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Academic Freedom Beyond the Faculty: Students, the Institution, and the First Amendment

Aaron Barlow
Original Publication Date

The following is a talk delivered on February 8, 2007 at Portland Community College's annual Anderson Conference sponsored by PCC's Teaching Learning Center.

In an article on his website last fall, right-wing agitator David Horowitz made something of a mantra of the line, "there are NO academic freedom provisions for students in the state of Pennsylvania."1 He was talking about a report issued by a Pennsylvania legislative committee on academic freedom that had concluded, basically, that nothing should be done and nothing needed to be done by the legislature in regard to academic freedom.

Fortunately for Pennsylvania students, Horowitz's statement is akin to proclaiming "there are NO tsunami protection provisions for students in the state of Pennsylvania." In other words, what Horowitz was saying is meaningless in the given context. Until Horowitz, following the lead of just a few others, tried to make it so, academic freedom has never really applied to students' not until recent years, at least, when academic freedom has been defined in some quarters as simply an adjunct to established First Amendment rights.

Since its first enunciation in a 1915 AAUP declaration2, academic freedom has been a concern and a right of faculty only, though with a nod towards other rights and expectations that do legitimately belong to students. It is not and has never been a generalized right that covers everyone the moment they step foot on a college campus.

Horowitz, who likes to imagine political struggle as warfare, sees no reason not to try to fool his opponents. In keeping with that, he uses something of a sleight-of-hand to bring students into the conception of academic freedom that he tries to substitute for the real thing. His first step is to tack the phrase "and intellectual diversity" onto "academic freedom," a seemingly innocuous addition, in what he calls the "Student Bill of Rights"3 developed by one of the organizations he created, Students for Academic Freedom. Of course, any mandating of diversity is itself a contravention of academic freedom, but Horowitz hoped no one would notice that. Demanding "intellectual diversity" as an aspect of "academic freedom" can lead to an insistence, for example, that contradictive "theories" be taught next to each other, even though one has no real credibility and the other meets the standards of current scholarship. The movement to include "intelligent design" in Biology classrooms would be an example of this.

The use of the word "diversity" is loaded in other ways, too: it also opens the door for inclusion of constituencies beyond the faculty under the concept of academic freedom.

Which, of course, is just what Horowitz proceeds to do. His "Student Bill of Rights" claims that "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." Professors and researchers, yes. Again, students, no. Not until Horowitz started changing the definition as part of his campaign to reduce faculty power within the university.

Giving students the same rights of academic freedom as professors places them on an intellectual plain equal to their professors but without having to prove themselves. This makes any control of the discussion by the professor rather more difficult than it should be, taking everything back to what are really foundational arguments that, often, distract from the purpose of the particular course. By the same token, giving students the same measure of academic freedom makes student ideas and beliefs, which can come from any source imaginable and needn't have any basis, the equals of those of their professors, who have to work much more carefully and in a peer-review structure. In the classroom, student views most distinctly are not the equal of professors -- nor can they be. To avoid chaos, students must generally accept the authority of the professor in the proscribed subject matter for at least the course of the semester. The teacher, for pedagogical purposes, may open the class up to debate and discussion, but the limits are defined by the instructor. Real academic freedom, in other words, does not and cannot apply to the student in the classroom -- narrowly defined within a limited temporal and spatial framework.

Horowitz draws his assertion to the contrary in part from the fact that the 1915 Declaration, the basis for all later American discussions of academic freedom, warns against indoctrination of students, quoting in that "Student Bill of Rights" a passage that warns professors against: "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." What we have here in the 1915 Declaration, however, isn't an expression of student rights but of faculty responsibility -- a different thing completely.

What Horowitz ignores here is that our entire university structure is designed to keep real indoctrination from happening. It is not even a question of academic freedom but one of respect for individual rights and learning that is at the heart of that liberal institution, the American university. Horowitz does not accept that this is the case today, but he offers no real proof for his assertion. He has had no direct experience in the classroom for forty years -- so his opinion on the topic is suspect, at best.

A few minutes ago, I used the phrase "proscribed subject matter and for at least the course of the semester." One of the most important aspects of our educational system is just this: students take limited-term courses from a wide variety of instructors over defined subject matter in a deliberately diverse curriculum. Here at PCC, for example, students in the Associate of General Studies Degree program are kept from taking too many courses with any one professor or even in any one area by a whole list of maximums: no more than eight credits of this, twelve of that, six of the other thing. That in itself makes indoctrination rather difficult. Then there's the fact of choice in developing a personal curriculum -- and of choice of institution.

