Home > Is IU where free expression goes to die?

In a significant response to Indiana University’s attempts to suppress speech, IU faculty have passed votes of no confidence in President Pamela Whitten, Provost Rahul Shrivastav, and Vice Provost for Faculty and Academic Affairs Carrie Docherty. 

The vote of no confidence petition, which garnered more than 200 signatures, cited IU’s infringement of “both academic freedom and shared governance by, among other things, sanctioning faculty and canceling art exhibits at the Eskenazi Museum.” Specifically, after associate professor Abdulkadar Sinno helped the campus student organization Palestine Solidarity Committee book a room on campus for an event the group hosted in November, IU barred him from teaching until fall 2024 over a relatively minor and technical violation of IU’s room reservation policy. The severity and disproportionality of the punishment in response to the violation raised concerns about the university targeting Sinno for his pro-Palestinian advocacy. The university also canceled an art exhibit featuring Palestinian artist Samia Halaby, alleging there were concerns about “the integrity of the exhibit” — it also cited complaints about Halaby’s activism, suggesting viewpoint discrimination played a role in the exhibit’s cancellation.  

Yet another free speech controversy erupted at IU in late March, when the school postponed a campus event featuring prominent pro-Israel activist and Hamas critic Mosab Hassan Yousef due to what the university called “credible security information.” IU cannot ignore such concerns, of course. But as a public university, it has an obligation both to ensure the physical safety of its community members and to uphold the First Amendment, which requires that public universities cancel or postpone events only as a last resort in response to potential security threats. IU therefore needed to show its work and transparently demonstrate that it could not sufficiently address the security concerns and had no viable option but to postpone. 

FIRE has been monitoring free speech issues at IU for several years. In early 2023, the university ignored FIRE’s concerns about IU’s requirement that faculty members pledge that their “views, beliefs, actions, and inactions do not, intentionally or unintentionally, perpetuate . . . inequity” in healthcare, potentially forcing faculty to promise not to engage in wrongthink that contradicts university-approved orthodoxy. In late 2022, the university repeatedly delayed and denied public records requests from student journalists. And an IU administrator threatened faculty with discipline after a number of them emailed a faculty listserv raising personal concerns about a proposed state abortion bill. 

This litany of constitutional concerns cannot go unchecked. Join FIRE in demanding that Indiana University clean up its act and commit to meeting its First Amendment obligations for student and faculty expression.