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Academic freedom is the belief that the freedom of inquiry by students and faculty members is essential to the mission of the academy, and that scholars should have freedom to teach or communicate ideas or facts (including those that are inconvenient to external political groups or to authorities) without being targeted for repression, job loss, or imprisonment.

Still, academic freedom has limits. In the United States, for example, according to the widely recognized "1940 Statement on Academic Freedom and Tenure", teachers should be careful to avoid controversial matter that is unrelated to the subject. When they speak or write in public, they are free to express their opinions without fear from institutional censorship or discipline, but they should show restraint and clearly indicate that they are not speaking for their institution. Academic tenure protects academic freedom by ensuring that teachers can be fired only for causes such as gross professional incompetence or behavior that evokes condemnation from the academic community itself.

The rationale for academic freedom

Proponents of academic freedom believe that the freedom of inquiry by students and faculty members is essential to the mission of the academy. They argue that academic communities are repeatedly targeted for repression due to their ability to shape and control the flow of information. When scholars attempt to teach or communicate ideas or facts that are inconvenient to external political groups or to authorities, they may find themselves targeted for public vilification, job loss, imprisonment, or even death. For example, in North Africa, a professor of public health discovered that his country's infant mortality rate was higher than government figures indicated. He lost his job and was imprisoned.

The fate of biology in the Soviet Unionmarker is also cited as a reason why society has an interest in protecting academic freedom. A Soviet biologist named Trofim Lysenko rejected Western science—then focused primarily on making advances in theoretical genetics, based on research with the fruit fly (Drosophila melanogaster) -- and proposed a more socially relevant approach to farming that was based on the collectivist principles of dialectical materialism. (Lysenko called this "Michurinism," but it is more popularly known today as Lysenkoism.) Lysenko's ideas proved appealing to the Soviet leadership, in part because of their value as propaganda, and he was ultimately made director of the Soviet Academy of Agricultural Sciences; subsequently, Lysenko directed a purge of scientists who professed "harmful ideas," resulting in the expulsion, imprisonment, or death of hundreds of Soviet scientists. Lysenko's ideas were then implemented on collectivised farms in the Soviet Union and China. Famines that resulted partly from Lysenko's influence are believed to have killed 30 million people in China alone.

AFAF (Academics For Academic Freedom)of the United Kingdom is a campaign for lecturers, academic staff and researchers who want to make a public statement in favour of free enquiry and free expression. Their statement of Academic Freedom has two main principles:

  1. that academics, both inside and outside the classroom, have unrestricted liberty to question and test received wisdom and to put forward controversial and unpopular opinions, whether or not these are deemed offensive, and
  2. that academic institutions have no right to curb the exercise of this freedom by members of their staff, or to use it as grounds for disciplinary action or dismissal.'

AFAF and those who are part of the campaign believe that it is important for academics to be able to express their opinions - not just full stop, but to put them to scrutiny and to open further debate. They are against the idea of telling the public Platonic 'noble lies' and believe that people should not be protected from radical views.

Academic freedom for professors

The concept of academic freedom as a right of faculty members is an established part of most legal systems. Different from the United States, where academic freedom is derived from the guarantee of free speech under the First Amendment, constitutions of other countries (and particularly of civil law jurisdictions) typically grant a separate right to free learning, teaching, and research.

In Germany

The German Constitution (Grundgesetz) specifically grants academic freedom: "Art and science, research and teaching are free. Freedom of teaching does not absolve from loyalty to the constitution" (Art. 5, para. 3). In a tradition reaching back to the nineteenth century, jurisdiction has understood this right as one to teach (Lehrfreiheit), study (Lernfreiheit), and conduct research (Freiheit der Wissenschaft) freely, although the last concept has sometimes been taken as a cover term for the first two. Lehrfreiheit embraces the right of professors to determine the content of their lectures and to publish the results of their research without prior approval.

Since professors through their Habilitation receive the right to teach (venia docendi) in a particular academic field, academic freedom is deemed to cover at least the entirety of this field. Lernfreiheit means a student's right to determine an individual course of study. Finally, Freiheit der Wissenschaft permits academic self-governance and grants the university control of its internal affairs. Through the introduction of disciplinary curricula, Lernfreiheit has become a rather empty concept.