Effective indoctrination, of course, depends on lack of choice, or of ceding choice to the authority figure. That's one reason why we've developed a system around the classroom that insures that the classroom teacher, though powerful for a limited amount of time over a limited subject matter, is held in check by institutional structures. Because of that, successful indoctrination is pretty much impossible in a standard American institution of higher learning.

The "Student Bill of Rights" asserts that "Professors are hired to teach all students, not just students who share their political, religious and philosophical beliefs. It is essential therefore, that professors and lecturers not force their opinions about philosophy, politics and other contestable issues on students in the classroom and in all academic environments." But this, again, opens the door to anarchy in the classroom, an anarchy the structure of the classroom, the hierarchy inside surrounded by choice within the institution, is designed to counter. The professor needs to have the freedom to control the classroom -- and that freedom really is a part of academic freedom. Let me reiterate: it's the necessity of top-down control within the classroom for the facilitation of learning that has led, in part, to the construction of other aspects of our university system to balance that out: multiple courses from various professors, diverse curricular requirements, and more, including the student grievance procedures that, in the case of Pennsylvania, were deemed sufficient for the protection of student rights by the legislative panel I mentioned earlier.

Horowitz, in his attacks on universities -- really, they are attempts to bring them under legislative control -- side-steps this fact of guaranteed diversity in learning situations by claiming that American universities are now controlled by up to 40,000 confirmed leftists who are trying to use our institutions of higher learning to produce cadres of revolutionaries who will one day attempt the overthrow the American government. Thing is, he can't point out these young revolutionaries. Why? Because they just aren't there. With 40,000 professors working diligently, you'd think that some result would show. Our students should be recreating the barricades of Paris in 1968 at the very least. But they are not. So, either Horowitz is wrong or this group of professors is incompetent at indoctrination -- in which case it doesn't pose a threat and doesn't matter anyhow.

As our universities are still the best in the world -- look at the Nobel Prizes we win, and at the foreigners flooding here to study even under increasingly stringent visa requirements -- it would be stupid to fool with them from outside because of attempts at indoctrination (even if these existed) if there is no successful indoctrination going on. The Pennsylvania legislative study, by implication, concluded exactly that.

Horowitz breaks down student academic freedom into what he says should be six rights. The first demands that students be graded on "reasoned answers and appropriate knowledge." Sure, but this infringes on the professor's academic freedom if anyone but she determines just what qualifies as "reasoned answers and appropriate knowledge." In the guise of extending academic freedom to students, then, this "right" is designed to take it away from professors. Which, of course, is just what Horowitz wants to do.

The second right says that "Curricula and reading lists in the humanities and social sciences should reflect the uncertainty and unsettled character of all human knowledge in these areas by providing students with dissenting sources and viewpoints where appropriate." This undercuts any authority in the classroom anytime a dissenting student shows up. Given the needs of education and the limits of time, providing such variety is both impossible and irresponsible -- and it again undercuts academic freedom for the professor.

The third right informs us that "Faculty will not use their courses for the purpose of political, ideological, religious or anti-religious indoctrination." This is covered by the 1915 Declaration, so reiteration isn't really needed. But why not? We all teach to try to change people, but we do need to keep in mind the lines we should not cross.

The fourth, fifth, and sixth rights all get into an area that I will discuss in a few moments. Number four demands that "Selection of speakers, allocation of funds for speakers' programs and other student activities will observe the principles of academic freedom and promote intellectual pluralism." This is quite outside any past definition of academic freedom but dovetails with the freedom of expression concerns that have begun to replace the traditional view of academic freedom in many minds outside of our institutions of higher education. Five calls for no "obstruction of invited campus speakers, destruction of campus literature or other effort to obstruct" the free exchange of ideas. Horowitz, who has been hit in the face by a pie on campus, sees this as an academic freedom concern when it is really a question of access, another concern altogether. Six tells us that "academic institutions and professional societies should maintain a posture of organizational neutrality with respect to the substantive disagreements that divide researchers on questions within, or outside, their fields of inquiry." So, the institution cannot weigh in on "Intelligent Design"? So, the American Historical Association cannot take a stand on whether the Holocaust occurred? Academic institutions and professional societies are the foci of academic freedom, so how is muzzling them providing any sort of freedom for anyone?

