Thursday, September 24, 2009

Academic Freedom on Campus by a Cranky Professor, or Two

On the occasion of my 50th blog post, I decided to write about Academic Freedom and Tenure. People often misunderstand tenure to mean a "job for life" on campus; however, tenure is better understood in the context of academic freedom. This article caught my eye: The Nature and Value of Academic Freedom by Mark Mercer, The Saint Mary's Journal, 75(3), September 21st, 2009. Among other freedoms that come with tenure, professors are free to speak publicly about their own teaching and research, to make known their views on politics and society, and "some" tenured faculty members are free to criticize their universities (for now).

Freedom of inquiry and critique is defined on the Canadian Association of University Teachers’ (CAUT) website: “Academic freedom is the life blood of the modern university. It is the right to teach, learn, study and publish free of orthodoxy or threat of reprisal and discrimination. It includes the right to criticize the university and the right to participate in its governance. Tenure provides a foundation for academic freedom by ensuring that academic staff cannot be dismissed without just cause and rigorous due process”.

Most academics take seriously their freedom to inquire and to publish research on topics of their own choosing – academic tenure is a measure used by faculty associations and universities to ensure that faculty members can pursue research and publish their findings without restraint. Ideally, a university faculty member’s academic freedom is protected through a collective agreement that is enforced by member’s faculty association. However, academic freedom cannot be taken for granted or considered a “done deal” – in Canada and abroad, there are constant challenges to the concept and reality of academic freedom. For example, in Canada, several academics have had to defend their academic freedom in recent years. The following faculty members’ cases are listed on the CAUT website: Nancy Olivieri, David Healy, Gabrielle Horne, David Noble, Mary Bryson, Stéphane McLachlan and Ian Mauro, Denis Rancourt, Larry Reynolds, Anne Duffy, Paul Grof and Martin Alda, and many others.

A Canadian organization formed in 1992, The Society for Academic Freedom and Scholarship (SAFS) is primarily concerned with institutions of higher learning in Canada, though they have members across Canada and in other countries. The two main goals of SAFS are to (1) Maintain freedom in teaching, research, and scholarship; and (2) to Maintain standards of excellence in academic decisions about students and faculty. A list of articles written by SAFS members indicates that the fight to protect Academic Freedom is alive and well, and still very much needed, in Canada.

A campaign for free inquiry and free expression in the United Kingdom, Academics For Academic Freedom (AFAF), defines academic freedom using 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. Founded by Dennis Hayes, a visiting professor in the Westminster Institute of Education at Oxford Brookes University, Academics For Academic Freedom counts thousands of international scholars among its supporters. Dennis Hayes, who is a recent article argued that “Academics have a responsibility to challenge conventional wisdom without any buts”, has been invited to be the Guest Editor of a special edition of the British Journal of Educational Studies on Academic Freedom.

Like Freedom of Speech in Canada, Freedom of Speech and Religion in Alberta, and Freedom of the Press in Alberta, Academic Freedom is not a "done deal" when a faculty member has tenure - whether or not academic faculty members actually have Academic Freedom requires constant vigilance and awareness to uphold and defend these rights.

1 comment:

- brad said...

This is an interesting and timely post, in the sense that I am currently looking at doing research in an area of inquiry that may involve some ethical issues. I wonder, as I start to frame responses to ethics boards, how far the academic freedom to inquire extends?