In the United States

In the United States, academic freedom is generally taken as the notion of academic freedom defined by the "1940 Statement of Principles on Academic Freedom and Tenure," jointly authored by the American Association of University Professors ("AAUP") and the Association of American Colleges (AAC) (now the Association of American Colleges and Universities). These principles state that "Teachers are entitled to freedom in the classroom in discussing their subject." The statement also permits institutions to impose "limitations of academic freedom because of religious or other aims," so long as they are "clearly stated in writing at the time of the appointment." The Principles have only the character of private pronouncements, not that of binding law.

The six regional accreditors work with American colleges and universities, including private and religious institutions, to implement this standard. Additionally, the AAUP, which is not an accrediting body, works with this same institutions. The AAUP does not always agree with the regional accrediting bodies on the standards of protection of academic freedom and tenure. The AAUP lists those colleges and universities which it has found to violate these principles. There is some case law in the United States that teachers are limited in their academic freedoms.

In France

A professor at a public Frenchmarker university, or a researcher in a public research laboratory, is expected, as are all civil servants, to behave in a neutral manner and to not favor any particular political or religious point of view during the course of his duties. However, the academic freedom of university professors is a fundamental principle recognized by the laws of the Republic, as defined by the Constitutional Council; furthermore, statute law declares about higher education that "teachers-researchers (university professors and assistant professors), researchers and teachers are fully independent and enjoy full freedom of speech in the course of their research and teaching activities, provided they respect, following university traditions and the dispositions of this code, principles of tolerance and objectivity." The nomination and promotion of professors is largely done through a process of peer review rather than through normal administrative procedures.

Academic freedom for colleges and universities

A prominent feature of the English university concept is the freedom to appoint faculty, set standards and admit students. This ideal may be better described as institutional autonomy and is distinct from whatever freedom is granted to students and faculty by the institution.

The Supreme Court of the United Statesmarker said that academic freedom means a university can "determine for itself on academic grounds:

  1. who may teach,
  2. what may be taught,
  3. how it should be taught, and
  4. who may be admitted to study."

In a 2008 case, a Federal court in Virginiamarker ruled that professors have no academic freedom; all academic freedom resides with the university or college. In that case, Stronach v. Virginia State University, a district court judge held "that no constitutional right to academic freedom exists that would prohibit senior (university) officials from changing a grade given by (a professor) to one of his students." The court relied on mandatory precedent of the U.S.marker Supreme Courtmarker case of Sweezy v. New Hampshire and a case from the fourth circuit court of appeals. The Stronach court also relied on persuasive cases from several circuits of the courts of appeals, including the first, third, and seventh circuits. That court distinguished the situation when a university attempts to coerce a professor into changing a grade, which is clearly in violation of the First Amendment, from when university officials may, in their discretionary authority, change the grade upon appeal by a student. The Stronach case has gotten significant attention in the academic community as an important precedent.

Relationship to freedom of speech

Academic freedom and free speech rights are not coextensive. Academic freedom involves more than speech rights; for example, it includes the right to determine what is taught in the classroom. In practice, academic freedom is protected by institutional rules and regulations, letters of appointment, faculty handbooks, collective bargaining agreements, and academic custom.

In the U.S., the freedom of speech is guaranteed by the First Amendment, which states that "Congress shall make no law... abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press...." By extension, the First Amendment applies to all governmental institutions, including public universities. The U.S. Supreme Courtmarker has consistently held that academic freedom is a First Amendment right. The United States' First Amendment does not apply to private institutions, including religious institutions. These private institutions may honor freedom of speech and academic freedom at their discretion.


Evolution debate

The "academic freedom bills" are anti-evolution bills that were introduced in state legislatures in the United Statesmarker between 2004 and 2008. Supporters say that both students and faculty face intimidation and retaliation when discussing scientific criticisms of evolution, and therefore require legal protection. Critics of the bills say that there are no credible scientific critiques of the overall concept of evolution. Investigation of the allegations showed no evidence that intimidation and retaliation occurs. Bill Analysis and Fiscal Impact Statement, The Professional Staff of the Education Pre-K - 12 Committee, Florida Senate, March 26 2008

The bills were based largely upon language drafted by the Discovery Institute, "Academic Freedom" Bill in South Carolina Now Ed Brayton, Dispatches From the Culture Wars, May 18, 2008. the hub of the intelligent design movement, and derive from language originally drafted for the Santorum Amendment in the United States Senate. As of June 2008, only the Louisiana bill has been successfully been passed into law.

