Academic Freedom An Essay In Definition Latin

Academic freedom is the conviction that the freedom of inquiry by faculty members is essential to the mission of the academy as well as the principles of academia, 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.

Academic freedom is a contested issue and, therefore, has limitations in practice. In the United States, for example, according to the widely recognized "1940 Statement on Academic Freedom and Tenure" of the American Association of University Professors, 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.[1] 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.[2]

Historical background[edit]

Although the notion of academic freedom has a long implicit history, the idea was first clearly formulated in response to the encroachments of the totalitarian state on science and academia in general for the furtherance of its own goals. For instance, in the Soviet Union, scientific research was brought under strict political control in the 1930s. A number of research areas were declared "bourgeois pseudoscience" and forbidden, notably genetics[3] (see "Lysenkoism") and sociology.[4] The trend toward subjugating science to the interests of the state also had proponents in the West, including the influential MarxistJohn Desmond Bernal, who published The Social Function of Science in 1939.

In contrast to this approach, Michael Polanyi argued that a structure of liberty is essential for the advancement of science – that the freedom to pursue science for its own sake is a prerequisite for the production of knowledge through peer review and the scientific method.[5]

In 1936, as a consequence of an invitation to give lectures for the Ministry of Heavy Industry in the USSR, Polanyi met Bukharin, who told him that in socialist societies all scientific research is directed to accord with the needs of the latest five-year plan. Demands in Britain for centrally planned scientific research led Polanyi, together with John Baker, to found the influential Society for Freedom in Science.[6] The Society promoted a liberal conception of science as free enquiry against the instrumental view that science should exist primarily to serve the needs of society.[7]

In a series of articles, re-published in The Contempt of Freedom (1940) and The Logic of Liberty (1951), Polanyi claimed that co-operation amongst scientists is analogous to the way in which agents co-ordinate themselves within a free market. Just as consumers in a free market determine the value of products, science is a spontaneous order that arises as a consequence of open debate amongst specialists. Science can therefore only flourish when scientists have the liberty to pursue truth as an end in itself:

[S]cientists, freely making their own choice of problems and pursuing them in the light of their own personal judgment, are in fact co-operating as members of a closely knit organization.

Such self-co-ordination of independent initiatives leads to a joint result which is unpremeditated by any of those who bring it about.

Any attempt to organize the group ... under a single authority would eliminate their independent initiatives, and thus reduce their joint effectiveness to that of the single person directing them from the centre. It would, in effect, paralyse their co-operation.


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.[8][9]

The fate of biology in the Soviet Union is also cited[citation needed] as a reason why society has an interest in protecting academic freedom. A Soviet biologist 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.[10]

AFAF (Academics For Academic Freedom) of the United Kingdom[11] 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 agree with its principles believe that it is important for academics to be able not only to express their opinions, but also 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 need not be protected from radical views.

Academic freedom for academic staff[edit]

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.


Professors at public French universities and researchers in public research laboratories are 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 their 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".[12] The nomination and promotion of professors is largely done through a process of peer review rather than through normal administrative procedures.


The German Constitution (German: 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 19th 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 (Latin: 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.


In Mauritius, freedom of expression is guaranteed by the Constitution. A paper about the University of Mauritius highlighted that although there is no record of any forms of abuse of human rights or freedom by the state, "subtle threats to freedom of expression do exist, especially with regard to criticisms of ruling political parties and their leaders as well as religious groups".[13] In 1986, the right of academics to engage in politics was removed to curtail academic freedom. The institutional bureaucracy and dependence of universities on state funds have, to some extent, "restricted the freedom of academics to criticize government policy".[13]


In the Netherlands, the academic freedom is rather limited. As defined in the Statute on Higher Education and Scientific Research (Wet op het hoger onderwijs en wetenschappelijk onderzoek, article 1.6), this freedom only applies to certain institutions.


The 1987 Philippine Constitution states that, "Academic Freedom shall be enjoyed in all institutions of higher learning."[14] Philippine jurisprudence and courts of law, including the Philippine Supreme Court tend to reflexively defer to the institutional autonomy of higher institutions of learning in determining academic decisions with respect to the outcomes of individual cases filed in the courts regarding the abuse of Academic Freedom by professors, despite the individual merits or demerits of any cases.[15] A closely watched case was the controversial case of University of the Philippines at Diliman Sociology Professor Sarah Raymundo who was not granted tenure due to an appeal by the minority dissenting vote within the faculty of the Sociology Department. This decision was sustained upon appeal by the dissenting faculty and Professor Raymundo to the University of the Philippines at Diliman Chancellor Sergio S. Cao; and though the case was elevated to University of the Philippines System President Emerlinda R. Roman, Roman denied the appeal which was elevated by Professor Raymundo to the University's Board of Regents for decision and the BOR granted her request for tenure. A major bone of contention among the supporters of Professor Raymundo was not to question the institutional Academic Freedom of the Department in not granting her tenure, but in asking for transparency in how the Academic Freedom of the department was exercised, in keeping with traditions within the University of the Philippines in providing a basis that may be subject to peer review, for Academic decisions made under the mantle of Academic Freedom.

South Africa[edit]

Section 16 of the 1996 Constitution of South Africa offers specific protection to academic freedom.[16] However, there have been a large number of scandals around the restriction of academic freedom at a number of universities with particular concern being expressed at the situation at the University of KwaZulu-Natal.[17][18]

New Zealand[edit]

Academic freedom pertains to forms of expression by academic staff engaged in scholarship and is defined by the Education Act 1989 (s161(2)) as: a) The freedom of academic staff and students, within the law, to question and test received wisdom, to put forward new ideas and to state controversial or unpopular opinions; b) The freedom of academic staff and students to engage in research; c) The freedom of the University and its staff to regulate the subject matter of courses taught at the University; d) The freedom of the University and its staff to teach and assess students in the manner they consider best promotes learning; and e) The freedom of the University through its Council and Vice-Chancellor to appoint its own staff. [19]

United States[edit]

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).[20] These principles state that "Teachers are entitled to freedom in the classroom in discussing their subject."[20] 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".[20] The Principles have only the character of private pronouncements, not that of binding law.

