It’s important for professors to have a certain amount of autonomy, but academic freedom is not a get-out-of-jail-free card, he writes. When too many professors call upon it “to defend bad practices,” the concept becomes meaningless, Mr. Brighouse argues. Academic freedom doesn’t excuse professors from having to justify their teaching or research on its merits, nor does it exempt them from living up to reasonable societal expectations of scholars, he writes.
Professors should be free to choose and pursue their research, but “academic freedom even in research is not unrestricted,” he argues:
If one’s department has a research mission and the specialty in which one was hired is crucial to that mission, even after one has gained tenure one’s colleagues have a complaint against you if you unilaterally and without warning abandon the specialty.
Likewise, professors should have some discretion over how they teach their courses and which textbooks they use. It’s not necessarily, however, a violation of professors’ academic freedom for universities to expect them to teach certain courses, use a common textbook for all sections of a particular course, or require that the books they use be relevant to the courses they’re teaching, Mr. Brighouse writes.
Of course, there are undoubtedly cases in which academic freedom is violated, he writes:
Suppose the Legislature got itself involved in the detail of the philosophy, or engineering, or the biology curriculum, or waged a campaign against one or another professor or department in order to promote certain political outcomes or attitudes. That would be a violation of academic freedom because it would involve government officials in trying to limit the activities of professors as educators or researchers not for the sake of academic values (including the coherence of the curriculum for students) but for the sake of a political agenda. If a biology teacher were fired for refusing to teach intelligent design as if it were a genuine scientific rival to evolutionary theory, that would be a violation of his academic freedom, as well as a wrong to the students involved.
But universities have a right to expect professors to adhere to their educational research missions, Mr. Brighouse concludes.Return to Top