According to the Wall Street Journal, the common goal of these bills is to expose more students to articles and videos that undercut evolution, most of which are produced by advocates of intelligent design or Biblical creationism. The main organization defending academic freedom, the American Association of University Professors, recently reaffirmed its opposition to academic freedom bills, including any portrayal of creationism as a scientifically credible alternative and any misrepresentation of evolution as scientifically controversial.

The "Academic bill of rights"

Students for Academic Freedom (SAF) was founded in 2001 by David Horowitz to protect students from a perceived liberal bias in U.S. colleges and universities. The organization collected many statements from college students complaining that some of their professors were disregarding their responsibility to keep unrelated controversial material out of their classes and were instead teaching their subjects from an ideological point of view. In response, the organization drafted model legislation, called the Academic Bill of Rights, which has been introduced in several state legislatures and the U.S. House of Representatives. The Academic Bill of Rights is based on the Declaration of Principles on Academic Freedom and Academic Tenure as published by the American Association of University Professors in 1915, and modified in 1940 and 1970.According to Students for Academic Freedom, academic freedom is "the freedom to teach and to learn." They contend in " The Academic Bill of Rights" that academic freedom promotes "intellectual diversity" and helps achieve a university's primary goals, i.e., "the pursuit of truth, the discovery of new knowledge through scholarship and research, the study and reasoned criticism of intellectual and cultural traditions, the teaching and general development of students to help them become creative individuals and productive citizens of a pluralistic democracy, and the transmission of knowledge and learning to a society at large." They feel that, in the past forty years, the principles as defined in the AAUP Declaration have become something of a dead letter, and that an entrenched class of tenured radical leftists is blocking all efforts to restore those principles. In an attempt to override such opposition, the Academic Bill of Rights calls for state and judicial regulation of colleges. Such regulation would ensure that:
  • students and faculty will not be favored or disfavored because of their political views or religious beliefs;
  • the humanities and social sciences, in particular, will expose their students to a variety of sources and viewpoints, and not present one viewpoint as certain and settled truth;
  • campus publications and invited speakers will not be harassed, abused, or otherwise obstructed;
  • academic institutions and professional societies will adopt a neutral attitude in matters of politics, ideology or religion.

Opponents claim that such a bill would actually restrict academic freedom, by granting politically-motivated legislators and judges the right to shape the nature and focus of scholarly concerns. According to the American Association of University Professors, the Academic Bill of Rights is, despite its title, an attack on the very concept of academic freedom itself: "A fundamental premise of academic freedom is that decisions concerning the quality of scholarship and teaching are to be made by reference to the standards of the academic profession, as interpreted and applied by the community of scholars who are qualified by expertise and training to establish such standards." The Academic Bill of Rights directs universities to implement the principle of neutrality by requiring the appointment of faculty "with a view toward fostering a plurality of methodologies and perspectives," an approach they claim is problematic because "It invites diversity to be measured by political standards that diverge from the academic criteria of the scholarly profession." For example,"no department of political theory ought to be obligated to establish 'a plurality of methodologies and perspectives' by appointing a professor of Nazi political philosophy." Concurring, the president of Appalachian Bible College in West Virginia fears that the Academic Bill of Rights "would inhibit his college's efforts to provide a faith-based education and would put pressure on the college to hire professors... who espouse views contrary to those of the institution."

It should also be noted that there has been much controversy over the validity of the student’s statements used by Horowitz to support his organisations claims. This is due to the revelation that one of the cases he referred to regularly was not factually accurate. Horowitz claims that this student had to write an essay on ‘why George Bush was a war criminal.’ Instead, the student chose to focus her answer on why Saddam Hussein was a war criminal and consequently received a grade ‘F’(Fail). In reality, this question asking students to state whether or not Bush was a war criminal was never set, and the student in question did not receive a grade ‘F’ for this particular exam. Horowitz acknowledges the flaws in this case but asks the public to believe that there are many other legitimate cases.

