Social:Academic freedom

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Short description: Moral and legal concept

Academic freedom is the right of a teacher to instruct and the right a student to learn in an academic setting unhampered by outside interference.[1] It may also include the right of academics to engage in social and political criticism.[1]

Academic freedom is often premised on the conviction that freedom of inquiry by faculty members is essential to the mission of the academy as well as the principles of academia, and that scholars should have freedom to teach or communicate ideas or facts (including those that are inconvenient to external political groups or to authorities) without fear of repression, job loss, or imprisonment. While the core of academic freedom covers scholars acting in an academic capacity – as teachers or researchers expressing strictly scholarly viewpoints —, an expansive interpretation extends these occupational safeguards to scholars' speech on matters outside their professional expertise.[2][3]

Academic tenure protects academic freedom by ensuring that teachers can be fired only for causes such as gross professional incompetence or behavior that evokes condemnation from the academic community itself.[4]

Historically, academic freedom emerged tentatively, as academics in medieval and early modern Europe could face repression for acting in ways considered objectionable by religious authorities or by governments.[1] Scholars tend to link the institutionalization of academic freedom to the rise of the modern research university and the Humboldtian model of higher education from the 19th century.[1] By one estimate, academic freedom has substantially increased worldwide since the 1960s. Academic freedom is more likely in liberal democratic states, while it is more heavily constrained in authoritarian states, illiberal states, and states embroiled in military conflict.[1]


A minimal definition of academic freedom is that a teacher has a right to instruct and a student has a right to learn in an academic setting unhampered by outside interference.[1] Other definitions include the right of teachers to engage in social and political criticism.[1]

A broader definition of academic freedom incorporates individual, extramural and institutional components. Under this broader definition, an academic has freedom of expression without government interference, but this freedom is circumscribed by academic expertise and position. Academic freedom of speech is therefore narrower than a general freedom of speech. For example, a non-academic has the freedom of speech to criticize the efficacy of vaccines, but only has academic freedom to do so if they possess the prerequisite academic qualifications to do so. Unlike public speech, academic speech is also subject to quality controls by academic peers, for example through peer review.[1]

Historical background

Michael Polanyi argued that academic freedom was a fundamental necessity for the production of true knowledge.

Historically, academic freedom emerged tentatively.[4] In medieval Europe, academics who criticized church doctrine or acted in ways considered objectionable by the church could face repression. Similarly during the era when nation-states were emerging, academic could face sanction for acting contrary to the government.[4]

Academic freedom began to gain institutional footing with the emergence of the modern research university. The Humboldtian model of higher education from the 19th century enshrined the basic ideas of academic freedom and diffused them to other countries.[1] Wilhelm von Humboldt was a philosopher and linguist who was given the authority to create a new university in Berlin in the early 19th century. He then founded a university that adhered to two principles of academic freedom: freedom of scientific inquiry and the unity between research and teaching. According to Humboldt, the fundamental proposition underlying the principles of academic freedom was to uphold the view that science is not something that has already been found but as knowledge that will never be fully discovered and, yet, needs to be searched for unceasingly. The university he founded later became a model and inspiration for modern colleges in Germany and universities in the West.[5]

The concept of academic freedom was also clearly formulated in response to the encroachments of the totalitarian state on science and academia in general for the furtherance of its own goals. For instance, in the Soviet Union, scientific research was brought under strict political control in the 1930s. A number of research areas were declared "bourgeois pseudoscience" and forbidden, notably genetics[6] (see "Lysenkoism") and sociology.[7] The trend toward subjugating science to the interests of the state also had proponents in the West, including the influential Marxist John Desmond Bernal, who published The Social Function of Science in 1939.

In contrast to this approach, Michael Polanyi argued that a structure of liberty is essential for the advancement of science – that the freedom to pursue science for its own sake is a prerequisite for the production of knowledge through peer review and the scientific method.[8]

In 1936, as a consequence of an invitation to give lectures for the Ministry of Heavy Industry in the USSR, Polanyi met Bukharin, who told him that in socialist societies all scientific research is directed to accord with the needs of the latest five-year plan. Demands in Britain for centrally planned scientific research led Polanyi, together with John Baker, to found the influential Society for Freedom in Science.[9] The society promoted a liberal conception of science as free enquiry against the instrumental view that science should exist primarily to serve the needs of society.[10]

In a series of articles, re-published in The Contempt of Freedom (1940) and The Logic of Liberty (1951), Polanyi claimed that co-operation among scientists is analogous to the way in which agents co-ordinate themselves within a free market. Just as consumers in a free market determine the value of products, science is a spontaneous order that arises as a consequence of open debate among specialists. Science can therefore only flourish when scientists have the liberty to pursue truth as an end in itself:

[S]cientists, freely making their own choice of problems and pursuing them in the light of their own personal judgment, are in fact co-operating as members of a closely knit organization.

