Email sent to the UW AAUP Mailing List, 2/27/2022

This is an unusual entry because only part of the message was censored. Let me give a little background. I sent a message on 2/23/2022 about a land acknowledgment article and the message was censored. I informed several faculty colleagues about the censorship and they sent emails to both the AAUP mailing list and private messages to the moderators. The messages intended for the general mailing list were censored, but the moderators decided to respond to the concerns.

Abraham Flaxman, one of the moderators of the AAUP mailing list, sent a message to the list on 2/24/2022 reiterating the stated policies of the listserv and welcoming feedback ("We welcome comments on this re-iteration of our policy"). This produced one early response from a list member who argued against censorship. I then sent a response. Professor Flaxman felt the need to provide "framing" before releasing my comments.

Here is what Professor Flaxman included as a preamble to my message:

  Dear Mailing List Subscribers,

  I'm posting a reader's critique of our AAUP list server procedures,
  with my own framing at the top here. I have a different understanding
  of censorship than Professor Reges---I had a paper rejected from
  Science recently, and I do not consider that rejection a form of
  censorship.  As I have previously explained to Professor Reges
  directly, the AAUP-UW mailing list does not publish everything that is
  sent to it.

  While I support Professor Reges's freedom to speak his mind, I do not
  think he has a right to make everyone on this mailing list listen to
  his every thought.  Indeed, it is my belief that there would be far
  fewer mailing list members if he were accorded such a right.


Professor Flaxman has presented a strawman argument that he easily refutes. He implies that my understanding of censorship is that I should have an unlimited ability to post my thoughts to the list. I have never made any such claim. I am asking for fairness and transparency. I have had papers rejected by peer-reviewed journals as well but never without comment. Peer review gives a publication the option of providing feedback to authors so that they can better understand the reasons for a rejection and how they might increase their chances of publication later. Professor Flaxman has provided me no feedback other than the vague statement that, "our decision is that it would be better placed elsewhere."

So we are left with many questions about how the AAUP list is moderated. How are editorial decisions made? What criteria are applied? The guidelines specifically state that they want to encourage "an active discussion of higher education issues and faculty rights." Why, then, would the moderators twice censor a short description of the issue surrounding my use of a land acknowledgment on my syllabus when that issue generated a supportive letter from the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE), coverage by two experts in constitutional law ( Eugene Volokh from UCLA and Jonathan Turley from George Washington University), and major news articles including one by Inside Higher Education?

Professor Flaxman also mocks my supposed desire to have my "every thought" transmitted to the list. I don't think that sending five messages in six months from September 2021 through February 2022 can be interpreted as sharing my every thought. One might instead question the 29 messages posted by the other moderator of the list, Professor Amy Hagopian, during the same six-month period.

Professor Flaxman did include my message after his introduction, so it wasn't censored. But he chose to remove the land acknowledgment that I included at the end of my message:

  I acknowledge that by the labor theory of property the Coast Salish
  people an claim historical ownership of almost none of the land
  currently occupied by the University of Washington.

He censored this without comment. Other messages sent to the AAUP mailing list have included land acknowledgments as part of the email signature of the author, so Professor Flaxman is demonstrating the very same inconsistent censorship that many have argued is a violation of the first amendment.

I am beginning to think that Professor Flaxman's opposition to my land acknowledgment might be the primary reason that so many of my recent messages have been censored. Of the five messages I have submitted in the six months from September 2021 through February 2022, three included my land acknowledgment and were rejected, one did not include the land acknowledgment and was accepted, and the fifth was this message which included the land acknowledgment but which Professor Flaxman edited to remove it. If the land acknowledgment is indeed the concern that has led the AAUP moderators to reject so many of my messages, then why haven't they informed me of that fact? Why not be transparent about it?

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