Local events

While some controversies of academic freedom are reflected in proposed laws that would affect large numbers of students through entire regions, more cases involve individual academicians that express unpopular opinions or share politically unfavorable information. These individual cases may receive widespread attention and periodically test the limits of, and support for, academic freedom.

  • The Bassett Affair at Duke Universitymarker in North Carolina in the early 20th century was an important event in the history of academic freedom. In October 1903, Professor John Bassett publicly praised Booker T. Washington and drew attention to the racism and white supremacist behavior of the Democrat party, to the disgust of powerful white Southerners. Many media reports castigated Bassett, and many major newspapers published opinion pieces attacking him and demanding his termination. On December 1, 1903, the entire faculty of the college threatened to resign en masse if the board gave into political pressures and asked Bassett to resign. President Teddy Roosevelt later praised Bassett for his willingness to express the truth as he saw it.
  • At the beginning of the 21st century, Lawrence Summers, while president of Harvard University, led a discussion that was intended to identify the reasons why fewer women chose to study science and mathematics at advanced levels. He suggested that the possibility of intrinsic gender differences in terms of talent for science and mathematics should be explored. He became the target of considerable public backlash. His critics were, in turn, accused of attempting to suppress academic freedom.
  • J. Michael Bailey wrote a popular science-style book, The Man Who Would Be Queen, which says that transwomen are motivated by sexuality, and dismisses the popular "woman trapped in a man's body" concept of transsexuality in favor of the classification scheme currently dominant among researchers, which divides transwomen into two groups (autogynephilics and homosexual transsexuals) according to their sexual orientation. In an effort to discredit his book, some trans activists filed formal complaints with Northwestern University, accused Bailey of conducting regulated human research (by talking to people) without informed consent, attempted to have him convicted of "practicing psychology without a license", and publicly humiliated his young children, ex-wife, and other friends and colleagues. Supporters have expressed concerns that "informed consent" can be used to stifle free speech and that the behavior "over-the-top" behavior of some trans activists will convince qualified researchers not to research transsexuality. Steven Pinker of Harvard University said, ‘‘The intimidation directed at Bailey will ensure that graduate students, post-docs, and other young researchers will not touch this topic with a ten-foot pole, starving the field of new talent."'
  • In the aftermath of the September 11, 2001 attacks, some public statements made by some university faculty were criticized as being insufficiently patriotic. Most prominent among these were these comments made in January 2005 by University of Coloradomarker professor Ward Churchill. He published an essay in which he asserted that the attack on the United States was justified because of American foreign policy. On news and talk programs, he was criticized for describing the World Trade Centermarker victims as "little Eichmanns," a reference to Hannah Arendt's Eichmann in Jerusalem. Many called for Churchill to be fired for saying that the workers in the World Trade Center were legitimate military targets whose deaths were the inevitable result of American financial dominance and foreign policy positions. Others, even if they disagreed with his opinions, defended him on the principle of academic freedom.
  • William Shockley was concerned about relatively high reproductive rates among people of African descent, because he believed that genetics doomed black people to be intellectually inferior to white people. He was strongly criticized for this stand, which raised some concerns about whether criticism of unpopular views of racial differences suppressed academic freedom.
  • The 2006 scandal in which several members of the Duke Lacrosse team were falsely accused of rapemarker raised serious criticisms against exploitation of academic freedom by the university and its faculty to press judgement and deny due process to the three players accused.
  • Thio Li-ann withdrew from an appointment at New York University School of Lawmarker after controversy erupted about some anti-gay remarks she had made, prompting a discussion of academic freedom within the law school.

