Curtailing faculty speech

Posted: 10 November 2009 in Uncategorized
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The Chronicle of Higher Education reports that the American Association of University Professors has embarked on a campaign to protect academic freedom at public colleges in response to recent federal-court decisions seen as eroding faculty members’ speech rights. According to the AAUP,

The right of faculty members at public colleges and universities to speak freely without fear of retribution is endangered as never before.

The shift was triggered by a 2006 U.S. Supreme Court ruling, in the case of Garcetti v. Ceballos, which held that government agencies can restrict statements their employees make in connection with their official duties. Several federal courts have since cited the ruling arguing that faculty members at public colleges and universities were not protected by the First Amendment in speaking out about matters related to their official duties. In other words, they were denied what the AAUP considers to be their rights as citizens of their academic institutions.

According to the AAUP report, since faculty members at public institutions are no longer able to available themselves of a constititutional right to free speech (which faculty at private institutions have never been able to do), they need to work toward appropriate policies within their institutions. The AAUP considers the policy adopted by the University of Minnesota’s Board of Regents in June 2009 to be a model for other institutions:

Academic freedom is the freedom to discuss all relevant matters in the classroom, to explore all avenues of scholarship, research, and creative expression, and to speak or write without institutional discipline or restraint on matters of public concern as well as on matters related to professional duties and the functioning of the University. Academic responsibility implies the faithful performance of professional duties and obligations, the recognition of the demands of the scholarly enterprise, and the candor to make it clear that when one is speaking on matters of public interest, one is not speaking for the institution.

And, because I went back to read it over, here’s the statement on academic freedom from the Academic Articles at the private university where I work:

Freedom of inquiry and freedom of expression are safeguarded by the University. The rights and obligations of academic freedom take diverse forms for the faculty, the students, and the administration; in general, however, these freedoms derive from the nature of the academic life and accord with the objectives of the University as a community that pursues the highest scholarly standards, promotes intellectual and spiritual growth, maintains respect for individuals as persons, and lives in the tradition of Christian belief.

Specific principles of academic freedom supported at the University include: freedom to teach and to learn according to one’s obligation, vision, and training; freedom to publish the results of one’s study or research; and freedom to speak and write on public issues as a citizen.

Correlative obligations include: respectful allowance for the exercise of these freedoms by others; proper acknowledgment of contributions made by others to one’s work; preservation of the confidentiality necessary in personal, academic, and administrative deliberations; avoidance of using the University to advance personal opinion or commercial interest; and, in the course of one’s utterances, work, and other conduct, protection of the basic mission of the University.


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