Academic Freedom

Author:Jeffrey Lehman, Shirelle Phelps

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The right to teach as one sees fit, but not necessarily the right to teach evil. The term encompasses much more than teaching-related speech rights of teachers.

Educational institutions are communities unto themselves with rules of their own, and when conflicts arise, the most common and compelling arguments involve freedom. As a result, the academic community is famous for blazing new trails of freedom in society at large, and it is often forced to confront its own concepts of freedom in the process.

The American Association of University Professors (AAUP) has long led efforts among educators to define the concept of academic freedom in American COLLEGES AND UNIVERSITIES. In 1940, the AAUP, in conjunction with the Association of American Colleges (now the Association of American Colleges and Universities), drafted and approved the Statement of Principles on Academic Freedom and Tenure. The statement's purpose is to "promote public

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understanding and support of academic freedom and tenure and agreement upon procedures to ensure them in colleges and universities."

According to the statement, educational institutions should afford full freedom for teachers to conduct research and publish their results, subject to their adequate performance in other academic duties. Teachers should also have freedom in the classroom to discuss their subject, but they should be careful not to introduce controversial matter that has no relation to their subject. Institutions may place limitations on academic freedom because of religious or other aims of the institution, though these limitations should be stated clearly in writing at the time of the teacher's appointment.

Although the AAUP's position is not binding upon colleges and universities, it has had an important impact on tenure policies of these institutions. Tenure, according to the AAUP, promotes freedom of teaching, research, and other educational activities, and also provides a "sufficient degree of economic security to make the profession attractive to men and women of ability." Tenure is based upon a contractual relationship between the educational institution and the teacher, and this agreement provides private rights between the two.

Academic freedom was first introduced as a judicial term of art (a term with a specific legal meaning) by Supreme Court Justice WILLIAM O. DOUGLAS. In Adler v. Board of Education of City of New York, 342 U.S. 485, 72 S. Ct. 380, 96 L. Ed. 517 (1952), the Supreme Court upheld a New York law (N.Y. Civ. Service Law § 12-a) that prohibited employment of teachers in public institutions if they were members of "subversive organizations." In a scathing dissent joined by Justice HUGO L. BLACK, Douglas argued that such legislation created a police state and ran contrary to the FIRST AMENDMENT guarantee of free speech.

Justice Douglas equated academic freedom with the pursuit of truth. If academic freedom is the pursuit of truth and is protected by the First Amendment, reasoned Douglas, then the New York law should be struck down because it produced standardized thought. According to Douglas's dissent, the New York law created an academic atmosphere concerned not with intellectual stimulation but with such questions as "Why was the history teacher so openly hostile to Franco's Spain? Who heard overtones of revolution

In 1954, Paul M. Sweezy, a New York magazine editor and former Harvard professor, refused to answer questions about his political associations from New Hampshire attorney general Louis C. Wyman. Sweezy was jailed for contempt of court but later won on appeal.


in the English teacher's discussion of The Grapes of Wrath? and What was behind the praise of Soviet progress in metallurgy in the chemistry class?" Douglas conceded that the public school systems need not become "cells for Communist activities," but he reminded the court that the Framers of the Constitution "knew the strength that comes when the mind is free."

Shortly after the Adler decision, a similar case arose in New Hampshire that received very different treatment by the Supreme Court. On January 5, 1954, Paul M. Sweezy was summoned to appear before New Hampshire attorney general Louis C. Wyman for inquiries into Sweezy's political associations. Under a 1951 New Hampshire statute...

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