As they reel from revenue losses connected to the pandemic, many colleges and universities are racking up other costs not likely to turn up in their glossy brochures or as line items on staggering tuition bills: untold millions of dollars in legal fees and settlements for allegedly violating the rights of students, professors, and applicants on free speech, admissions and other matters as the schools pursue social justice causes.
Bartlett and others say courtroom challenges over First Amendment rights, alleged Title IX violations, admissions standards and perceived cultural protocol miscues reflect an aggressive effort by schools to enforce disputed social policies and the growing influence of administrators who carry them out.
Management of department operations at colleges and universities at one time was part of the job of tenured faculty, who served on committees that ranged from curriculum to career advice.
“Administrators are now making key decisions, many outside the scope of faculty,” said Keith Whittington, who chairs the Academic Freedom Alliance, a group started this year to provide legal assistance to faculty facing problems related to First Amendment issues. “These are people less sympathetic to academic freedom concerns, and many have no idea of academic freedom.”