Such self-co-ordination of independent initiatives leads to a joint result which is unpremeditated by any of those who bring it about.

Any attempt to organize the group ... under a single authority would eliminate their independent initiatives, and thus reduce their joint effectiveness to that of the single person directing them from the centre. It would, in effect, paralyse their co-operation.


Proponents of academic freedom believe that the freedom of inquiry by students and faculty members is essential to the mission of the academy. They argue that academic communities are repeatedly targeted for repression due to their ability to shape and control the flow of information. When scholars attempt to teach or communicate ideas or facts that are inconvenient to external political groups or to authorities, they may find themselves targeted for public vilification, job loss, imprisonment, or even death. For example, in North Africa, a professor of public health discovered that his country's infant mortality rate was higher than government figures indicated. He lost his job and was imprisoned.[11][12]

The fate of biology in the Soviet Union is also cited[citation needed] as a reason why society has an interest in protecting academic freedom. A Soviet biologist Trofim Lysenko rejected Western science – then focused primarily on making advances in theoretical genetics, based on research with the fruit fly (Drosophila melanogaster) – and proposed a more socially relevant approach to farming that was based on the collectivist principles of dialectical materialism. (Lysenko called this "Michurinism", but it is more popularly known today as Lysenkoism.) Lysenko's ideas proved appealing to the Soviet leadership, in part because of their value as propaganda, and he was ultimately made director of the Soviet Academy of Agricultural Sciences. Subsequently, Lysenko directed a purge of scientists who professed "harmful ideas", resulting in the expulsion, imprisonment, or death of hundreds of Soviet scientists. Lysenko's ideas were then implemented on collectivised farms in the Soviet Union and China. Famines that resulted partly from Lysenko's influence are believed to have killed 30 million people in China alone.[13]

AFAF (Academics For Academic Freedom) of the United Kingdom[14] is a campaign for lecturers, academic staff and researchers who want to make a public statement in favour of free enquiry and free expression. Their statement of Academic Freedom has 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.

AFAF and those who agree with its principles believe that it is important for academics to be able not only to express their opinions, but also to put them to scrutiny and to open further debate. They are against the idea of telling the public Platonic "noble lies" and believe that people need not be protected from radical views.

Sociologist Ruth Pearce argued that the concept of academic freedom exists to protect scholarship from censure by state or religious authorities, and not to defend intolerance.[15]

A large-scale empirical study, covering more than 157 countries over the 1900-2015 period, links academic freedom to the quality and quantity of patents filed in a given country. David Audretsch, Paul P. Momtaz, and colleagues report that academic freedom has declined over the last decade for the first time over their century-long observation period, resulting in at least 4.0% fewer patents filed. The study is the first to link academic freedom to economic growth through an innovation channel.[16]

For academic staff

The concept of academic freedom as a right of faculty members is an established part of most legal systems. While in the United States the constitutional protection of academic freedom derives from the guarantee of free speech under the First Amendment, the constitutions of other countries (particularly in civil law systems) typically grant a separate right to free learning, teaching, and research.


During the interwar years (cir. 1919–1939) Canadian academics were informally expected to be apolitical, lest they bring trouble to their respective universities which, at the time, were very much dependent upon provincial government grants. As well, many Canadian academics of the time considered their position to be remote from the world of politics and felt they had no place getting involved in political issues. However, with the increase of socialist activity in Canada during the Great Depression, due to the rise of Social Gospel ideology, some left-wing academics began taking active part in contemporary political issues outside the university. Thus, individuals such as Frank H. Underhill at the University of Toronto and other members or affiliates with the League for Social Reconstruction or the socialist movement in Canada who held academic positions, began to find themselves in precarious positions with their university employers. Frank H. Underhill, for example, faced criticism from within and without academia and near expulsion from his university position for his public political comments and his involvement with the League for Social Reconstruction and the Co-operative Commonwealth Federation. According to Michiel Horn this era marked,

... a relaxation of the unwritten controls under which many Canadian professors had previously worked. The nature of the institutions, natural caution and professional pre-occupation had before the Depression inhibited the professoriate. None of these conditions changed quickly, but even at the provincial universities there were brave souls in the 1930s who claimed, with varying success, the right publicly to discuss controversial subjects and express opinions about them.

In 2020, the University of Ottawa suspended one of its teachers for using the n-word in a metalinguistic way, which sparked a controversy over academic freedom.


Self-censorship in a Chinese academic journal: an editor asks the article's author to remove a sentence about blocking of Wikipedia in mainland China as it could cause trouble with the "authorities".