Seven 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 these same institutions. The AAUP does not always agree with the regional accrediting bodies on the standards of protection of academic freedom and tenure.[21] The AAUP lists (censures) those colleges and universities which it has found, after its own investigations, to violate these principles.[22] There is some case law in the United States that holds that teachers are limited in their academic freedom.[citation needed]

Academic freedom has recently come under attack, but some people work to defend the first amendment on campuses.[23]

Academic freedom for colleges and universities (institutional autonomy)[edit]

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.[24]

The Supreme Court of the United States 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."[25][26][27]

In a 2008 case, a federal court in Virginia ruled that professors have no academic freedom; all academic freedom resides with the university or college.[27] 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."[27] The court relied on mandatory precedent of the U.S. Supreme Court case of Sweezy v. New Hampshire[26] and a case from the fourth circuit court of appeals.[27][28] The Stronach court also relied on persuasive cases from several circuits of the courts of appeals, including the first,[29] third,[30][31] and seventh[32] 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.[27][33] The Stronach case has gotten significant attention in the academic community as an important precedent.[34]

Relationship to freedom of speech[edit]

Academic freedom and free speech rights are not coextensive, although this widely accepted view has been recently challenged by an "institutionalist" perspective on the First Amendment.[35] Academic freedom involves more than speech rights; for example, it includes the right to determine what is taught in the classroom.[36] The AAUP gives teachers a set of guidelines to follow when their ideas are considered threatening to religious, political, or social agendas. When teachers speak or write in public, whether via social media or in academic journals, they are able to articulate their own opinions without the fear from institutional restriction or punishment, but they are encouraged to show restraint and clearly specify that they are not speaking for their institution.[37] In practice, academic freedom is protected by institutional rules and regulations, letters of appointment, faculty handbooks, collective bargaining agreements, and academic custom.[38]

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 Court has consistently held that academic freedom is a First Amendment right at public institutions.[39] However, The United States' First Amendment has generally been held to not apply to private institutions, including religious institutions. These private institutions may honor freedom of speech and academic freedom at their discretion.


Evolution debate[edit]

Academic freedom is also associated with a movement to introduce intelligent design as an alternative explanation to evolution in US public schools. Supporters claim that academic institutions need to fairly represent all possible explanations for the observed biodiversity on Earth, rather than implying no alternatives to evolutionary theory exist.

Critics of the movement claim intelligent design is religiously motivated pseudoscience and cannot be allowed into the curriculum of US public schools due to the First Amendment to the United States Constitution, often citing Kitzmiller v. Dover Area School District as legal precedent.[40][41] They also reject the allegations of discrimination against proponents of intelligent design, of which investigation showed no evidence.[42]

A number of "academic freedom bills" have been introduced in state legislatures in the United States between 2004 and 2008. The bills were based largely upon language drafted by the Discovery Institute,[43] the hub of the Intelligent Design movement, and derive from language originally drafted for the Santorum Amendment in the United States Senate. 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.[44] The American Association of University Professors has reaffirmed its opposition to these academic freedom bills, including any portrayal of creationism as a scientifically credible alternative and any misrepresentation of evolution as scientifically controversial.[45][46] As of June 2008, only the Louisiana bill has been successfully passed into law.[citation needed]

The "Academic bill of rights"[edit]

Students for Academic Freedom (SAF)[47] was founded and is sponsored by the David Horowitz Freedom Center to advocate against 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. SAF 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 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.[48] 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;[49]
  • 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."[50] 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."[51]

Pontifical universities[edit]

Pontifical universities around the world such as The Catholic University of America, the Pontifical University of Saint Thomas Aquinas, Angelicum in Rome, the Université catholique de Louvain in Belgium, and the Pontifical Catholic University of Peru depend for their status as pontifical universities and for the terms of academic freedom on the Pope through the Congregation for Catholic Education. The terms of academic freedom at ecclesiastical institutions of education are outlined in the apostolic constitutionSapientia Christiana.[52]

Specific cases[edit]

