ERIC Identifier: ED366262
Publication Date: 1994-01-00
Author: Poch, Robert K.
Source: ERIC Clearinghouse on
Higher Education Washington DC.| George Washington Univ. Washington
DC. School of Education and Human Development.
Academic Freedom in American Higher Education: Rights,
Responsibilities and Limitations. ERIC Digest.
Academic freedom provides the foundation for faculty scholarship and
teaching. The ability to exchange ideas and concepts freely in the classroom, to
explore and disseminate new knowledge, and to speak professionally and as a
private citizen are essential elements for the intellectual vitality of a
college or university. It is important, therefore, that faculty members and
higher education administrators understand the meaning, content, legal
parameters, and contemporary issues that pertain to and affect academic freedom
in American higher education.
This report synthesizes academic freedom literature and applicable case law
to provide a succinct look at the current issues and contexts surrounding
academic freedom. In doing so, the following major questions are posed and
WHAT ARE POPULAR NOTIONS OF ACADEMIC FREEDOM?
of academic freedom existed in America from the first establishment of American
colleges in the 17th century. However, it was not until the American Association
of University Professors (AAUP) and the Association of American Colleges (AAC)
jointly developed the 1940 Statement of Principles on Academic Freedom and
Tenure that a popular notion of academic freedom existed in the United States.
The 1940 Statement specified those elements which together comprised academic
freedom for college and university faculty--namely, the freedom to teach,
research, and publish, and to speak extramurally.
The large number of professional organizations and societies which later
endorsed the 1940 Statement elevated it to a position of prominence in the
academic community. By virtue of the volume of endorsements and the statement's
subsequent recognition by the courts as being the standard professional
definition of academic freedom, the 1940 Statement achieved status as the
popular notion of academic freedom in America.
IS ACADEMIC FREEDOM A LEGAL RIGHT?
While numerous parallels
exist between the freedoms specified in the 1940 Statement and the First and
14th amendments of the Constitution, the U.S. Supreme Court has never granted
academic freedom full constitutional status. As citizens, public college and
university faculty members enjoy the same rights and privileges as other
citizens, and their institutions are obligated to respect those rights. However,
faculty members are obligated by professional standards to conduct themselves in
ways that reflect respect for students, administrators, and other members of
their academic communities. While faculty members can exercise the same
constitutional freedoms as other citizens, they are responsible also for the
maintenance of the professional standards and expectations of their disciplines
DO FACULTY AT PRIVATE INSTITUTIONS HAVE THE SAME RIGHTS AS FACULTY AT PUBLIC INSTITUTIONS?
While faculty members at public colleges
and universities enjoy constitutional protection, faculty at private
institutions must rely mainly upon contractual safeguards which may or may not
include equivalent protections. The content of faculty contracts in private
colleges and universities forms, in short, the limitations and freedoms
available for intellectual inquiry. It is important, therefore, that faculty
contracts in independent institutions address the four primary components of the
AAUP 1940 Statement on Academic Freedom.
WHAT CURRENT ISSUES AFFECT ACADEMIC FREEDOM?
in this report, current issues that significantly affect academic freedom
include artistic expression, political correctness, limitations initiated by
church-related colleges and universities, and subpoenaed research information.
While the AAUP provides some policy guidance on current challenging academic
freedom issues, it does not provide specific policy guidance on political
correctness, as the AAUP does not perceive the issue of political correctness to
be a threat to faculty academic freedom.
In the absence of an organizationally endorsed policy statement, it is
important for the institutions themselves to consider carefully the potential
effect of the issue and, where appropriate, to develop an internal policy
statement in the interest of preserving academic freedom. Moreover, the AAUP's
1970 Interpretive Comment on church-related colleges implies that the AAUP knows
definitively if church-related colleges and universities need a departure from
academic freedom as defined by the association; the comment does not reflect
consideration of the possibility that different constructions of "truth" and
"ways of knowing" exist in academe.
A review of the literature contained in this report suggests that:
* Faculty should be involved actively in the development of institutional
policies on issues that affect academic freedom.
* Colleges and universities should develop clear artistic and educational
guidelines regarding the selection of artistic works that are displayed on
campus. Artistic expression that conveys political or social thought is given a
higher level of constitutional protection than "art for art's sake."
Institutions can designate an alternate site for the display of sexually
explicit, but not obscene, material.
* In addressing "political correctness," college and university faculty
manuals and student publications should state that diversity of opinion, ethnic
backgrounds, and individual human experiences are valued elements of academic
freedom. Moreover, institutions should state clearly in faculty and student
documents that while the freedom to express ideas and beliefs will be respected,
conduct and behavior that result in the defacement of property, physical
intimidation of others, or the disruption of campus activities will be subject
WHAT CONCLUSIONS AND IMPLICATIONS CAN BE DERIVED FROM CONTEMPORARY ACADEMIC FREEDOM ISSUES AND CONTEXTS?
At the core of the
academic freedom issues and contexts described in this report is the importance
of clear and precise faculty policy statements which address what freedoms are
available and what role faculty should play when potentially competing issues
* Public and independent colleges and universities should include in faculty
handbooks an official policy statement on academic freedom that specifies what
freedoms are available to faculty members.
* If an institution endorses the AAUP 1940 Statement of Principles on
Academic Freedom and Tenure, the statement should be printed in full in the
faculty handbook and referenced in the teaching contract. Moreover, the
institution should indicate whether it endorses also the AAUP 1970 Interpretive
* Any restrictions on academic freedom should be stated clearly and
completely in the faculty handbook and referenced in the teaching contract.
* Church-related colleges and universities should make a special effort to
specify for faculty members limitations on academic freedom, including
restrictions resulting from doctrinal tenets.
AAUP Policy Documents and Reports. 1990.
Washington, D.C.: American Association of University Professors.
Curran, Charles E. 1986. Faithful Dissent. Kansas City, Mo.: Sheed and Ward.
Hofstadter, Richard, and Walter Metzger. 1955. The Development of Academic
Freedom in the United States. New York: Columbia University Press.
Kaplan, Craig, and Ellen Schrecker, eds. 1983. Regulating the Intellectuals.
New York: Praeger.
Kaplin, William A. 1990. The Law of Higher Education. San Francisco: