Academic Freedom


Academic freedom is paramount to the healthy functioning of a university. It refers to the rights of professors and students to exercise full freedom in their research, publications, and teaching, as well as the right to free expression of ideas in extramural contexts. It rests on the idea that knowledge is not stable and that questioning accepted wisdom is essential to the pursuit of truth. Professors do have pedagogical duties and an obligation to demonstrate requisite disciplinary knowledge, but the principle of academic freedom dictates that as long as they fulfill those responsibilities, they should have full latitude to speak, write, and publish free from censorship. 

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The Law

There is no universally agreed upon definition of academic freedom, and institutions have different policies. Most define it as the protection to pursue knowledge “wherever it leads,” with tenure typically insulating professors from reprisal if it leads someplace dangerous or unpopular. While the First Amendment relates to a relationship between a government and its people, academic freedom is mostly between an institution and its faculty, beholden not only to law but also to bedrock traditions of intellectual independence.

See Academic Freedom in the law section

Our Principles

  • Academic freedom is a core tenet of the academy and faculty should be encouraged to push the bounds of knowledge without fear of retaliation for exploring ideas that might offend.
  • Extramural speech by faculty members is considered protected by most definitions of academic freedom. Administrators should resist pressures to engage in disciplinary actions in response to such speech except in instances where the content of the speech clearly demonstrates the faculty member’s unfitness for their position.
  • Where faculty members serve in an institutional capacity that may be negatively affected by the content of speech that raises questions about their ability to fulfill duties fairly and with equal respect for all students, universities should strive to ensure that any reallocation of duties is not punitive and does not spill over to impair the faculty member’s academic career.
  • With the rise of social media and new methods of recording and distributing information, faculty members should not expect privacy when it comes to their public online speech and expression and should recognize that anything they say may be construed to reflect upon their ability to carry out their institutional responsibilities.
  • College should be acknowledged as a time for students to engage with new ideas and participate in robust debates, which can involve testing boundaries and experimenting with forms of speech and activism. As such, consequences for errors of judgment should be commensurate, and geared toward the possibility of learning and future improvement.
  • An environment where too many offenses are considered impermissible or even punishable becomes sterile, constraining, and inimical to creativity.

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