While some controversies of academic freedom are reflected in proposed laws that would affect large numbers of students through entire regions, many 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 University in North Carolina in the early 20th century was an important event in the history of academic freedom.[53] In October 1903, Professor John Spencer Bassett publicly praised Booker T. Washington and drew attention to the racism and white supremacist behavior of the Democratic 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.[54] President Teddy Roosevelt later praised Bassett for his willingness to express the truth as he saw it.
  • In 1929, Experimental Psychology Professor Max Friedrich Meyer and Sociology Assistant Professor Harmon O. DeGraff were dismissed from their positions at the University of Missouri for advising student Orval Hobart Mowrer regarding distribution of a questionnaire which inquired about attitudes towards divorce, "living together", and sex.[55] The university was subsequently censured by the American Association of University Professors in an early case regarding academic freedom due a tenured professor.[56]
  • In a famous case investigated by the American Association of University Professors, President Hamilton Holt of Rollins College in March 1933 fired John Andrew Rice, an atheist scholar and unorthodox teacher, whom Holt had hired, along with three other "golden personalities" (as Holt called them), in his push to put Rollins on the cutting edge of innovative education. Holt then required all professors to make a "loyalty pledge" to keep their jobs. The American Association of University Professors censured Rollins. Rice and the three other golden personalities, all of them dismissed for refusing to make the loyalty pledge, founded the innovative Black Mountain College.[57]
  • In 1978, a Nobel prize-winning physicist, electronics inventor, and electrical engineering professor, 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 stated that he believed his work on race to be more important than his work leading to the Nobel prize.[58] He was strongly criticized for this stand, which raised some concerns about whether criticism of unpopular views of racial differences suppressed academic freedom.[59]
  • In the aftermath of the September 11, 2001 attacks, some public statements made by some university faculty were criticized. Most prominent among these were these comments made in January 2005 by University of Colorado professor Ward Churchill. He published an essay in which he asserted that the attack on the United States, while unjustified, were provoked by American foreign policy. On news and talk programs, he was criticized for describing the World Trade Center victims as "little Eichmanns", a reference to Hannah Arendt's Eichmann in Jerusalem. The university fired Churchill in 2007 for research misconduct, and despite initially winning US $1 in damages from a jury, Churchill ultimately lost his wrongful termination lawsuit on appeal.[60]
  • 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.[61] His critics were, in turn, accused of attempting to suppress academic freedom.[62]
  • The 2006 scandal in which several members of the Duke Lacrosse team were falsely accused of rape 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.[63][64]
  • In 2006 trade union leader and sociologist Fazel Khan was fired from the University of KwaZulu-Natal in Durban, South Africa after taking a leadership role in a strike.[65] In 2008 international concern was also expressed at attempts to discipline two other academics at the same university – Nithiya Chetty and John van der Berg – for expressing concern about academic freedom at the university.[66]
  • J. Michael Bailey wrote a popular science-style book, The Man Who Would Be Queen, which promotes Ray Blanchard's theory that transwomen are motivated by sexuality, and dismisses the "woman trapped in a man's body" concept of transsexuality . Blanchard's theory 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 accusing Bailey of conducting regulated human research by talking informally to transwomen without first obtaining written proof of informed consent. They also filed a complaint with Illinois state regulators, requesting that they investigate Bailey for practicing psychology without a license. Bailey, who was not licensed to practice clinical psychology in Illinois, had provided some transwomen with free case evaluation letters, saying that he believed they were good candidates for sex-reassignment surgery. Regulators dismissed the complaint. Andrea James, a Los Angeles-based transgender activist, posted photographs of Bailey's children, taken when they were in middle and elementary school, with sexually explicit captions that she provided.[67][68]
  • Thio Li-ann withdrew from an appointment at New York University School of Law after controversy erupted about some anti-gay remarks she had made, prompting a discussion of academic freedom within the law school.[69][70]
  • In 2009 the University of California at Santa Barbara charged William I. Robinson with anti-Semitism after he circulated an email to his class containing more than two dozen photographs of Jewish victims of the Nazis, including those of dead children, juxtaposed with nearly identical images from the Gaza Strip. It also included an article critical of Israel's treatment of the Palestinians and a note from Robinson stating "Gaza is Israel's Warsaw -- a vast concentration camp that confined and blockaded Palestinians," the professor wrote. "We are witness to a slow-motion process of genocide.".,[71][72] The charges were dropped after a worldwide campaign against the management of the university.[73]
  • The University of the Philippines at Diliman affair where controversy erupted after Professor Gerardo A. Agulto of the College of Business Administration was sued by MBA graduate student Chanda R. Shahani for a nominal amount in damages for failing him several times in the Strategic Management portion of the Comprehensive Examination. Agulto refused to give a detailed basis for his grades and instead invoked Academic Freedom while Shahani argued in court that Academic Freedom could not be invoked without a rational basis in grading a student.[74]
  • During the interwar years (cir. 1919-1939) Canadian academics were informally expected to be apolitical, lest they bring trouble to their respective universities who, at the time, were very much dependent upon provincial government grants. As well, many Canadian academics of the time considered their position to be remote from the world of politics and felt they had no place getting involved in political issues. However, with the increase of socialist activity in Canada during the Great Depression, due to the rise of social gospel ideology, some left-wing academics began taking active part in contemporary political issues outside of the university. Thus, individuals such as Frank H. Underhill at the University of Toronto and other members or affiliates with the League for Social Reconstruction or the socialist movement in Canada who held academic positions began to find themselves in precarious positions with their university employers. Frank H. Underhill, for example, faced criticism from within and without academia and near expulsion from his university position for his public political comments and his involvement with the League for Social Reconstruction and the Co-Operative Commonwealth Federation.[75] According to Michiel Horn this era marked, "…a relaxation of the unwritten controls under which many Canadian professors had previously worked. The nature of the institutions, natural caution and professional pre-occupation had before the Depression inhibited the professoriate. None of these conditions changed quickly, but even at the provincial universities there were brave souls in the 1930s who claimed, with varying success, the right publicly to discuss controversial subjects and express opinions about them."[76]
  • In 2013 the University of Illinois at Urbana–Champaign offered Steven Salaita a faculty position in American Indian studies but then withdrew the offer in 2014, after reviewing some of his comments on Twitter about Israel.[77]

See also[edit]


