AAUP Letter to FAU’s President Saunders

HomeFrom aaup.org.

In a letter to the president of Florida Atlantic University, the AAUP defended a communication professor’s right, under principles of academic freedom, to speak on matters of public concern without fear of institutional discipline. The letter also urged the president to “issue a statement recognizing the university’s responsibility to protect academic freedom” in this case. The text of the letter is as follows:

Dear President Saunders:

I am writing to convey the concern of the American Association of University Professors about the formal letter of reprimand issued by Interim Dean Heather Coleman to Dr. James Tracy, an associate professor of communications at Florida Atlantic University.  According to an April 11 article in the online version of the Chronicle of Higher Education, the letter stated that Professor Tracy, by mentioning his affiliation with FAU and posting references to the university, did not adequately distinguish his personal views from those of the university and thereby damaged the university.

The Chronicle reported, further, that in a December 24, 2012, blog post questioning some aspects of the Sandy Hook school shooting, Professor Tracy stated, “While it sounds like an outrageous claim, one is left to inquire whether the Sandy Hook shooting ever took place—at least in the way law enforcement authorities and the nation’s news media have described.”  We understand that the administration initially responded to the furor that erupted by resisting calls to remove the controversial professor, while insisting that Professor Tracy did not speak for the university.  We understand, further, that it also pressed him to disassociate himself from FAU in his blog.

Such a stipulation accords with AAUP policy, as enunciated in the following paragraph from the joint (AAUP and AAC&U) 1940 Statement of Principles on Academic Freedom and Tenure, endorsed by over 200 higher education and professional organizations:

College and university teachers are citizens, members of a learned profession, and officers of an educational institution. When they speak or write as citizens, they should be free from institutional censorship or discipline, but their special position in the community imposes special obligations. As scholars and educational officers, they should remember that the public may judge their profession and their institution by their utterances. Hence they should at all times be accurate, should exercise appropriate restraint, should show respect for the opinions of others, and should make every effort to indicate that they are not speaking for the institution. [Italics added.]

The information we have, however, indicates that Professor Tracy did disassociate his blog from the university. His website contains the requisite disclaimer—in boldface:

All items published herein represent the views of James Tracy and are not representative of or condoned by Florida Atlantic University or the State University System of Florida.  James Tracy is not responsible for and does not necessarily agree with ideas or observations presented in the comments posted on memoryholeblog.com.

We appreciate that the FAU administration can respond to the hostility aroused by Professor Tracy’s commentary by disassociating itself from that commentary.  But, particularly in the light of Professor Tracy’s clear statement that his blog comments “are not representative of or condoned by” the university, the issuance of a written reprimand, which threatened “additional disciplinary action,” is unacceptable under principles of academic freedom.  Professor Tracy may indeed have posted highly controversial statements on his website; but it is such speech, in particular, that requires the protection of academic freedom.

In a recent report titled Ensuring Academic Freedom in Politically Controversial Academic Personnel Decisions, the Association emphasized the observation that the renowned economist and former AAUP president Fritz Machlup made more than fifty years ago:

[S]ome scholars, through their writings, teachings, speeches, or associations, offend the sensibilities of people in power, or of pressure groups so potently that complaints of “abuse” of academic freedom are made and interventions against the perpetrators of the “abuse” are demanded. . . . [W]hen these pressures and temptations to interfere are resisted and offenders are assured of their immunity, then, and only then, is academic freedom shown to be a reality.

In our time, when the Internet has become an increasingly important vehicle for free intellectual and political discourse around the world, the FAU administration’s action, if allowed to stand, sets a precedent that potentially chills the spirited exchange of ideas—however unpopular, offensive, or controversial—that the academic community has a special responsibility to protect.  We hope that you, as FAU’s chief administrative officer, will see fit to issue a statement recognizing the university’s responsibility to protect academic freedom in the context of the Tracy incident.


Gregory F. Scholtz
Associate Secretary and Director
Department of Academic Freedom, Tenure, and Governance

Publication Date:
Tuesday, April 16, 2013

26 thoughts on “AAUP Letter to FAU’s President Saunders”

  1. Yes! So glad that this institution recognizes and remembers what freedom is — the right to think independently and exercise your own wits.

  2. The Scholtz letter is sorely needed in a time of wavering values in American education, as well as the wider universe of social engagement. When ideas fall too far to either right or left politically, someone must take the reins and redirect our conversation to the center. There, it is hoped, consensus would be more productive than splitting hairs or quibbing over matters that don’t matter. All human activities have a political element..

    The framers of the Bill of Rights knew this and attempted to fashion a path to sanity. Most amendments address government overreach. Authority comes in many guises and on many levels. Freedom has never been free.

  3. Shame on Dean Coltman ! Unless I’ve missed the last executive order (as they seem to be coming fast & furiously), we still have the right to free speech. It IS normal, when being quoted or interviewed, to be asked your profession & workplace. Dr. Tracy always makes it clear these are his own opinions & if it’s controversial ?????? Some people prefer to stay blissfully ignorant in their well organized thoughts. The internet makes it virtually impossible to keep us dumbed down forever w/ the lies & false-flags perpetrated upon us.