Academic freedom is severely limited in China.[17][18][19] Academics have noted an incentive not to express 'incorrect' opinions about issues sensitive to the Government of China and the ruling Chinese Communist Party (CCP).[20][21] These efforts have been effective in causing academics to self-censor and shift academic discourse.[22]

In December 2020, the Associated Press reported that China was controlling scientific research into the origins of COVID-19 under direct orders from CCP general secretary Xi Jinping. According to the report, an order by China's State Council required all research to be approved by a task force under their management, saying scientific publication should be orchestrated like "a game of chess", warning that those who publish without permission will be held accountable.[23][24]


Professors at public French universities and researchers in public research laboratories are expected, as are all civil servants, to behave in a neutral manner and to not favor any particular political or religious point of view during the course of their duties. However, the academic freedom of university professors is a fundamental principle recognized by the laws of the Republic, as defined by the Constitutional Council; furthermore, statute law declares about higher education that "teachers-researchers (university professors and assistant professors), researchers and teachers are fully independent and enjoy full freedom of speech in the course of their research and teaching activities, provided they respect, following university traditions and the dispositions of this code, principles of tolerance and objectivity".[25] The nomination and promotion of professors is largely done through a process of peer review rather than through normal administrative procedures.

Academic freedom in France is different compared to other countries in European Union (EU). According to Maassen et al (2023) "Recent discussions about academic freedom in France have, amongst other things, been focused on the government approach to the so-called “Islamo-leftism" in academia". It is said that the "French Academia" is the one to blame for creating this "Intellectual breeding ground for Islamic terrorism". Movements of "Islamo-Leftism" have been debated during "2022 presidential election" and been suspected in universities according to the "former French Minister of Higher Education". However, "The National Centre for Scientific research (CNRS)" refuses to accept the existence of "Islamo-leftism" in reality (p. 76).[26] Maassen et al (2023) also states that "The debates in France illustrate that over the last decades higher education and society in the EU Member States and elsewhere have developed a new relationship, where traditional borders and distinctions have become less prominent" (pp. 76–77).[26] According to Maassen et al (2023) in 2020, an amendment particularly speaking about "academic freedom raised concern amongst the academic community". The concerning amendment stated that "Academic freedom is exercised with respect for the values of the republic" without any further discussion of those values or the limitations of those values. Later, an "approximate of 40 academic research networks, associations, unions, and interest groups, in addition to almost 100 academic journals" signed an open letter to drop the amendment (p. 77).[26] This shows the disagreement among the stakeholders of European Union (EU) about academic freedom and the reach of political parties to limit academic freedom.

Various threats to "Academic Freedom in France" identified by Beaud(2022)[27] and mentioned by Maassen et al (2023, pp. 77–78) in the European Union article are as follow.  The first type of "classical threat" is due to the intervention of "Political authorities", as most of the universities in France are "Public universities" and under political supervision.[28] Beaud (2022, para.31) refers to the case of "Ernest Renan and Louis-Napolean" to show how the political parties in France have been the limiting factors of "Academic Freedom in France" for a long time now. The authority in power Louis-Napolean, suspended Ernest Renan course from the "College de France" after his lecture where "he presented the main theses of his book on The Life of Jesus, a “scientific" biography of Jesus Christ". Following the suspension Ernest Renan was also removed from the "body of College de France", with an "accusation" of not "abiding" the rule of not to include any "personal opinion" against the "fundamentals of the Christian Religion".[27] The second one is due to the interference of "civil services at national level (The Ministry of Higher Education)".[28][27]  Along with the "classical threats" mentioned above, Beaud (2022) also points out to the "new threats" of "academic freedom".

“The first new threat according to Beaud (2022) identified by Maassen et al (2023, p.78) is formed by the university administration (referred to as the ‘close administration’), formed by the academics in leadership positions, and the institutional bureaucracy.[29] It is argued that French universities have experienced the emergence of a “subtle form of hierarchization" mentioned by Maassen et al (2023, p. 78) referring to (Legrand 2008, p. 2242).[29] The latter is interpreted as a threat to the freedom of academics to follow their own research and teaching agenda". The other "new threat" would be "Strategic lawsuit against public participation (SLAPP)". This lawsuit is made to "silence the critics burdening them with the cost of a legal defense until they abandon their criticism or opposition".[29] Increasing use of this lawsuit is endangering the "freedom of speech" and "academic freedom". Another "new threat according to Beaud (2022, para.50)" pointed out by Maassen et al (2023, p. 78) would be regarding "students and academic activist groups". According to this new threat, the teachers won't be only fearing from the authorities higher to them in the hierarchy of control, but also need to fear from "students" and "activist groups", as they would decide if something taught by the teacher is offensive or not. This relates to the case of "Islamo-leftism" as mentioned before.[29][27]