  1. ^1940 Statement of Principles on Academic Freedom and Tenure, American Association of University Professors and of the Association of American Colleges, p. 3 .
  2. ^1940 Statement of Principles on Academic Freedom and Tenure, American Association of University Professors and of the Association of American Colleges, p. 4 .
  3. ^Glass, Bentley (May 1962). "Scientists in Politics". Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists. 18 (5): 3. 
  4. ^Greenfeld, Liah (1988-01-01). "Soviet Sociology and Sociology in the Soviet Union". Annual Review of Sociology. 14: 99–123. doi:10.1146/annurev.soc.14.1.99. JSTOR 2083312. 
  5. ^Michael Polanyi (1958). Personal Knowledge. ISBN 0-7734-9150-3. 
  6. ^William McGucken (1978). "On Freedom and Planning in Science: The Society for Freedom in Science 1940–1946". Minerva. 16 (1): 42–72. doi:10.1007/BF01102181. 
  7. ^McGucken, William (1978). "On Freedom and Planning in Science: The Society for Freedom in Science 1940–1946". Minerva. 16: 42–72. doi:10.1007/bf01102181. 
  8. ^Robert Quinn (2004). "Defending 'Dangerous MindsArchived 2010-06-26 at the Wayback Machine..'"
  9. ^Ralph E. Fuchs (1969). "Academic Freedom—Its Basic Philosophy, Function and History," in Louis Joughin (ed)., Academic Freedom and Tenure: A Handbook of the American Association of University Professors.
  10. ^Jasper Becker (1996). Hungry Ghosts: Mao's Secret Famine. New York: Free Press.
  11. ^"Academics for Academic Freedom". UK. Retrieved 19 May 2014. 
  12. ^French Education Code, L952-2, French Government.
  13. ^ abRamtohul, Ramola. "Academic Freedom in a State-Sponsored African University: The Case of the University of Mauritius"(PDF). Journal of Academic Freedom. AAUP. Three. 
  15. ^"Notice of Full Disclosure". Retrieved 3 May 2015. 
  16. ^"Redirecting old link". Archived from the original on 17 November 2013. Retrieved 3 May 2015. 
  17. ^Submission by the Freedom of Expression Institute to the UKZN Council Committee on Governance and Academic Freedom, February 2009
  18. ^'UKZN's commitment to academic freedom slated' by Latoya Newman, The Mercury, November 2008
  19. ^"Education Act 1989 No 80 (as at 28 September 2017), Public Act 161 Academic freedom –". New Zealand Legislation. Retrieved 10 January 2018. 
  20. ^ abc1940 Statement of Principles on Academic Freedom and Tenure, AAUP "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2007-02-08. Retrieved 2006-10-13. , accessed March 23, 2007
  21. ^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
  22. ^"Censure List". AAUP. Retrieved 3 May 2015. 
  23. ^"Colleges Have No Right to Limit Students' Free Speech". Time. Retrieved 10 January 2018. 
  24. ^(Kemp, p. 7)
  25. ^Regents of the University of California v. Bakke, 438 U.S. 265, 312 (1978).
  26. ^ abSweezy v. New Hampshire, 354 U.S. 234, 262-263 (1957) (Felix Frankfurter, Justice).
  27. ^ abcdeStronach v. Virginia State University, civil action 3:07-CV-646-HEH (E. D. Va. Jan. 15, 2008).
  28. ^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".
  29. ^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".)
  30. ^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.)
  31. ^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".)
  32. ^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".)
  33. ^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".
  34. ^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.
  35. ^See, for instance, Paul Horwitz, "Universities as First Amendment Institutions: Some Easy Answers and Hard Questions, 54 UCLA Law Review 1497 (2007)
  36. ^Litt, Andrew. "At UCLA, free speech is suppressed and double standards reign". Washington Examiner. Retrieved 2017-09-26. 
  37. ^"AAUP. 1940 Statement of Principles on Academic Freedom and Tenure"(PDF). AAUP. 
  38. ^Donna Euben, Political And Religious Belief Discrimination On Campus: Faculty and Student Academic Freedom and The First Amendment.Archived 2005-12-20 at the Wayback Machine.
  39. ^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).
  40. ^"Rethinking Schools Online". Retrieved 3 May 2015. 
  41. ^Intelligent Design on Trial: Kitzmiller v. Dover. National Center for Science Education. October 17th, 2008
  42. ^Bill Analysis and Fiscal Impact Statement, The Professional Staff of the Education Pre-K-12 Committee, Florida Senate, March 26, 2008
  43. ^"Academic Freedom" Bill in South Carolina NowArchived 2008-05-20 at the Wayback Machine. Ed Brayton, Dispatches From the Culture Wars, May 18, 2008.
  44. ^Evolution's Critics Shift Tactics With Schools, Stephanie Simon, Wall Street Journal, May 2, 2008
  45. ^Academic Freedom and Teaching EvolutionArchived 2009-12-05 at Resolutions of the 94th Annual Meeting, American Association of University Professors. 2008
  46. ^The Latest Face of Creationism in the ClassroomGlenn Branch and Eugenie C. Scott. Scientific American, December 2008.
  47. ^Students for Academic Freedom. "Students For Academic Freedom". Archived from the original on 8 August 2003. Retrieved 3 May 2015. 
  48. ^David Horowitz (2007). Indoctrination U: the Left's war against academic freedomISBN 1-59403-190-8
  49. ^Brown, Sarah (2017-07-01). "Why Did a UCLA Instructor With a Popular Free-Speech Course Lose His Job?". The Chronicle of Higher Education
Michael Polanyi argued that academic freedom was a fundamental necessity for the production of true knowledge.

Back in the 1930s a scholarly intramural feud to choose the inscription for the new library at my future alma mater, the University of Texas at Austin, ended in a draw. From many nominations the competition came down to two finalists. Both said the same thing in different tongues: “Ye Shall Know The Truth and the Truth Shall Make You Free,” from the biblical Gospel of John, and its Latin counterpart: “Cognoscetis Ventatem et veritas liberabit vos.”

Fortunately — at least for me — the selection committee chose English. As I crossed that plaza as a student in the 1950s, and twice later when I spoke at commencement, I would look up (mainly to check the time on the huge clock high on the iconic tower rising above the library), catch a glimpse of the inscription, and be grateful that so many of my professors had fought hard to prevent the politically appointed Board of Regents from dictating exactly what truth could be taught. Some paid a dear price for defending academic freedom, among them survivors of a ferocious campaign waged the previous decade by the state legislature to fire the university president, a political assault bravely resisted by many faculty and students alike.

Attacks on the Academy at large occur frequently in America, and never more intensely than now. Just consider these items from the news:

  • A Republican legislator in Arizona introduced a bill that would prohibit state colleges from offering any class that promotes “division, resentment or social justice” without defining what he means by those words – Arizona earlier banned the teaching of ethnic studies in grades K-12.
  • A Republican state senator in Iowa introduced a bill to use political party affiliation as a test for faculty appointments to colleges and universities.
  • A Republican legislator in Arkansas filed a bill to ban any writing by or about the progressive historian Howard Zinn, author of the popular A People’s History of the United States.
  • In Wisconsin, Republican Gov. Scott Walker tried to remove all references to the university’s commitment to the “search for truth.”
  • Wisconsin’s Republican Legislature has stripped state workers and professors of their collective bargaining rights for professors.
  • Donald Trump’s secretary of education, Betsy DeVos, has called on conservative college students to join the fight against the education establishment.
  • A leader of the College Republicans at the University of Tennessee wants to protect students in the classroom from intimidation by “the academic elite.” He announced that “Tennessee is a conservative state. We will not allow out-of-touch professors with no real-world experience to intimidate 18-year-olds.”
  • The right-wing organization Turning Point USA created a “professor watch list” and has been publishing online the names of professors “that advance a radical agenda in lecture halls.”

Joan Scott

No one I know has followed this trail with keener interest or deeper concern than Joan Wallach Scott, one of the most respected and influential scholars of our time. Professor Emerita in the School of Social Science at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, she has been praised for groundbreaking work in feminist and gender theory, celebrated as a mentor, and honored as the author of several books; her latest, Sex and Secularism, will be published this fall. Earlier this year the American Academy of Arts and Sciences awarded her the Talcott Parsons Prize for distinguished contributions to the social sciences; previous recipients included Clifford Geertz in anthropology; C. Vann Woodward in history; Albert Hirschman in economics and Daniel Kahneman in psychology.