As these last three of the six demands might lead one to suspect, questions of the relations of students to academic freedom are much more complex than the national Horowitz brouhaha might at first lead one to believe. Certainly, there is more going on than simply an attempt to affirm student rights. Horowitz, who is no fool, knows that there are real and substantive debates on questions of academic freedom and freedom of expression on university campuses. He is using this fact to further his own agenda, that of bringing academic institutions under political control.

People other than Horowitz have also tried to extend academic freedom to students, and for much more sophisticated reasons. These aren' t nearly as easily dismissed as the agenda-ed manipulations of a man who, by his own admission, has only visited one classroom since he started his campaign against academic freedom -- and in that one they were showing a film.

Most of the other arguments for extending academic freedom to students are based on the conception of academic freedom as a right of expression relating to the First Amendment of the Constitution. Under this view, academic freedom is something of an institutional adjunct to freedom of speech, though one that carries with it particular responsibilities as well as rights. The group College Freedom includes this statement on its website: "The rise of the internet has raised new questions about academic freedom on college campuses. To what extent can universities regulate email, websites, and other technology use by their students? To what degree are colleges obligated to stop "misuse" of their own information systems?"4 Though important questions, these are irrelevant to any discussion of academic freedom based on its definition as recently as twenty years ago.

Things change. Concepts change. Times change. Needs change. Words change meaning -- and so do phrases. To many people, the very definition of academic freedom has changed a great deal since 1915. They point to the 1940 AAUP elaboration and its 1967 reworking as proof of this5. They point to Supreme Court rulings where the phrase "academic freedom" is used in manners quite distinct from those of Edwin Seligman and Arthur Lovejoy, the principle authors of that 1915 Declaration.

The question remains -- for me at least: are these changes always useful?

Before I get to that, however, let me outline a bit more clearly just how some see the changes.

Almost sixteen years ago, Nat Hentoff wrote an article for Dissent entitled " 'Speech Codes' on the Campus and Problems of Free Speech." Interestingly, not once does he use the phrase "academic freedom." The closest he comes is to quote then-president of Yale Benno Schmidt referring to "freedom of thought and expression"6 as important to the academy. That Schmidt used the phrase "vague notions" in that same sentence seems somehow appropriate: vague notions of freedom of thought and expression in the academy, in my eyes, have since been reduced to a new version of academic freedom, making a connection between freedom of expression and academic freedom that was rare even fifteen years ago when Hentoff was writing his piece.

I don't want to spend too much time on why this happened -- in part because I'm not completely satisfied that I understand the whole of it -- but Hentoff himself gives some indication when he talks of the strains between Fourteenth Amendment rights and First Amendment rights in terms of campus speech codes. At the time, writes Hentoff (though without agreeing), "when the First Amendment rights of those engaging in offensive speech clash with the equality rights of their targets under the Fourteenth Amendment, the First Amendment must give way."7 Free speech advocates, seeking a way to bolster the strength of the First Amendment on campus, eventually found that, by adding academic freedom to their First Amendment arguments, they were able to finally trump the Fourteenth Amendment's "equal protection." I suspect this is, in large part, why the definition of "academic freedom" is posited as "changed" in many quarters today.

We've reached a point where a writer can claim, as one named Sarah Taylor baldly does in the Indiana Statesman of Indiana State, that "Academic freedom is a component of intellectual freedom."8 This new, weakened conception of academic freedom removes it completely from its position as a specific compact between faculties and those who manage their institutions, making it just one aspect of a much more generalized right falling vaguely under the First Amendment.

One point that I should make just for the sake of clarity is that the vision of academic freedom I am discussing here is specifically American in nature. There are many today who want to define academic freedom as combining two 19th-century German concepts, lehrfreiheit, defined as freedom of inquiry, and lernfreiheit, the related (but distinct) freedom of learning. Significantly, Seligman and Lovejoy though they do mention the latter, do not incorporate it into the meat of their Declaration, concentrating instead on the former, for their concern, and the concern of the AAUP, was for the scholar, the professor, and not primarily for the student -- not, at least, in this context. They were developing a professional position for scholarship -- something quite removed (though affecting, as they recognized) activities of students. It wasn't until many years had passed that lernfreiheit began to be incorporated in to American conceptions of academic freedom -- much, as I hope I will show, to the detriment of academic freedom as it had previously been envisioned.

