Purdue Professors Challenge State Intellectual Diversity Law

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A federal lawsuit filed by the ACLU (American Civil Liberties Union) of Indiana on behalf of two professors at Purdue University Fort Wayne, Indiana, is challenging a new state law that links “intellectual diversity” with faculty tenure.

The bill, Senate Enrolled Act 202, was signed into law by Republican Gov. Eric Holcomb in March, despite pushback from university leaders and faculty concerned about infringements on academic freedom. It’s expected to take effect July 1. 

The lawsuit was filed last week on behalf of Steven Alan Carr, PhD, professor of communication and director of the Institute for Holocaust and Genocide Studies, and David G. Schuster, PhD, associate professor in the history department. 

The complaint alleges that the law violates the First and Fourteenth Amendments of the U.S. Constitution. SEA 202 states professors must be disciplined if they fail to “foster a culture of free inquiry, free expression, and intellectual diversity” and “expose students to scholarly works from a variety of political or ideological frameworks.” Faculty face repercussions including the denial of tenure, salary reductions, and termination.

The ACLU alleges that the law is ambiguous and may require the professors to cover “debunked theories.” For example, Carr is concerned that the law requires him to teach “divergent perspectives” like “denial that the Holocaust occurred” or the perspective that “racially based forced sterilization could ever be appropriate or even defensible,” according to the complaint. Although they would never teach these topics in the classroom, the professors allege that the language of the statute appears to make this a requirement.

“SEA 202 puts Indiana’s professors in an untenable position,” the ACLU said in a statement. “Through vague language and the threat of harsh sanctions, including termination, the law strips professors of the academic freedom that the Supreme Court has long recognized they have the right to exercise. No professor should have to choose between their employment and their First Amendment rights.”