Bill Moyers Professor Scott, connect these dots for us. What’s the pattern?

Joan Scott: The pattern is an attack on the university as a place where critical thinking occurs, where free thought is encouraged. This is not new, it’s been going on for a number of years. It can be seen in the defunding of state universities. It can been seen in attacks on free speech at the university, particularly on the supposed tenured “radicals” who are teaching in universities. The Trump election brought it the fore and made it possible for a number of different groups whose aim is to stop the teaching of critical thinking to to launch direct attacks.

Moyers: You’ve said there’s a kind of bloodlust evident at work. What do you mean by that?

Scott: Richard Hofstadter, in his famous book which was written in the time of the McCarthy period in the 1950 and 1960s, Anti-intellectualism in American Life, talks about the deep hatred that some Americans had for what they consider to be elitist intellectual activity. I think that’s what’s happening now — the vicious unleashing of attacks on professors and students, the clear decision by the right to make free speech their campaign and to demonstrate that universities and particularly students are dangerous leftists who would deny to others the right of free speech. The right as the victim of the intolerant left. It is a concerted plan to depict the university itself as a place of dogmatic ideological thinking — an institution somehow out of step with the way most Americans think. What I mean by bloodlust is a kind of vicious vindictive description of the universities and their faculties.

RELATED: Democracy & Government

For example, you read that quote from Betsy DeVos. She was warning students that they don’t have to be indoctrinated by professors at their universities. But the reason you go to university is to be taught, is to learn how to think more clearly, to call into question the ideas that you came with and think about whether or not they are the ideas you will always want to hold. A university education at its best is a time of confusion and questioning, a time to learn how to think clearly about the values and principles that guide one’s life. Of course, it’s also a time to acquire the skills needed for jobs in the “real world,” but the part about becoming an adult with ideals and integrity is also important.

Moyers: Richard Hofstadter referred in particular to what he called “the national disrespect for mind” that he said characterized the country in the 1950s. Is that true of what’s happening today or is this more a deliberate political strategy to try to put the opposition off balance? Do they disrespect the mind or are they in need of a political tool to weaponize the culture wars?

Scott: I think it’s both. I think there is a disrespect for the mind that Trump, for example, exemplifies. His is a kind of strategic thinking that’s more about shrewdness than about intellect. His attack on “elites” is meant to rally his base to rebel against the powers that be — in Washington especially. I don’t think he cares much about higher education per se; he just wants to demonstrate that learning isn’t necessary for business or government. He wants to elevate mediocrity to a heroic virtue. But I also think there’s a concerted effort on the part of groups of the Bradley Foundation and the Koch brothers, of people like Betsy DeVos, to call into question the very function of public education in general and of the university in particular.

Moyers: Back in the 1950s, when Sen. Joseph McCarthy (R-WI) railed against universities, artists, writers and journalists, his followers howled along with him in trying to persecute their perceived enemies. As you listen to what’s happening today, do you ever hear McCarthy’s voice resonating in your head?

Scott: I do. In some ways it’s even worse today. The internet has made possible a frightening practice of threats and intimidation — threats of unspeakable violence and death. McCarthy was scary, but not like that. There’s been a lot of talk about left student groups violating the free speech of the right. And certainly there are examples of students shouting down speakers whose political views they don’t want to hear, views they think don’t belong on a university campus. I certainly don’t support that kind of behavior. But what’s not been covered to the same extent is the attack by the right on people with whom they disagree. A large number of university teachers have been targeted for speeches that they’ve made, they’ve been harassed and threatened. Take the case of Princeton’s Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor. She gave a commencement speech at Hampshire College in which she called Trump a racist and a white supremacist. Fox News carried it, and she received hateful emails, among them death threats — she’s African American — so there we threats to lynch her too. She canceled all of her speaking engagements because the threats were so violent. They make McCarthy look tame in comparison. McCarthy’s were violent threats at a more abstract level. These are specific threats: “I have a gun pointed at your head.” So there’s something now about the unleashing of violent hateful speech that is more prevalent than it was even in the days of Joseph McCarthy.

Bill Moyers Essay: The Ghost of Joe McCarthy

Moyers: If I may raise your personal story: Your father was suspended back then from his job as a high school social studies teacher and two years later he was fired because he refused to collaborate with an investigation into a purported communist infiltration in the New York public schools. How old were you at the time?

Scott: I was 10.

Moyers: Were you afraid?

Scott: Yep. Although we weren’t supposed to be afraid; we were supposed to be proud. And I certainly was proud of the principled stand he had taken. But yes, I was also afraid. FBI agents routinely came knocking at the door. The phone was certainly tapped. Years later I got a copy of my father’s FBI file, most of which was redacted. There were all sorts of amazing things in it; things that I thought at the time were maybe paranoid worries on the part of my parents turned out to be even more true than I thought they were. A couple of times I gave the wrong birthdate to get a summer job before I was 18. They had my name in my father’s FBI file with three different birthdays listed under it.

Moyers: Father and daughter!

Scott: They were doing even that? I was 16, 17 years old. So we were certainly afraid. We were worried. I had friends whose fathers were in jail. But the personal danger was the fear of going to jail or losing one’s job. The visceral expressions of hatred, the death threats, that are coming out now in social media. These are more frightening than my experiences as a kid.

Moyers: How long was your father out of work?

Scott: He never taught again. He had different kinds of jobs doing educational projects or working in various other places. But he defined himself as a teacher and he lost that permanently.

Moyers: What was your father’s name?

Scott: Samuel Wallach.

Moyers: His defense was both brave and eloquent. Let me read it to you:

I’ve been a teacher for 15 years, a proud American teacher. I have tried all these years to inspire my youngsters with a deep devotion for the American way of life, our Constitution and Bill of Rights. Hundreds of my youngsters fought in World War II and I know their understanding of the need to fight for their country was inspired by my teaching and the Bill of Rights… From that teaching, our youngsters got the feeling that we are living in a country where nobody as a right to ask what are your beliefs, how do you worship God, what you read.

