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Sunday, April 14
The Indiana Daily Student

campus administration

IU faculty and students condemn ‘new McCarthyism’ in free speech rally

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A canceled exhibit. A suspended professor. A sex research institute with an uncertain future. A bill critics say would eviscerate tenure.  

To the IU students and faculty who gathered for the “Warning! Dangerous Art!” rally Monday at Showalter Fountain, a series of controversies had made speaking out against the IU administration and state legislature feel like an obligation. During the rally, speakers denounced a perceived pattern of censorship, particularly around pro-Palestinian speech, but also decisions from state government regarding the Kinsey Institute and freedom of speech in the classroom.  

Alex Lichtenstein, chair of the American Studies Department, began the rally by describing months of controversial decisions from IU, contrasting the administration’s response to the state legislature, Halaby’s art show cancelation and the suspension of a professor with Herman B Wells’ defense of the Kinsey Institute. When Wells was president, he resisted calls for Alfred Kinsey’s dismissal and was a staunch advocate for academic freedom. 

As Lichtenstein spoke, Cole Nelson, a doctoral student in the Media School, passed out a bag of green feathers and flyers urging people to join the “Green Feather Movement.” Soon, wisps of green began to appear in coat pockets, pinned to clothing or backpacks and tucked in beanies and behind ears.  

According to the flyer, the movement draws inspiration from a 1953 protest where thousands of IU students wore green feathers in response to the Indiana Textbook Commission’s effort to ban the book “The Merry Adventures of Robin Hood” from Indiana public schools on the charge that it encouraged communism. The feather concept comes from Robin Hood himself, who wore a feather in his cap as he stole from the rich and distributed it to the poor.

  

“We stand at the precipice of a new McCarthyism, where dissent is punished, and academic freedom hangs in the balance,” the flyer read. 

Lichtenstein said the green feather represented a specter of fear that had once chilled speech in the era of McCarthyism. Today, Lichtenstein believes this specter has taken the form of speaking about the Israel-Hamas war.  

While many faculty members may disapprove of the administration’s actions, Lichtenstein said they are afraid to speak out, particularly non-tenured faculty and Eskenazi Museum of Art staff. He said he felt an obligation to speak out because of the protection tenure afforded him — at least until SB 202 passes. 

IU history professor Maria Bucur, now with a feather tucked in her beret, spoke several times during the demonstration. Her cardboard sign read “SB 202 = End of Tenure + R1” on one side and “remove Whitten” on the other. “R1” refers to IU’s status as a top research institute, a classification that depends on research staff and spending as well as the number of doctoral degrees available. 

Condemning both the decision to suspend professor Abdulkader Sinno without referral to the Faculty Misconduct Review Committee and the cancelation of Palestinian artist Samia Halaby’s show, Bucur focused much of her time on Senate Bill 202.  

The bill, which passed the Indiana Senate last week with exclusively Republican support, would remove the two elected positions on the IU Board of Trustees and make them positions appointed by the legislature. The decision would give the Indiana governor and legislature the sole power to determine the Board of Trustees, even as the state’s appropriations to IU’s general fund were only 16.7% of the university’s budget for 2023-24.  

The bill would also give boards of trustees the ability to prevent tenure or promotion if they determine a professor is not fostering intellectual diversity in the classroom or speaks about personal politics unrelated to the class. The board will also be required to review tenure every five years.  

To Bucur and Lichenstein, the bill is oppressive, effectively removing tenure and increasing state control of the university while using the language of diversity.  

One of the authors of SB 202, Sen. Jeff Raatz, is on the board at IU East. Raatz also attended the controversial Wallbuilders Conference in 2021, whose website includes a section on education that lists topics like “homosexual indoctrination” and “Bible electives” as priorities. The other authors include Republican senators Spencer Deery and Tyler Johnson. 

In a statement given to Indiana Public Media, President Pamela Whitten said SB 202 could threaten the university and the state in general.  

“While we are still analyzing the broad potential impacts of SB 202, we are deeply concerned about language regarding faculty tenure that would put academic freedom at risk, weaken the intellectual rigor essential to preparing students with critical thinking skills, and damage our ability to compete for the world-class faculty who are at the core of what makes IU an extraordinary research institution,” the statement read. 

Later in the event, Lichtenstein also expressed concerns regarding IU’s cancelation of Halaby’s art exhibit based on generic statements on campus safety and security. Behind him, on either side of the fountain, were two IU Police Department cars. The cars left midway through the protest, but one returned shortly before the group dispersed. 

Lichtenstein said it’s dangerous to restrict speech based on security concerns surrounding certain people or ideas.  

One by one, speakers called for action on the issues that mattered to them. One advertised the Palestine Solidarity Committee’s weekly sit-in at the IMU Starbucks every Monday. Another expressed concern for the Kinsey Institute and their perception that students were protected from the discomfort of controversial speech and research. Another said they felt shared governance existed in name only at IU, citing the lack of consultation with faculty regarding the president’s selection, the art show cancellation and Sinno’s suspension. One held a sign that read, “Can’t take freedom of speech? Who’s the snowflake?” 

When an IU tour stopped at the auditorium, Bucur quickly grabbed the megaphone and turned toward the group. 

 “This is IU, we are IU, we love our students, we love our learning, so make sure you ask some hard questions to of the university admissions about the way they're dealing with controversial art or noncontroversial art, when it comes to people of color. How they deal with freedom of speech when it comes to Palestine,” she said. “Ask hard questions so you know where you’re sending your kids.” 

In an interview with the IDS, Bucur said the Bloomington Faculty Council president had been notified of the effort to call for a no-confidence vote. This process requires at least 50 faculty signatures to initiate. While a no-confidence vote does not have any immediate effects, they are rare and have been influential in the past. The last time a no-confidence vote went through in 2005, it led to the resignation of then-president Adam Herbert. 

Micol Siegel, an American studies professor, said faculty should vote no-confidence in President Whitten, but it shouldn’t stop there. Siegel argued that the events of recent months are pieces of a more significant issue, expressing a general pessimism in IU’s direction. 

“It does seem to me like this university is going, going, gone,” Siegel said. 

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