Scholars have long been targeted for sanction by ideological adversaries. However, some worrying trends are emerging. The current research reveals that since 2015 targeting incidents are on the rise and are increasingly coming from within academia itself — from other scholars and especially from undergraduate students. These targeting incidents take a multitude of forms, including demands for an investigation, demotion, censorship, suspension, and even termination.
This research documents the ways and reasons that scholars have faced calls for sanction; how scholars and institutional administrators have responded to different forms of targeting; and what (if any) sanctions scholars have ultimately faced in response to these targeting incidents, from 2015 to the present (up to and including July 31, 2021).
The key findings of this report include:
- Over the past five and a half years, a total of 426 targeting incidents have occurred. Almost three-quarters of them (314 out of 426; 74%) have resulted in some form of sanction.
- The number of targeting incidents has risen dramatically, from 24 in 2015 to 113 in 2020. As of mid-2021, 61 targeting incidents have already occurred.
- Scholars were targeted most often for speech involving race (e.g., racial inequality, historic racism, racial slurs, BLM, DEI).
- In addition to race, targeting incidents tended to involve hot-button issues such as partisanship, gender, and institutional policy.
- In almost two-thirds (269; 63%) of the incidents, scholars were targeted for expressing a personal view or opinion on a controversial social issue.
- Half of the targeting incidents have occurred because of a scholar’s scientific inquiry (106 incidents; 25%) or teaching practices (107 incidents; 25%).
- Targeting incidents have occurred most often in the disciplines that are at the core of a liberal arts education: law, political science, English, history, and philosophy.
- Targeting incidents have come from individuals and groups to the political left of the scholar more often than the political right; these targetings have come more often from those on campus, have been more organized (i.e., the online petitions have considerably more signatures), and have typically been aimed at scholars who are tenured, White, and male.
- Campuses where the most targeting incidents have occurred tend to also have severely speech-restrictive policies, and are unlikely to have adopted the Chicago Principles guaranteeing the preeminence of free speech.