Now, I should make one other thing clear: I do believe that students have rights. When I was an undergraduate in the late 1960s and early 1970s, I was among those who fought for our recognition as adult learners with prerogatives and rights of our own. And I feel today that it is incumbent upon us as faculty to treat our students with the respect we accord any member of society. But their rights, in my view, are also only the rights accorded to any member of American society, neither abridged by their position within the academy nor enhanced by it. I do not believe that it is advisable to lump student rights in with the specific freedoms enunciated for faculty under the heading "academic freedom." As Robert Post, former AAUP general counsel, explains:

Every citizen holds First Amendment rights, which must therefore be defined to express values that are relevant to each and every citizen, such as the importance of democratic participation and individual autonomy. Only faculty, by contrast, possess academic freedom, which implies that academic freedom must derive from values that attach to the distinct professional role of the scholar. First Amendment rights, moreover, apply only against the state. Academic freedom, by contrast, applies to institutions of higher learning, whether public or private. If academic freedom were to be understood on the model of the First Amendment rights, it would be accorded to all employees of colleges and universities, not just to faculty, and it would attach to public institutions like the University of California or the University of Michigan, but not to private universities like Stanford or Harvard.9

By widening academic freedom to include constituencies beyond faculty and by placing it within the context of law, we weaken it, eventually relegating it to, as Post indicates, simply a re-affirmation of certain First Amendment rights for public institutions. By doing so, we weaken the position of scholarly work within the institution and enhance nothing.

It was during the five years after Hentoff's article appeared that the use of the term "academic freedom" was altered. No longer was it separate from First Amendment rights. Again, I believe that the change came from the desire to strengthen arguments against campus speech codes. So strong and quick was the change that by 1996 Ronald Dworkin was able to conflate the First Amendment and academic freedom as though the connection were a given. After providing a list of campus situations where the Fourteenth Amendment had trumped the First, he wrote, "Each of these various events is widely deplored and is said to constitute a violation of academic freedom,"10 something Hentoff quite clearly did not say just five years earlier.

Though Dworkin's piece is entitled "We Need a New Interpretation of Academic Freedom," he was already using one. Ironically, he also claims that there is "a new uncertainty about what academic freedom actually is."11 Of course there is, and he is contributing to it. Kathleen Frydl describes the shift this way:

whereas academic freedom was originally defined and defended in the United States as the right to conduct research autonomously -- guided by disciplinary expertise, and without fear of being fired by a board of trustees in thrall to a particular religious or political view -- it has come to mean the right to say what you want on the campus or in the classroom without fear of reprisal. The unique rationale invoked to establish the principles of academic freedom, inextricably and explicitly tied to the power and defense of expertise, has given way to an understanding that places the concept as part of some larger First Amendment family.12

This change, as I have said, is as unfortunate as it is understandable.

As it is pervasive. My view, the historical view of academic freedom, may be fast becoming the minority viewpoint. In fact, Judith Butler even goes so far as to see it as a deviation from the new standard, presenting it as a new supposition rather than the old standard, turning around the two views, worried that "academic freedom is no longer to be conceived of as an individual right protected under the First Amendment but rather to be seen as a prerogative that emerges in a specific institutional context,"13 making the older view the interloper.

In his own article, Dworkin goes on to claim that a new definition of academic freedom must "fit well enough with general understandings of what academic freedom does [and] must justify those general understandings."14 In other words, in his view, it is not the historical meaning that is important but popular perception. Butler puts it somewhat differently but to the same effect, seeing "academic norms as historical conventions, that is, ones that emerge, transform, and sometimes disappear, [& becoming] the sites for consequential epistemological debate, and are subjected to repeated scrutiny as academic fields seek to renew themselves in light of new demands on knowledge and to achieve greater accountability."15 She is right, of course: we do need to reconsider all agreements and norms in the light of changing situations, but that does not mean that the norms are fluid or reflective.