  4. Thank you for coming to Professor Tracys defense. As a former student what I found most impressive was his restraint in expressing the kind of hostility he has been shown. His attention to valid resources is something I practice to this day and owe much of this to him. In addition I think this whole situation brings to attention another issue where we should question the ethical practices of this particular university with respect to how they treat their Tenured staff. This is becoming a regular practice that can potentially destroy the quality within the University system as whole. In my opinion this whole issue with Tracy illustrates a threatening concern that is not being addressed. If it were the ordeal could have been avoided altogether.

    1. FAU admin are showing themselves to be stenographers to stenographers to power (to quote a James Tracy turn of phrase about the press) … Is there a Stenography department — what courses can I [not] take?

  5. Foosh. What a lame defense. A weak defense tends to ideologically legitimate the charge despite refuting it legally. They knew that you dissassociated your views from the university, they just wanted to do something to keep their federal funding.

    After pleading Free Expression, which has largely been an ideological fraud in the history of the USA, he could have gone on to state that you were just doing your job. You’re a media scholar and it is your professional responsibility to call bullshit on the media when it is obvious and important to do so. This might be inconvenient in the short term but in the long term it burnishes the shield of the school and reflects credit on this learned pile of Enlightenment.

    But this might not be the Academic Way, especially at the present time in America. But it would have made it more difficult for them to come after you a second time.

  6. I’m sure if Pres. Saunders even decides to comment on this there won’t be a lot of coverage on it. Prof. Tracy, have you ever thought about making your own club at FAU? I think having a place where people can meet to discuss real issues in politics would be a good idea. It could be called the Truth Club or the Grassroots Movement. What do you think?

      1. If you have any plans to get something started, I’d like to participate. It’s time for people to start taking the red pill. Keep up the good work Prof. Tracey, I really respect what you’re doing.

  7. My appreciation and thanks go to Professor Gregory Scholtz for writing this letter to president Saunders on behalf of Professor James Tracy.

    There are millions of people who admire the courage, integrity and honesty demonstrated by Professor James Tracy in the Sandy Hook incident and I am just one of them.

    Academic freedom should be an essential element when it comes to institutions of higher learning.

    Also as individuals we each need freedom for self expression.

    Professor James Tracy has done nothing to deserve disciplinary action.
    He has every right to write whatever he wants in his blog or at any other place of his choice.

    I cannot understand anyone who wants to punish an individual for merely having a view that contrasts with the establishment and the main stream media outlets who are well known for being dishonest.

    When did life in America become so unbearable and so foolish?

    It is my sincere hope that this foolishness stops right where it began so that individuals like Professor James Tracy will continue to inspire people in America and the rest of the world with positive qualities of truth and courage.

  8. Professor James Tracey is free to publish his fantasy views of reality anywhere in the United States, or in any other nation that will have him as a guest. The university has the right to disassociate itself from Professor James Tracey’s opinions, and it took steps to do so. If Professor James Tracey’s feeling are hurt, he ought to think about what life in his imaginary world would be like without a regular paycheck from the university. Maybe a dose of reality will change his opinion on a few other issues as well.

    1. John Updike,

      Please enlighten us on what reality consists of? As for the healing powers given a dose of reality of which you prescribe, perhaps you could use a little yourself, no?

    2. If those of us who’ve earned a government or foundation-funded sinecure can no longer challenge and critique the reality imposed on us there is arguably little hope.

    3. You know John although I highly respect your right to speak out it seems very much to me that you have structured your words into a false parameter which seems to isolate Professor Tracy as a single professor struggling against a changing institution. I’d like to offer a suggestion that you may need a wake-up call so I am offering you this article by another professor. It seems the problem crosses the globe!!


      Thanks for bringing the letter forward Prof, it is wonderful to see this kind of support and as ever all the best hopes sent your way.

    4. Updike is dead, much like the credibility of CNN’s “National Security Expert” Peter Bergen whose viewpoints you worship on your blog.

      Who would ever come to his personal blog and write that Dr. Tracy ought to think about “what life in his imaginary world would be like without a regular paycheck from the university?”

      Someone in authority? Yes. Someone threatened by Dr. Tracy? Seems so. is doing?

      John Updike was born in Shillington, PA.

      Kind of gives it away, you piece of government shill.


    5. What is it about freedom of thought and expression, the free play of discourse to discover truth and an environment that encourages such activity that so threatens you? I believe Dr Tracy would be more than willing to host your carefully considered, well reasoned and compelling arguments to the contrary of what he has posted. What cha got?

      I’ll bet precious little to nothing.

  9. “First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, then you win.” Congratulations JT, Validated & vindicated simultaneously. By bringing the inconsistencies of the Sandy Hook false flag (hoax?) to the awareness of so many People, you’ve broken through a collective consciousness barrier, and now there’s ‘no going back.’ The ‘powers that be’ cannot repair that damage. They know that their control over the masses is waning. Now it’s time to examine the false flag that the cabal behind it all are flying over Boston. That ‘production’ is even more obviously staged than the whole Sandy Hook Hoax.

  10. When did civil discourse become an option instead of a right?

    The last thing we need in this world is the “thought police”. It is a healthy exercise to weigh and discuss issues, policies and events that shape the world around us.

    People may not always agree in the end, but can always respectfully disagree.

    In this media driven world, winnowing fact from fiction seems to be a forgotten or unwanted exercise. Also alarming is that mainstream media defines the subjects allowed for public discourse, especially given their propensity for superficiality and misinformation.

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