a search for a tenure line faculty member to support AMED curriculum.
It’s been a long year. I thank you all again for your service to our students and the University. I look forward to seeing some of you at Commencement and wish you all a good summer.


Lynn's Signature

Lynn Mahoney, Ph.D.