“As a teacher and a believer in those fundamental principles, it seems to me,” your father said, “that it would be a betrayal of everything I have been teaching to cooperate with the committee in an investigation of a man’s opinions, political beliefs and private views.” If I may say, that’s one for the ages.

Scott: Yes it is.

Moyers: Did he live long enough to see your career as a scholar unfold?

Scott: Yes. He lived until he was 91 and he was proud of me. He would be even prouder now, I think, of the kinds of things I’ve been saying lately about academic freedom. All of my work in some way or another speaks to political issues according to the upbringing that I had, which was deeply rooted in exactly those principles that you just read.

Moyers: Ariel Dorfman has an essay in the current edition of The New York Review of Books. He says, “Never has an occupant of the White House exhibited such a toxic mix of ignorance and mendacity, such lack of intellectual curiosity and disregard for rigorous analysis.” He describes what’s happening as “an assault on national discourse, scientific knowledge and objective truth.” Where is this taking us?

Scott: Oh God, where is this taking us? I hope not down the road of the kind of fascist thinking that was going on in Italy and Germany in the ’20s and ’30s, but it certainly feels we could move in that direction, toward an extremely dangerous authoritarian populism. Because the thing about education — and why I’m so passionate about the position and status of the university — is that it’s supposed to teach citizens how to think better, how to think critically, how to tell truth from falsehood, how to make a judgment about when they’re being lied to and duped and when they’re not, how to evaluate scientific teaching. Losing that training of citizens is an extremely dangerous road to go down because it does open people to the kind of toxic influences that Dorfman describes.

Moyers: Here’s the challenge: Two-thirds of Americans today don’t have college degrees. As politics last year and this year reveal, many of them have a deep resentment toward those who do, and toward the colleges and institutions that produce many of today’s so-called elite. How do you persuade those people that academic freedom is relevant to their lives?

Scott: One way is that even before college and university, teaching in public schools K–12 has to deal with what it means to learn the truth; it has to teach respect for science, for the authority and lessons of history. It also has to teach kids to question things — how to question them. I think if you start this at a lower level than at university, people who didn’t go to university would have some sense of how to make a judgment about the honesty or not of politicians. I think the anger that is being directed to universities and so-called elites at universities is actually an anger that’s displaced from politicians (who promise to make things better and never do), from employers, it’s an anger at the economic system that has put so many of these people out of the kind of work that once was so satisfying to them. Did you read in The New York Times that long article about the closing of the plant that made ball bearings in Indiana?

Moyers: It was four pages long and I thought at first, well, who’s going to read this? And I couldn’t stop reading it.

RELATED: Economy & Work

Scott: I couldn’t stop, either. Partly I was trained first as a labor historian, so this was my kind of story. But it also gives an example of the misdirected anger I was talking about. This woman — whose anger, and the anger and resentment of her colleagues — had been directed at Mexicans and in favor of the wall that Trump wants to build, when in fact the anger should be directed at the employers who are increasing the profits they were already making by employing cheap labor in Mexico. It’s capitalism, not elites and university teachers, that is the problem for vulnerable Americans, indeed for all Americans. The growing gap between rich and poor, the seeming lack of concern for the health and well-being of ordinary people, the obscene salaries made by CEOs who are increasing profits by moving their plants to places where labor is cheap — that’s where the problem is, not in schools, colleges and universities.

Moyers: She is an everyday American — the woman who was in that story — and she and her co-workers were doing a very good job in the factory, making a decent living, and boom! Their jobs were gone.

Scott: And the humiliating part of it [is], they were asked to train the people who were going to be their replacements! I think this is humiliation beyond belief.

Moyers: You’ve put your finger on something very important. There’s a cruelty in politics and capitalism in America today that is often called to account by professors doing splendid research about exactly what has been happening to our workers. The real ruling elites would prefer to hide that research or stop it altogether.

Scott: Exactly, and blame it on others — on immigrants, on Mexicans, on so-called elites.

Moyers: In your lectures and essays you use a term that we don’t hear very often today. You say the pursuit of knowledge is not an elitist activity but a practice vital to democracy and to the promotion of the common good. What do you mean by the common good and how does academic freedom contribute to it?

Scott: What I mean by the common good is that we understand we’re all part of something bigger than ourselves, that we live in societies together and must help take care of one another because you never know when you’re going to need to be taken care of by others. And it’s not enough to say that your family or your church is going to take care of you. Societies are collective entities, we’re meant to be connected to one another; the function of government is to administer that connection. We’ve increasingly lost that sense of community, of the notion that there is something we contribute to and benefit from that is called the common good. I think I would date the beginnings of that loss to the Reagan administration and to the notion that somehow we were all separate individuals who only ought to be interested in ourselves. There were a number of court cases in the early ’80s when class-action suits were brought, only to be thrown out by Reagan judges on the grounds that individual injury had to be proven, that you couldn’t use statistics about discrimination in the labor force. You had to have individual cases and each one had to be remedied as an individual matter. There was the tax reform movement that treated progressive income taxes as assaults on individual autonomy rather than what they are — a shared responsibility for ourselves and others in the society that we all live in. People began to say they didn’t want to pay property taxes any longer because they had no children in schools (and most property taxes were used to support the public schools). As if the education of society’s children didn’t have an impact even on childless people! The common good is the notion of shared collective responsibility and reciprocity. It’s that that we’ve lost.

Moyers: I grew up in a small town in East Texas in the ’30s and ’40s; I was the son of one of the poorest men in town but I was friends with the daughter of the richest man in town. Both of us went to good public elementary schools, shared the same good public library, played in the same good public park, drove down good public roads, attended the same good public high school, and eventually went on to good public colleges — all made possible by people who came before us, whom we would never know: Taxpayers!

Scott: They were people who were taking their responsibility for you in the sense that you were the next generation of a society that had benefited them and that they needed to benefit by continuing to support it.

Moyers: You mentioned Ronald Reagan. His kindred spirit Margaret Thatcher (prime minister of the United Kingdom) declared there is no such thing as society.

Scott: Yes. The late ’80s and ’80s — that’s the beginning of the turn away from collective responsibility to a kind of selfish individualism that we now associate with or call neo-liberalism.

