A poet and a panel — Special presentations inspire CFA Assembly

CFA’s 89th Assembly also included dynamic presentations by award-winning poet Richard Blanco and a panel discussion on academic freedom by CSU faculty.

Richard Blanco, selected by President Barack Obama as the fifth inaugural poet in U.S. history, read several of his moving poems, including “One Today,” which he read at the inauguration in 2013. Delegates took back to campus copies of his latest book How to Love a Country.

Faculty also heard from colleagues Xuan Santos, Blanca Misse, and Hank Reichman during a panel discussion led by Sharon Elise on the importance of academic freedom for faculty and students.

Though faculty discourse and academic debate is protected speech, panelists spoke about an uptick in recent years of faculty harassment nationally as well as in the CSU. They shared personal examples of experiencing their research, teaching, and extramural speech being targeted by right wing groups, being surveilled at work, and feeling increasingly unsafe on campus.

Across the country, women and Black faculty, and those teaching in the social sciences and humanities are targeted at higher rates.

“We are here to defend public higher education of quality and that is tied to academic freedom. If we suppress academic freedom, we do not have quality,” said Blanca Misse, an Assistant Professor of Modern Languages at San Francisco State. “This is not just the marketplace of ideas, it’s how do we achieve true academic freedom, and strengthen our union and keep fighting together.”

To defend against attacks to academic freedom, all speakers emphasized the importance of the union and of faculty being in solidarity with each other. Tenured professors, in particular, have a responsibility to lead, since Lecturer and probationary faculty are much more vulnerable.

It is critical that faculty help one another when it comes to instances of harassment, especially when it is against faculty scholars of color, said Xuan Santos, Associate Professor of Sociology at CSU San Marcos. Santos has experienced harassment first-hand and has had work targeted repeatedly by campus police. 

“We talk about microaggressions, but we also need to create cultures of microliberation, where colleagues stand with you against injustice,” he said.

To read more on academic freedom, see this week’s Faculty Rights Tip.