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‘Cannot impose political viewpoints’: SDSU faculty rescind mandatory land acknowledgement policy

Professors at San Diego State University recently voted to rescind a two-year-old policy that required them to put a Native American land acknowledgement on their syllabi.

The University Senate’s March 1 vote means faculty no longer must include the statement honoring the Kumeyaay people.

“Making the Land Acknowledgment optional was absolutely the right decision,” said SDSU English Professor Peter C. Herman in an email to The College Fix.

“If anyone wants to include it on their syllabus, that is their choice. But the administration cannot impose political viewpoints on faculty. They cannot say, ‘everyone believes X.'”

In SDSU’s case, there were two land acknowledgments from which to choose; the shorter version stated:

For millennia, the Kumeyaay people have been a part of this land. This land has nourished, healed, protected and embraced them for many generations in a relationship of balance and harmony. As members of the San Diego State University community, we acknowledge this legacy. We promote this balance and harmony. We find inspiration from this land, the land of the Kumeyaay.

The vote was a close call, reports the San Diego Union-Tribune, with 40 in favor of ending the requirement and 35 opposed.

Prior to the vote, the UT reported, a quote read at the meeting on behalf of a Kumeyaay tribe member who helped draft the original land acknowledgment stated that he did not want it to be mandatory:

“In helping to draft the land acknowledgement I sought to highlight the elements of our common humanity that I found most evident. It was presented as a gift, and, as such should only be willingly accepted … I would like to see the statement continue in the syllabus as a clear statement from the University Senate so that no individual feels they are being coerced to espouse a view they don’t agree with. However, I would rather see no land acknowledgement in the syllabus if the alternative is discord, divisiveness and resentment.”

The vote came on the heels of complaints and legal concerns about the policy. In particular, the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education had called it out as a violation of academic freedom.

“SDSU’s requirement that faculty endorse a ‘Land Acknowledgment’ statement imposes an
institutional orthodoxy on its faculty that contravenes the university’s strong commitment to
freedom of speech. We urge SDSU to uphold its First Amendment obligations and promise of
freedom to express differing perspectives by eliminating this mandate,” a Jan. 11 memo from the organization to SDSU had stated.

MORE: Indigenous artist says refusal to adopt ‘land acknowledgment’ is like raping her

MORE: University censors prof’s syllabus for controversial native land acknowledgement

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About the Author
Fix Editor
Jennifer Kabbany is editor-in-chief of The College Fix.