OU prof responds to FIRE: Speech in classroom is 'different than freedom of speech'

Professor Julie Ward told an OU news outlet that 'speech inside the classroom is different than freedom of speech.'

'The Daily Oklahoma' recently covered the FIRE report on the university's “Anti-Racist Rhetoric & Pedagogies” workshop.

A University of Oklahoma professor recently criticized the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) for leaving instructors “vulnerable,” while also arguing that there exists a distinction between free speech and academic freedom. 

“Speech inside the classroom is different than freedom of speech,” Julie Ward told The Oklahoma Daily. “It isn’t suppressing someone’s free speech if they are being disruptive or making it impossible for other students to learn.”

Ward is a professor in the Department of Modern Languages, Literatures, and Linguistics.

In June, FIRE reported on an “Anti-Racist Rhetoric & Pedagogies” workshop at the University of Oklahoma, during which an instructor explained how to quiet students’ “hate speech” in the classroom. One day after the article was published, the University of Oklahoma reaffirmed its protection of free speech.

The Oklahoma Daily, the university’s student newspaper, covered the incident on July 7.  In that article, Ward also told the outlet that the effects of FIRE’s article “leave faculty members vulnerable.”

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“It’s really important to note the instructors whose names and photographs have been plastered on national media and who have been receiving a deluge of hate mail are instructors who do not have tenure, so they’re the most vulnerable employees of the instructors,” she explained.

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“We live in a society that is built on many racist structures, and that includes the university, and instructors, faculty, staff and students seeking to make changes to those racist structures have the right to find more techniques for making OU a welcoming place for everyone,” Ward added.

“We welcome criticism of our reporting, but frankly the workshop speaks for itself,” FIRE Director of Communications Daniel Burnett told Campus Reform. “We’ve been reporting on threats to student rights in the same way for more than two decades, and a workshop that instructs teachers to conduct their classes in the manner described in the video is an obvious threat to student rights.”

“We provided the full video so people can determine for themselves whether this training encourages censorship. In our view, it unequivocally does,” Burnett added.

Campus Reform reached out to Ward comment; this article will be updated accordingly.

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