This section of Discover The Networks explores the concept of Academic Freedom – its meaning; the frequency with which its tenets are violated on college campuses nationwide; and efforts that have been made to restore it.
The modern concept of academic freedom was formulated primarily through a series of statements and declarations issued by the American Association of University Professors (AAUP) over the last century.
From its first formulation in the AAUP's 1915 Declaration of Principles on Academic Freedom and Academic Tenure, the concept of academic freedom has been premised on the idea that human knowledge is a never-ending pursuit of the truth, that there is no humanly accessible truth that is not in principle open to challenge, and that no party or intellectual faction has a monopoly on wisdom. Therefore, academic freedom is most likely to thrive in an environment of intellectual diversity that protects and fosters independence of thought and speech. In the words of the 1915 Declaration, it is vital to protect “as the first condition of progress, [a] complete and unlimited freedom to pursue inquiry and publish its results....”
The 1915 Declaration goes on to state that:
“The liberty of the scholar within the university to set forth his conclusions, be they what they may, is conditioned by there being conclusions gained by a scholar’s method and held in a scholar’s spirit; that is to say, they must be the fruits of competent and patient and sincere inquiry, and they should be set forth with dignity, courtesy, and temperateness of language. The university teacher, in giving instruction upon controversial matters, while he is under no obligation to hide his own opinion under a mountain of equivocal verbiage, should, if he is fit for his position, be a person of a fair and judicial mind; he should, in dealing with such subjects, set forth justly, without suppression or innuendo, the divergent opinions of other investigators; he should cause his students to become familiar with the best published expressions of the great historic types of doctrine upon the questions at issue; and he should, above all, remember that his business is not to provide his students with ready-made conclusions, but to train them to think for themselves, and to provide them access to those materials which they need if they are to think intelligently.”
Twenty-five years later, in 1940, the AAUP issued another landmark Statement on the subject of academic freedom. Its key tenets include:
- “Teachers are entitled to full freedom in research and in the publication of the results, subject to the adequate performance of their other academic duties; but research for pecuniary return should be based upon an understanding with the authorities of the institution.”
- “Teachers are entitled to freedom in the classroom in discussing their subject, but they should be careful not to introduce into their teaching controversial matter which has no relation to their subject....”
- “When [college and university teachers] speak or write as citizens, they should be free from institutional censorship or discipline, but their special position in the community imposes special obligations. As scholars and educational officers, they should remember that the public may judge their profession and their institution by their utterances. Hence they should at all times be accurate, should exercise appropriate restraint, should show respect for the opinions of others, and should make every effort to indicate that they are not speaking for the institution.”
In 1970 the AAUP issued a number of interpretive comments to clarify and emphasize some of the positions it had stated thirty years earlier. Most notably, the Association explained that its intent was “not to discourage what is ‘controversial,’” but rather “to underscore the need for teachers to avoid persistently intruding material which has no relation to their subject.”
Taken together, these statements of the AAUP lay out several key aspects of the doctrine of academic freedom:
- academic freedom applies to both faculty and students;
- academic freedom prohibits the intrusion of controversial topics not relevant to the academic subject on a given course;
- academic freedom requires that instructors teach not merely their own views but also “the divergent opinions” of other scholars in the field; and
- academic freedom requires faculty to exercise “appropriate restraint” in their public statements and show respect for the opinions of others.
But in spite of the AAUP’s clear and repetitive statements on the meaning of academic freedom, these principles are flagrantly violated on college and university campuses across America by educators who view it as their mission to teach students what to think, not how to think. The vast majority of academic faculty members are leftists, resulting in a one-party campus where conservative views are rarely acknowledged or discussed, and where entire departments are premised upon leftist principles (such as Women’s Studies which takes the social construction of gender as a given). (For numerous examples of professors who have abused their positions to indoctrinate students, see the websites of Students For Academic Freedom and The College Fix.