Moyers: So colleges and universities contribute to understanding the need for a social contract — pursuing knowledge and understanding is important to responsibility and reciprocity. You’ve said that there is an important distinction between the First Amendment right of free speech that we all enjoy in some circumstances and the principle of academic freedom that refers to teachers and the knowledge they produce and convey. What exactly is that distinction?

RELATED: Society

Scott: Well, free speech is what we all have and is guaranteed by the First Amendment of the US Constitution. Academic freedom refers to what happens in the university, particularly in the classroom, and to the importance of the teacher having the right to teach and share  what he or she has learned, has proven her competence to teach, having gone through a series of tests and certifications including research and writing to demonstrate her abilities and knowledge. I don’t think students have academic freedom in that sense but they do have the right of free speech; they can express themselves, but their ideas are not subject to the tests of the judgment of their peers or to scientific affirmation as  teachers are.  A biology teacher does not have to accept a student’s essay that insists creationism rather than evolution is the explanation of how we got to be where we are. That student is not being denied his right of free speech when he’s given a low grade for not having learned the biology. So the university is the place where the pursuit of truth is taught, the rules for learning how to pursue it are explained, and students begin to understand how to evaluate the seriousness of truth. Those are incredibly important lessons, and only the teachers’ academic freedom can protect them because there will always be  people who disagree with or disapprove of the ideas they are trying to convey. There are students whose religious upbringing is going to make them feel really uncomfortable in a class where certain kinds of secular ideas are being presented. There are students whose ideas about history or sexuality are going to be similarly challenged to question, to affirm or to change those ideas. That doesn’t mean that they shouldn’t be exposed to them; that’s why they’re at school. That’s why they come to school and to university: to be taught how to think well and critically about material that they’re being presented with. But it’s the teacher who is certified to teach them how to do that.

Moyers: You write that free speech makes no distinction about quality; academic freedom does.

Scott: Yes, and there’s actually a wonderful quote from Stanley Fish, who is sometimes very polemical and with whom I don’t always agree. He writes, “Freedom of speech is not an academic value. Accuracy of speech is an academic value; completeness of speech is an academic value; relevance of speech is an academic value. Each of these is directly related to the goal of academic inquiry: getting a matter of fact right.” Freedom of speech is not about that. Freedom of speech is about expressing your opinion, however bad or good, however right or wrong, and being able to defend it and argue it and be argued with about it in public forums. But that’s not what academic freedom is about. That’s not what the classroom is about. I would have a hard time banning even Richard Spencer [founder of the white nationalist movement] from speaking on a university campus, however hateful and dangerous I find his ideas.

Moyers: You quote Robert Post, the former dean of Yale Law School, who seems to suggest that professors do not have an unfettered right of free speech in the classroom, that they’re constrained by the need to teach their subject matter so that their job as educators limits their rights of free speech. Is he splitting hairs there?

Scott: Yes and no. I think he’s right that the criticism of too much political advocacy in a physics class for example is something that one could reasonably object to, that students who come to learn math or physics and who have to hear a speech about the war in Iraq for example, probably are right that they shouldn’t have to, that that’s not what they’re there in that class for. It doesn’t mean that that professor can’t speak outside of the classroom on those issues. But where it gets tricky is in classes where, say, history classes and a professor is teaching material that some students find objectionable because they think it’s too critical of the story that they want to be told.

Moyers: In one of your lectures you asked some questions that were rhetorical in nature—

Scott: I asked, but didn’t answer them — yes. Am I going to have to answer them now?

Moyers: Yes, the reckoning is here. So — should a professor be able to teach that human activity does not contribute to global warming?

Scott: I think it’s questionable. I’m with the climate scientists; I find it very hard to think that that would be a credible scientific position. How much human activity has contributed, OK, what other sorts of influences there have been, OK, but I think somebody getting up and saying that there is no proof whatsoever of human influence on climate change, I would have a hard time accepting the seriousness of a professor who taught that.

Moyers: What’s the difference between a climate denier and a Holocaust denier?

Scott: I think not much these days. I think not much at all because the climate denier tries to prove, as the Holocaust denier does, that the facts that demonstrate that there was a Holocaust and that there is climate change are wrong and don’t exist — against all evidence that they exist.

Moyers: Should a professor be able to teach creationism in the biology curriculum if half the students believe it?

Scott: No. Absolutely not.

Moyers: Why?

Scott: Because, again, we’re talking about what counts as science. If the students don’t want to learn about evolution, they shouldn’t be in the course. A biology course that teaches creationism is not a science course, it’s a religion course. So the students demanding that creationism be given credence in that course are out of line and are denying the academic freedom of the professor. They are calling into question the scientific basis of the material that’s being presented. And students are not in a position to do that.

Moyers: So you’re saying that both sides of that argument don’t carry equal weight in the training of future scientists, right?

Scott: Yes, exactly.

Moyers: Are professors being “ideological,” to put your quotes around it, when they refuse to accept biblical accounts as scientific evidence?

Scott: No, I think they’re being true to their callings as professors of biology. And I think in fact to do anything else would disqualify them in the scientific communities in which they operate.

RELATED: History

Moyers: Is there really no difference between the structures of discrimination experienced by African-Americans and criticism of those structures leveled against whites?

Scott: I think there is a huge difference between those things because I think what is being pointed out by African-Americans is that from slavery forward they have been living in a supposed democracy which treats them as less than other citizens, less than whites in the society. And I think that pointing out that there are structures of discrimination in the society, deeply rooted racist structures, that segregate housing, that send black children to ill-equipped schools, that discriminate in the workplace — these  are truths about our society that must be faced. I don’t know if you’ve seen Ta-Nehisi Coates article in The Atlantic?

Moyers: Yes I have.

Scott: Your question, or my own question, made me think about it. He makes a very passionate argument about the structures of racism that go deep in American society and that if we’re going to correct them, must be addressed and pointed out, which is not to say that every white is a racist but that the way things are organized and the often unconscious biases that people bring to relations with African-Americans, need to be put on the table and examined for what they are.

Moyers: It makes a difference in lineage whether your great-grandfather owned slaves or was owned as a slave. Whether your grandfather was lynched or wore a white robe and did the lynching. Your circumstances can sometimes be traced back to those differences.

Scott: Yes — although probably not directly. But the structures that created those differences and those affiliations continue to organize life in our society.