As academic freedom is a specific compact between constituencies within our universities, I can't hold with this sort of redefinition. Not only is it too situational to be of much real value as a guide, but conceptions of academic freedom as an individual right are based on assumptions quite removed from the interested parties. Changing definitions of academic freedom because of them would be like changing the U.S. Constitution based on the understanding of it in, say, China. Though, in many cases, we must bow to changing usage, in cases like this where a specific definition serves a specific purpose, the old definition often needs to be reinvigorated rather than abandoned because of pressure from without. As the philosopher Richard Rorty has written, "One of the things [& ] accumulated experience has taught us is that universities are unlikely to remain healthy and free once people outside the universities take a hand in redrawing this line. The one thing that has proved worse than letting the university order its own affairs -- letting its members quarrel constantly and indecisively about what shall count as science or as scholarship -- is letting somebody else order those affairs."16 Changing external visions should never compel the universities to alter their philosophies and procedures, even though they might certainly lead them to re-evaluate.

Dworkin goes on in his article to create something of a straw-man to further justify abandoning the old definition of academic freedom, claiming "It is often defended on the ground that scholars must be free if they are to discover objective truth. But the very possibility of objective truth is now under challenge."17 That, of course, is a purposefully simplistic -- and somewhat erroneous -- way of viewing what Seligman and Lovejoy wrote. It completely ignores the stream of American Pragmatism of the time that, in the eye of Charles Sanders Peirce, posited "objective truth" as a goal that can never be reached, though an important goal nonetheless, a stream that Seligman and Lovejoy would have been comfortable swimming in. Butler embraces a variation of this argument, stating that "if the '1915 Declaration' assumes that all knowledge follows the model of a conception of scientific progress that few, if any, scientists still embrace, then a clear need emerges to establish the value of knowledge inquiry in the arts, humanities, and social sciences, in ways that describe those practices and their values."18 In other words, because times, values, and beliefs were different then, practices such as the awarding of academic freedom as a professional right rather than as a human right need to be changed, too. But no. The fact that some things have changed does not necessitate the changing of other things.

Edward Said saw academic freedom as relative as well, but between cultures: "Discussion concerning academic freedom," he wrote, "is not only different in each society but also takes very different forms."19 This, again, ignores the fact that academic freedom in America is a specific compact with specific points, not an aspect of the particular culture where it is manifest. It is no more dependent on context than is the orbital pattern of the moon.

The argument that anti-foundationalist and relativist concerns have an impact on the value of academic freedom is itself something of a red herring, though even such an eminence as Rorty finds himself drawn into the debate, denying "that the search for objective truth is a search for correspondence to reality, and [urging] that it be seen instead as a search for the widest possible intersubjective agreement."20 Thing is, academic freedom isn't really concerned with the ends of scholarship but with the processes. In fact, neither research nor education is an end in itself but a means. In my view, in order to establish the importance and usefulness of academic freedom, all we need to do is agree that there are goals that can be approached by these means. Philippa Strum agrees:

If the justification for academic freedom is not the discovery of truth, what is it? The answer may be that academic freedom protects the commitment to the pursuit of truth, undertaken with the recognition that the truth to be found is at best partial and inevitably subject to the filtering sensibilities of the scholar, and that the search itself will enrich society in two ways. The first societal benefit is the concrete knowledge to be gained [& ]. The second benefit lies in the way the search furthers the continuing process of open inquiry that must take place within a democratic society. The search itself teaches that all ideas are open to challenge, and that progress, that elusive goal, can be achieved only through free inquiry.21

Again, academic freedom is about process and not about ends. Positive ends will follow, the reasoning goes, as long as the means of achieving them are protected.

Dworkin's real claim for redefining academic freedom is based on court findings that have further meshed academic freedom and free speech. He writes that, "Academic freedom is plainly related to a more general and better known political value, which is freedom of speech, and various American courts have held that central forms of academic freedom are protected by the Constitution's First Amendment."22 He goes on to state that academic freedom "is stronger than the general right of free speech. In other respects, however, it is less clearly a right, because no one is morally entitled to the status which brings that extra protection. [...] It seems better, therefore, not to count academic freedom as derivative from a more general right to free speech."23 So far, I agree with him. However, he continues: "the two institutions' academic freedom and a right to free speech ... are closely connected in a different way: they form important parts of a system of ideas and institutions that creates a culture of individual intellectual responsibility and that protects it from disintegrating into a culture of intellectual conformity."24 However true this may be, its utilization as a definition both broadens and weakens academic freedom and confuses the issues of its specific concerns. It does, however, strengthen the arguments against campus speech codes and other manifestations of the Fourteenth Amendment on campuses -- and that, I believe, is the real basis of Dworkin's desire to alter the definition of academic freedom.