See also


  1. 1940 Statement of Principles on Academic Freedom and Tenure.
  2. Robert Quinn (2004). " Defending 'Dangerous Minds.'"
  3. Jasper Becker (1996). Hungry Ghosts: Mao's Secret Famine. New York: Free Press.
  5. 1940 Statement of Principles on Academic Freedom and Tenure, AAUP [1], accessed March 23, 2007
  6. For example, the Northwest Association of Schools and of Colleges and Universities reviewed Brigham Young University's academic freedom statement and found it in compliance with the 1940 statement, while AAUP has found Brigham Young University to be in violation
  7. Censured Institutions
  8. French Education Code, L952-2.
  9. (Kemp, p. 7)
  10. Regents of the University of California v. Bakke, 438 U.S. 265, 312 (1978).
  11. Sweezy v. New Hampshire, 354 U.S. 234, 262-263 (1957) (Felix Frankfurter, Justice).
  12. Stronach v. Virginia State University, civil action 3:07-CV-646-HEH (E. D. Va. Jan. 15, 2008).
  13. See Urofsky v. Gilmore, 216 F.3d 401, 414, 415 (4th Cir. 2000). (Noting that "cases that have referred to a First Amendment right of academic freedom have done so generally in terms of the institution, not the individual ...." and "Significantly, the court has never recognized that professors possess a First Amendment right of academic freedom to determine for themselves the content of their courses and scholarship, despite opportunities to do so".
  14. Lovelace v. S.E. Mass. University, 793 F.2d 419, 425 (1st Cir. 1986) ("To accept plaintiff's contention that an untenured teacher's grading policy is constitutionally protected . . . would be to constrict the university in defining and performing its educational mission".)
  15. Edwards v. California University of Pennsylvania, 156 F.3d 488, 491 (3d Cir. 1998) ("In Edwards v. Cal. Univ. of Pa., The court held that the First Amendment does not allow a university professor to decide what is taught in the classroom but rather protects the university's right to select the curriculum," as cited in Stronach.)
  16. Brown v. Amenti, 247 F.3d 69, 75 (3d Cir. 2001). (Holding "a public university professor does not have a First Amendment right to expression via the school's grade assignment procedures".)
  17. Wozniak v. Conry, 236 F.3d 888, 891 (7th Cir. 2001). (Holding that "No person has a fundamental right to teach undergraduate engineering classes without following the university's grading rules ...." and that "it is the [u]niversity's name, not [the professor]'s, that appears on the diploma; the [u]niversity, not [the professor], certifies to employers and graduate schools a student's successful completion of a course of study. Universities are entitled to assure themselves that their evaluation systems have been followed; otherwise their credentials are meaningless".)
  18. See Parate v. Isibor, 868 F.2d 821, 827-28 (6th Cir. 1989). (Holding that "a university professor may claim that his assignment of an examination grade or a final grade is communication protected by the First Amendment . . . [t]hus, the individual professor may not be compelled, by university officials, to change a grade that the professor previously assigned to her student".
  19. White, Lawrence, "CASE IN POINT: STRONACH V. VIRGINIA STATE U. (2008): Does Academic Freedom Give a Professor the Final Say on Grades?", Chronicle of Higher Education, found at Chronicle web site and Chronicle Review commentary and blog. Accessed May 20, 2008.
  20. Donna Euben, Political And Religious Belief Discrimination On Campus: Faculty and Student Academic Freedom and The First Amendment.
  21. Sweezy v. New Hampshire, 354 U.S. 234 (1957); Keyishian v. Board of Regents, 385 U.S. 589 (1967); Regents of Univ. of Michigan v. Ewing, 474 U.S. 214 (1985).
  22. Academic Freedom Act
  23. Evolution's Critics Shift Tactics With Schools, Stephanie Simon, Wall Street Journal, May 2, 2008
  24. Academic Freedom and Teaching Evolution Resolutions of the 94th Annual Meeting, American Association of University Professors. 2008
  25. The Latest Face of Creationism in the Classroom Glenn Branch and Eugenie C. Scott. Scientific American, December 2008.
  26. Academic Freedom Abuse Center
  27. Indoctrination U: the Left's war against academic freedom / David Horowitz, 2007 ISBN 1594031908
  28. Alyson Klein (2004). "Worried on the Left and Right." Chronicle of Higher Education (July 9, 2004).
  29. Media Matters
  30. FrontPage Magazine
  31. The Bassett Affair
  33. Summer's Remarks on Women Draw Fire
  34. Carey, Benedict. (21 August 2007) "Criticism of a Gender Theory, and a Scientist Under Siege." The New York Times.
  35. Dreger, 2008. page 413.
  36. William B. Shockley, 79, Creator Of Transistor and Theory on Race

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