Moyers: Do you think that the strategy on the right is to provoke situations that can be used to demonstrate that it’s the left that is shutting down freedom of speech today?

Scott: I do, yes. I think that’s what people like Milo Yiannopoulos, the conservative provocateur, are all about. He comes to a campus, he insults people, he engages in the worst forms of racist and sexist speech. And the point is to provoke leftist reaction to him that can then be used to discredit the left. And my sense is that what the left needs to do is find strategies that will defuse the situation rather than play into their hands.

Moyers: After the outbursts that greeted Yiannopoulos at the University of California at Berkeley, a city councilwoman there said, “I don’t appreciate that these are racists coming to UC Berkeley to spew hate.” Would you argue that racists should be silenced?

Scott: I don’t think we can argue that. I think what we need to do is expose them for what they are and fight back. I think we need to let them speak. They have free speech rights. At the same time we have to argue that other groups must not be shut down, either — say, students standing up for Palestinian rights. They have the right to speak just as often and just as much as racists like Yiannopoulos or Richard Spencer. There has to be equal treatment of these groups even though the right wing groups are, because of their publicity stunts, gathering all of the attention while quietly left wing groups such as the Palestinian students are being shut down or—

Moyers: You’re not at peace with some of the behavior on the other side, either.

Scott: No.

Moyers: You’ve warned about the moralism that’s appeared in some college courses. And I know you have expressed some concern about so-called trigger warnings.

Scott: Well I think trigger warnings assume that students are fragile and need to be protected from difficult ideas. I don’t think students need to be protected from difficult ideas. And I think the problem of trigger warnings is that they have been used to police what’s taught in classes, to avoid subjects such as rape, violence, race — these need to be discussed.

Moyers: What about minority students who have experienced considerable hostility growing up in an inhospitable culture, who have been silenced or marginalized by that hostility, and want colleges to be safe spaces against the hostile culture?

Scott: I don’t think colleges are safe spaces. It’s one thing to have a fraternity house or a community center where students can go and talk about their shared experiences. But it’s another thing to have safe spaces in the sense that the university’s providing them with protection from what they have to experience and find ways of protesting and resisting.

Moyers: Let’s talk about what happened at Middlebury College back in March. Charles Murray, the controversial author of The Bell Curve, a book some critics denounced as racist, was invited to speak at this small liberal arts college. Much of the audience turned their backs on him and a couple of hundred students chanted, “Black lives matter! Black lives matter!” and, “Your message is hatred, we will not tolerate it.” Murray finally had to deliver his talk via a video feed from a locked room. Ironically, perhaps, later reports suggested that the audience was driven less by Murray’s work and by free speech rights than by the larger political forces of partisanship and polarization and anger throughout the country. Murray himself said that he and his audience probably had something in common: They all hated Trump. As you know, the Harvard scholar Danielle Allen took a position that angered some of her liberal friends. She compared Charles Murray’s experience at Middlebury with that of the black high school students who integrated Central High School in Arkansas 50 years ago,. They had to be protected by the National Guard from a violent white racist mob. Danielle Allen said that Charles Murray and his sponsors were like those students who were trying simply “to go to school.” They were also “trying, simply, to keep school open. And in this moment they, too, were heroes.” Were they?

RELATED: Democracy & Government

Scott: I think the comparison is a bad one. Because in the one case, Little Rock, these kids were not just trying to keep school open, they were trying to integrate the school. An all-white school. They were trying to go to school in a school that had historically kept them out. So this was a protest against a longstanding form of discrimination that required enormous courage and resulted in fact in the integration of the school. To compare that to students protesting a speech by an invited outside speaker who has had no experience of that kind of discrimination, a white man, an academic who has always held a university position and despite the criticism of some of his work has never been removed from the tenured position that he enjoys — with all the privileges of an academic life — to compare that momentary experience of being shouted down or treated unfairly as he was (because I don’t think they should have shouted him down) — it’s just a comparison that makes no sense to me. It raises the incident with Charles Murray to a level that is not at all comparable or in the same register as the experience of the Little Rock Nine.

Moyers: Earlier we both seemed to agree that there was a political motive to the right’s current attacks on the academy — and that what’s involved is Trump’s crusade to discredit his critics and opponents — as well as the right’s appetite for alternative facts to challenge knowledge-based and evidence-driven reality, which get in the way of their drive for power.

So there’s a politically conservative outfit named the National Association of Scholars that wants to “evaluate the academic elite.” They would eliminate peer review — that is, scholars charged to judge competence of professors and replace them with ‘experts’ who are “of genuinely independent minds.” They don’t want you scholars assessing each other’s work, they want someone on the their side doing that. How does this play into the right’s attack on the academy and Trump’s crusade against knowledge?

Scott: I think the National Association of Scholars is the inside group that’s looking to transform the academy in conjunction with the outside group. I don’t think they are probably coordinating with one another or maybe they are, but I think the effect is the same. Bringing in so-called “neutral outside experts” to judge the quality of academic work seems to be impossible because it’s precisely within disciplines that the judgment and evaluation and regulation of academic work happens. If you’re not in the discipline, you have no way of knowing what the standards are, what the history of changing modes of interpretation have been, whether the work is following acceptable patterns of proof and evidence. It just doesn’t make any sense at all. Who are these neutral outside experts?” What is the standard of neutrality that they’re offering? Somebody who doesn’t know anything about history and therefore can decide that our book about slavery is well-done or not? Somebody who isn’t a scientist or who is a scientist but is not trained to understand how physics operate and whether string theory is a good thing or a bad thing. What constitutes neutrality on the part of these so-called experts which is better than the expert judgment of peers — people within the discipline who understand how and why scholars do the research that they do?

Moyers: So sum up the state of academic freedom in late 2017 as we approach the end of Trump’s first full year in power.

Scott: It’s under grave threat. And it’s under grave threat from many different directions. And it’s up to those of us in the academy who care about the universities and who love the teaching that we do, to somehow keep open that space of critical thinking and the pursuit of knowledge and the search for truth — to keep that space open and protected from the forces that would destroy it.

Moyers: Thank you, Joan Scott.

Bill Moyers

Managing Editor

Bill Moyers is the managing editor of Moyers & Company and


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