Thing is, in doing so he has allowed people like Horowitz to claim a legitimacy to arguments for inclusion of students within the broad sweep of academic freedom, ultimately as a means of weakening both faculty and the institutions themselves. Going back to Rorty's statement about the danger of allowing outsiders to make decisions about academia, this is an example of using decisions by the courts -- certainly outsiders -- as a means of defining a matter that really has no legal basis. Dworkin, a law professor, looks to legal matters primarily, a mistake in consideration of what should simply be seen as a compact between faculties and their basic funding and supporting authorities. This is understandable for, as Frydl writes, "academic freedom has been successfully represented, in recent times, as an individual right, and one related to expression. The institutional aspects that relate to the direction of research have largely been lost, and this is no accident. Autonomy has come to mean speech -- not a preserved terrain won on the basis of guild prerogatives."25

Look at it this way: there is actually no reason that all educational institutions operate under the principles of academic freedom. To do so is a choice made when the institution is established. Certainly, there are plenty of purpose-driven institutions where academic freedom is not desired -- for they are not interested in participating in the wider research conversations or are educating to narrow ends where indoctrination, in fact, is part of the process. Religious schools, military institutions, and others want debate -- if they use it at all -- in carefully controlled arenas, certainly not in the freewheeling manner of institutions operating under the philosophy of academic freedom. On the other hand, as a society we have seen the value of having institutions that do operate under real academic-freedom precepts, and have decided (for the most part) that we need to respect their accomplishments, both past and envisioned, by leaving academic-freedom rights intact even when we feel that the institutions might be tilting in directions we might not prefer. As Dworkin states, and most of us agree, "An invasion of academic freedom is insulting and harmful for some because it frustrates satisfying important responsibilities, and it is dangerous for everyone because it weakens the culture of independence and cheapens the ideal that culture protects."26

To reiterate, my problem with Dworkin is that he insists on expanding academic freedom in ways that make it necessary to include students and others in university settings, and not just faculties. To him, this isn't a problem but a virtue. He writes: "the institution [of academic freedom] protects people in a particular role -- students and scholars -- from the moral damage of frustration in their special responsibilities."27 He expands academic freedom, making it into a piece of a cultural mosaic of what he calls "ethical individualism" : "Liberal public education, freedom of speech, conscience, and religion, and academic freedom are all parts of our society's support for a culture of independence and of its defense against a culture of conformity."28 While that may be true, lumping academic freedom in with these others removes it from its specific, narrow, and (to my eyes) extremely important function within the same broad context. It is not a generalized right nor something that applies equally though restricted to academic communities. When it is expanded in this manner it becomes no freedom at all but a nearly empty phrase. It becomes, in Dworkin's own words, "only one value among many."

For academic freedom to have any real meaning, it has to be distinctive -- a practical right presupposing establishment of a certain type of institution -- and not a simply some vague ideal. It needs to be specific to the institution and its faculty, and not generalized to students or the wider population. Otherwise it becomes vulnerable to misuse, as the case of Horowitz and his "Student Bill of Rights" demonstrates.

Unfortunately, I must admit that this is not quite so simple a problem as I may have made it seem -- and the solution isn't merely of finding a way of restricting academic-freedom considerations to faculty. For, as Butler writes:

the new challenges to academic freedom cannot be easily referred to a community of like-minded professionals, not only because such communities are often defined by disagreement about which academic norms ought to be brought to bear on a given case, but also because academic norms are in the process of being wrought by public policy and private institutional stipulations that bear on what kinds of scholarly inquiries are considered legitimate and what kinds of extramural activities disqualify faculty members for funding for research.29

Academia no longer exists in its own bubble, if ever it did. It sways to changing social conditions and needs just as do other institutions. One of the pressures on academic freedom today from the outside world, for example, is that brought about by purpose-driven funders who have never subscribed to the academic-freedom concept in the first place. These include corporations interested in only certain lines of research, but is not limited to them (governmental entities, certainly, are among the others).

