Troy University responded to the Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression (FIRE) regarding leaked emails showing Troy trustees attempting to vet research at a free-market think tank on behalf of Alabama’s business elite.

In March, 1819 News uncovered leaked emails between Troy trustees from a source outside of Troy. The emails show Troy chancellor Jack Hawkins, Alabama Bureau of Pardons and Paroles director Cam Ward and Alabama State Bar president Gibson Vance arguing to restrict “uncontrolled freedom of speech or academic research” at Troy’s Johnson Center for Political Economy.

In February, a former Troy faculty member and economist criticized economic incentive programs during a panel discussion at a Johnson Center event at a Birmingham hotel. He said they benefitted politicians and large businesses but not tax-paying small businesses who have to burden the cost. 

According to Vance’s statements in the emails, the economist’s comments appear to have triggered a reaction from Alabama Power, the BCA and even state legislators. 

Expanding economic incentive programs was a major political priority of the Alabama business elite and political establishment in this legislative session. The economic incentive package, detailed in Gov. Kay Ivey’s “Game Plan,” was signed into law last week, expanding the state’s ability to provide special funding and tax abatements to specific corporations.

The incentive package experienced zero opposition in the House. However, there was heated debate in the Senate surrounding a component of one of the bills that would use funding from the state’s education budget to fund tourism incentives. 

FIRE sent Hawkins a letter on April 20 urging him to address the email conversation.

On April 27, FIRE received a response from Matthew Baker, an attorney from a firm representing the university. The letter does not acknowledge that the trustees attempted to vet research. Nor does it mention influence from Alabama Power or the BCA.

“Upon review of the concerns raised in your letter and further inquiry from our office, we can assure you that Troy University supports the pursuit of ideas that expand knowledge and understanding of our world and society,” Baker wrote. “Accordingly, academic freedom is a central pillar of Troy University’s mission. The distinguished faculty of Troy University conduct research across diverse fields, including, but not limited to, economics, world affairs, material science and medicine. Troy University supports professors’ research without influence or consideration of political factors.”

Though the case is still marked as “active” on FIRE’s website, FIRE’s Haley Gluhanich declared the statement a “victory” through a blog post published on May 4.

“FIRE has yet to hear from any MJC staff — or any other faculty members — that their research has been rejected or redirected for political or viewpoint-discriminatory reasons,” Gluhanich wrote. “While FIRE appreciates Troy affirming its commitment to academic freedom in the face of political public pressure, we will be keeping a watchful eye. Should we become aware the university is meddling in a faculty member’s research, Troy can expect to hear from us again.”

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