Tips for signing letters and petitions

Open letters and petitions can be effective tools for advocacy and public scholarship. They can be employed to lend expertise and credibility to matters of public discourse, and they can be a way for members of the academy to stand united. It is the discretion of individual faculty to choose whether to sign such documents. In order to preserve the integrity of these actions, however, it is vital that faculty fully investigate any letter’s claims before choosing to sign it. 


    Gather as much information as possible about the subject of the letter before signing it. Conduct your own inquiry to arrive at your own conclusions.


    If the letter concerns scholarship or a particular action, refrain from making any ad hominem attacks or defenses of the person in question. Consider whether you have credible expertise in the relevant academic field before taking a strong stand. 


    Hold letters concerning someone’s scholarship to the same academic standards as you would your own research. When appropriate, letters should have citations and evidence to support their claims.


    Be mindful that the letter does not encroach on colleagues’ academic freedom in any way. While it may be legitimate to rebuke offensive language or scholarship, avoid calling for someone’s resignation over protected speech unless it seriously calls into question their professional qualifications.


    If you are a signatory on a letter, make sure you agree with its message. You should believe in the letter strongly enough that you would hypothetically be comfortable publishing it under your name alone. Consider carefully the pros and cons of attaching yourself to it.