Colleges and universities across America have drawn extensively on the AAUP’s statements on academic freedom, particularly the 1940 statement, in crafting their own academic freedom policies, often quoting the text verbatim. One particularly strong example was the policy enacted at Pennsylvania State University, HR 64, which held that:
“The faculty member is entitled to freedom in the classroom in discussing his/her subject. The faculty member is, however, responsible for the maintenance of appropriate standards of scholarship and teaching ability. It is not the function of a faculty member in a democracy to indoctrinate his/her students with ready-made conclusions on controversial subjects. The faculty member is expected to train students to think for themselves, and to provide them access to those materials which they need if they are to think intelligently. Hence, in giving instruction upon controversial matters the faculty member is expected to be of a fair and judicial mind, and to set forth justly, without supersession or innuendo, the divergent opinions of other investigators.”
The policy continues:
“No faculty member may claim as a right the privilege of discussing in the classroom controversial topics outside his/her own field of study. The faculty member is normally bound not to take advantage of his/her position by introducing into the classroom provocative discussions of irrelevant subjects not within the field of his/her study.” (In 2011, the trustees of Penn State altered the policy, though much of the original content remains.)
Though similar statements prohibiting the indoctrination of students and the intrusion of controversial material not germane to academic courses exist at the majority of colleges and universities in America, these statements are typically hidden away in faculty manuals or lengthy catalogues of rules and regulations. Only a handful of campuses across the nation protect the right of individual students to protest or file a grievance if their professors refuse to abide by these strictures of academic freedom.
Reacting to the general climate of ideological intolerance and indoctrination in college and university classrooms across the United States, in 2003 the California-based Center for the Study of Popular Culture (now the David Horowitz Freedom Center) crafted an Academic Bill of Rights based upon the AAUP’s public declarations on academic freedom. One of the main goals of Students for Academic Freedom was to encourage universities to develop accessible policies listing the ways in which academic freedom applies to students and a structure for students to file grievances if their rights are violated.
The Academic Bill of Rights written by David Horowitz states:
"Academic freedom consists in protecting the intellectual independence of professors, researchers and students in the pursuit of knowledge and the expression of ideas from interference by legislators or authorities within the institution itself. This means that no political, ideological or religious orthodoxy will be imposed on professors and researchers through the hiring or tenure or termination process, or through any other administrative means by the academic institution. Nor shall legislatures impose any such orthodoxy through their control of the university budget.
"This protection includes students. From the first statement on academic freedom, it has been recognized that intellectual independence means the protection of students – as well as faculty – from the imposition of any orthodoxy of a political, religious or ideological nature. The 1915 General Report admonished faculty to avoid ‘taking unfair advantage of the student’s immaturity by indoctrinating him with the teacher’s own opinions before the student has had an opportunity fairly to examine other opinions upon the matters in question, and before he has sufficient knowledge and ripeness of judgment to be entitled to form any definitive opinion of his own.’ In 1967, the AAUP’s Joint Statement on Rights and Freedoms of Students reinforced and amplified this injunction by affirming the inseparability of ‘the freedom to teach and freedom to learn.’ In the words of the report, ‘Students should be free to take reasoned exception to the data or views offered in any course of study and to reserve judgment about matters of opinion.’"
The battle for an Academic Bill of Rights was taken up by students across the nation (more than 150 campuses formed Students for Academic Freedom chapters) and also by state legislatures. Lawmakers in more than a dozen states introduced resolutions inspired by the Academic Bill of Rights. In July 2005, the American Council on Education released a statement on “Academic Rights and Responsibilities” endorsed by an additional 22 college and university associations (among which was the AAUP) which endorsed key principles of the Academic Bill of Rights, including the importance of “intellectual pluralism” and the access of students to a grievance machinery if their academic freedom is violated.
Ultimately, several state-run higher education systems, in states such as Colorado, Ohio and Pennsylvania, where a series of legislative hearings on academic freedom were held, agreed to adopt new provisions protecting students’ academic freedom. In spite of these successes, students at campuses across the nation, even those which have added additional protections, continue to face threats to their academic freedom.