AAUP Response to Rep. Roger Williams

This week, U.S. Representative Roger Williams, an alumnus and member of the TCU Board of Trustees, has made appearances on radio and television in which he spread inflammatory falsehoods about the TCU faculty and mission. We urge the Board of Trustees to consider its goals and purposes in leading this university in light of Rep. Williams’ disturbing behavior, and we call on Chancellor Victor Boschini, Provost Teresa Dahlberg, and other colleagues in academic leadership positions at TCU to make a public statement of support for the faculty and reaffirm their commitment to faculty tenure, academic freedom, and the university mission.

We as the members of the AAUP chapter at TCU have been concerned with Rep. Williams behavior since the November presidential election, which he called “the most corrupt election in our lifetime” before persistently encouraging conspiracy theories about widespread election fraud, none of which have been substantiated by any court or legislative body in any jurisdiction. These statements emboldened and encouraged terrorists who attacked the U.S. Capitol on January 6 to stop Congress from certifying President Biden’s victory. Even after the mob stormed the building, Rep. Williams continued to entertain false notions of voter fraud, voted to reject electoral college results for Arizona and Pennsylvania, and added that he and his fellow objectors were “actually proud of what we’re doing over here.”

We had hoped that petitions signed by hundreds of alumni and a resolution by the Faculty Senate responding to Rep. Williams’ behavior would be sufficient to register our concerns. But even after the Faculty Senate withdrew its proposed resolution on the matter, he continued to attack the integrity of the university and our faculty. On Thursday, he accused the “liberal faculty” of wanting “to cancel me and do away with freedom of speech at a great university.”

He joked that the TCU mission statement was a “mouthful,” and followed with the statement: “Think about what they’re teaching our kids, they’re teaching a socialistic agenda and if you stand up for what you think might be right or ask the wrong question you may not get the grade you’re supposed to get.”

He continued, “We’ve got these tenured professors that don’t do a lot of giving to the university and they need to be made responsible…We’ve got to know that our kids are having options so they can decide what’s right and wrong and not a liberal left-wing person who’s trying to dumb down our future of our kids.”

This is incorrect and offensive on many levels. The faculty regularly donate financially to the university, a point which TCU brags about in its messaging about our Faculty-Staff giving campaigns. Further, beyond mere money, the faculty have dedicated our careers in and out of the classroom to our students and this institution. 

The TCU faculty stands for freedom of speech and thought as core elements of higher education, here and everywhere. But freedom of speech does not mean freedom from consequences. Rep. Williams used his platform as an elected official to spread lies about the election, and the capitol was assaulted by people who believed those lies. We as faculty are entitled to freedom of speech as well, to call out the danger of these lies and to say that Board of Trustees members who push them do not reflect the values of the university. TCU and higher education stand for truth, not for lies and distortions told for partisan advantage.

In a private university community such as ours, where the First Amendment provides no legal protection for employees, not everyone has the ability to speak out against these kinds of falsehoods. Principles of academic freedom, and tenure for those of us who have earned it, enable our faculty to engage in critical dialogue without fear of losing our jobs when we speak up against powerful people, including our academic leaders and board members. Tenure and freedom of speech go hand-in-hand in our academic community, and we condemn Rep. Williams’ insinuations that we should be held “responsible” for talking about him in a way of which he disapproves. Responding to statements like his, from the wealthy and powerful, are precisely the reason why tenure exists.

Finally, despite Rep. Williams’ accusations, the faculty at TCU are not a bunch of radical leftists or socialists. We know each other to hold a broad array of viewpoints across the ideological spectrum. More importantly, we encourage students to engage in critical inquiry and the search for truth based on fair, disciplined reading of a wide range of sources from diverse perspectives. It is appalling that a Board of Trustees member would say that we discriminate against students who disagree with us. 

Rep. Williams is using the TCU faculty as a punching bag to rile up his base and fundraise for his political campaigns. His statements and his behavior are a discredit to the university and endanger our mission to educate individuals to think and act as ethical leaders. We urge the Board of Trustees and the academic leadership of TCU to disavow Rep. Williams’ irresponsible actions and statements, express support for the faculty in response to Rep. Williams false allegations, and reaffirm TCU’s commitment to faculty tenure and academic freedom.

Published by Chip Stewart

Professor of Journalism at Texas Christian University. J.D. (University of Texas), LL.M. (University of Missouri), Ph.D. (University of Missouri). Former head of the Law & Policy Division at AEJMC. Founding editor of Community Journalism. Author of "Media Law Through Science Fiction: Do Androids Dream of Electric Free Speech?" (Routledge, 2020); co-author of "The Law of Public Communication" (11th ed., Routledge, 2020); editor of "Social Media and the Law" (2nd ed., Routledge, 2017).

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