In Texas, a newly introduced TikTok ban and its apparent subsequent restraints on the ability to exercise full academic freedom is the subject of a recent lawsuit filed by the group, The Knight First Amendment Institute at Columbia University. Academic freedom not only affords the opportunity for professors to conduct research and teach an array of topics and ideas without the fear of censure, but also allows students to engage in thought processes and debates without the anxiety of potential retaliation. The lawsuit names Texas Governor Greg Abbott and additional state entities and public university personnel as defendants.
The advocacy group that filed the lawsuit is acting on behalf of the population of academic scholars, whose research approaches specifically target the societal effects of technology use. A University of North Texas professor is referenced in the claim and has cited the direct impact of the ban on her research pursuits. In particular, she has been forced to shift her focus away from this medium of technology and can no longer ask her students to refer to TikTok to complete their in-class assignments. Despite the professor’s attempts to ask for an exemption, the institution has denied her requests. In response to similar situations shared among professors within the higher education community, the lawsuit is seeking exemptions for impacted professors and a declaration that the ban curtails First Amendment liberties.
The American Association of University Professors (AAUP) and the Association of American Colleges and Universities have paved the way for groups, such as The Knight First Amendment Institute at Columbia University, to combat instances of argued intrusions on academic freedom. The 1940 Statement of Principles on Academic Freedom and Tenure provides the standard by which professors may exercise their abilities to conduct research, teach, and publish works in a public higher education institution setting. The lawsuit raises the question of whether academic freedom exceeds the importance of national security, the protection of personal data, and the looming fear of espionage.