If, as I would like, academic freedom is seen only as an institutional compact, how does one integrate the needs of funders, who are only interested in paying for work towards specific sorts of results? They exist beyond of any consideration of academic freedom, so are not going to be willing to see research they fund diverted into avenues they don't control. This causes a great deal of unease, and sparks the desire to expand those covered by academic freedom (on both sides) to somehow include both government and industry in their interactions with universities.

To me, this may not be quite as much of a problem as it would at first appear. Just as there is room for purpose-driven institutions such as religious colleges and military academies, there is room for purpose-driven research. Yes, this can skew research into certain directions at the expense of others, but no one really knows what the products of any line of research may finally be. War research, for example, has also led to immense improvement in hospital care, particularly in emergency-room situations -- among many other things. This is not to say that research into new ways to kill or to patch up soldiers to get them back to the front is a good thing, only that one does not always know what the side-effects of a particular line of inquiry might be.

Research is going to reflect all sorts of pressures anyway. There is no such thing as dispassionate exploration. So I am not particularly concerned about the effects of government and industry on either research or academic freedom. This, I know, will annoy many of my fellow progressives, but I see objection to directed funding mainly as a political stance against corporatism and the military and not really about academic freedom at all. Academic freedom has never been a guarantor of funds in the first place. It provides the freedom to explore any avenue, not the means for doing so.

We have a blurring of the distinction between academic freedom and individual rights as applied to academic campuses, and many posit that alone as reason enough for a re-definition of "academic freedom." The problem is that changing academic freedom to individual rights erases any reason for even having a separate category called "academic freedom." The phrase becomes simply descriptive of freedoms on campus, not of a specific kind of freedom pertinent to a specific academic community. And that, in my estimation, is a loss we cannot afford, for it is real academic freedom, the old-fashioned kind, that ultimately keeps our universities viable.

Thank you.


1 Horowitz, David. "What We're Up Against -- The Lying Pennsylvania Press," Front Page Magazine.
2 AAUP's 1915 Declaration of Principles
3 Students for Academic Freedom, "The Student Bill of Rights"
4 "Academic Freedom and the Internet," College Freedom.
5 AAUP 1940 Elaboration and AAUP 1967 revision
6 Hentoff, Nat, "'Speech Codes' on the Campus and Problems of Free Speech," Dissent, v. 38 (Fall, 1991), 548.
7 Hentoff, 546.
8 Taylor, Sarah, "Academic Freedom Ever Important: May I Have a Word?" Reprinted by the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education.
9 Post, Robert, "The Structure of Academic Freedom," in Beshara Doumani, ed., Academic Freedom after September 11 (New York: Zone Books, 2006), 63.
10 Dworkin, Ronald, "We Need a New Interpretation of Academic Freedom," in Louis Menand, ed., The Future of Academic Freedom (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1998), 182.
11 Dworkin, 182.
12 Frydl, Kathleen, "Trust to the Public: Academic Freedom in the Multiversity," in Doumani, 175-176.
13 Butler, Judith, "Academic Norms, Contemporary Challenges: A Reply to Robert Post on Academic Freedom," in Doumani, 107.
14 Dworkin, 182.
15 Butler, 107.
16 Rorty, Richard, "Does Academic Freedom Have Philosophical Presuppositions?" in Menand, 28-29.
17 Dworkin, 183.
18 Butler, 111.
19 Said, Edward, "Identity, Authority, and Freedom: The Potentate and the Traveler," in Menand, 214.
20 Rorty, 21.
21 Strum, Philippa, "Why Academic Freedom? Theoretical and Constitutional Context," in Doumani, 146.
22 Dworkin, 184.
23 Dworkin, 184-185.
24 Dworkin, 185.
25 Frydl, 176.
26 Dworkin, 187.
27 Dworkin, 189.
28 Dworkin, 189.
29 Butler, 131-132.

About the Author: Aaron Barlow teaches English at CUNY -- Brooklyn branch and, on weekends, runs his store/gallery, Shakespeare's Sister, in Brooklyn, NY. The author of The DVD Revolution: Movies, Culture, and Technology (Praeger, 2005), he is a board member and citizen journalist for ePluribus Media.

Other ePluribus Contributors and Fact Checkers: Chris White, roxy, standingup, cho