Barylo (2021, para.9–10), states that, "part of this problem is the historical disconnect between policies and research in France" is the "country’s lack of thinktank culture", which is blocking the flow of "Academic expertise" into the "government policy". Other countries like "US", "Canada" and "UK" may share those flaws with France but at least they have "equality laws" which allows people to express themselves and have an established "government structure" which takes those expressions under consideration. This lack of "Academic Freedom in France" is causing academic scholars to move out of France, just like what the author of this article did. "I shudder to think where this may end, but it does at least reassure me that I made the right decision when I joined all those émigrés and left France for the UK" says the author, Barylo (2022, para.11).[30]


The German Constitution (German: Grundgesetz) specifically grants academic freedom: "Art and science, research and teaching are free. Freedom of teaching does not absolve from loyalty to the constitution" (Art. 5, para. 3). In a tradition reaching back to the 19th century, jurisdiction has understood this right as one to teach (Lehrfreiheit), study (Lernfreiheit), and conduct research (Freiheit der Wissenschaft) freely, although the last concept has sometimes been taken as a cover term for the first two. Lehrfreiheit embraces the right of professors to determine the content of their lectures and to publish the results of their research without prior approval.

Since professors through their Habilitation receive the right to teach (Latin: venia docendi) in a particular academic field, academic freedom is deemed to cover at least the entirety of this field. Lernfreiheit means a student's right to determine an individual course of study. Finally, Freiheit der Wissenschaft permits academic self-governance and grants the university control of its internal affairs.


Protections for academic freedom are provided in Section 14 of the 1997 Universities Act.[31] It provides academics with protection for research, teaching and other activity "to question and test received wisdom, to put forward new ideas and to state controversial or unpopular opinions" without being disadvantaged.


In Mauritius the academic staff have the following rights, which are stated in the Chapter II Constitution of Mauritius: the protection of Freedom of Conscience, Protection of Freedom of Expression, Protection of Freedom of Assembly and Association, Protection of Freedom to Establish schools and the Protection from Discrimination.[32] In a 2012 paper on the University of Mauritius the author states that although there are no records of abuse of human rights or freedom of the state "subtle threats to freedom of expression do exist, especially with regard to criticisms of ruling political parties and their leaders as well as religious groups."[33] The government of Mauritius endorses the practice of academic freedom in the tertiary institutions of the country.[33] Academic freedom became a public issue in May 2009 when the University of Mauritius spoke out against the previous vice chancellor Professor I. Fagoonee, who had forwarded a circular sent by the Ministry of Education to academics.[33] This circular targeted public officers and required them to consult their superiors before speaking to the press. According to the paper, academics were annoyed by the fact that the vice chancellor had endorsed the circular by sending it to them when it was addressed to public officers.[33] In an interview the vice- chancellor stated that while academics were free to speak to the press they should not compromise university policy or government policy.[33] An academic spoke to the prime minister and the issue was eventually taken up to parliament.[33] The vice chancellor was then required to step down.[33] In return the government publicly endorsed the practice of academic freedom.[33]

The institutional bureaucracy and the dependence on the state for funds has restricted the freedom of academics to criticize government policy.[33] An interview with Dr. Kasenally an educator at the University of Mauritius expresses her views on academic freedom in the university.[33] The professor states that in 1970s to 1980s the university was at the forefront of debates.[33] But in the 1990s the university stepped away from controversial debates.[33] In 1986, the rights of academics to engage in politics was removed to curtail academic freedom.[33] Academics at the University of Mauritius have thus been encouraged to not express their views or ideas especially if the views oppose those of the management or government.[33] While there have been no cases of arrests or extreme detention of academics, there is a fear that it would hinder their career progress especially at the level of a promotion thus, the academics try to avoid participating in controversial debates.[33]


In the Netherlands the academic freedom is limited. In November 1985 the Dutch Ministry of Education published a policy paper titled Higher Education: Autonomy and Quality.[34] This paper had a proposal that steered away from traditional education and informed that the future of higher education sector should not be regulated by the central government.[34] In 1992 the Law of Higher Education and Research (Wet op het hoger onderwijs en wetenschappelijk onderzoek, article 1.6) was published and became effective in 1993.[34] However, this law governs only certain institutions.[34] Furthermore, the above provision is part of an ordinary statute and lacks constitutional status, so it can be changed anytime by a simple majority in Parliament.

New Zealand

Academic freedom pertains to forms of expression by academic staff engaged in scholarship and is defined by the Education Act 1989 (s161(2)) as: a) The freedom of academic staff and students, within the law, to question and test received wisdom, to put forward new ideas and to state controversial or unpopular opinions; b) The freedom of academic staff and students to engage in research; c) The freedom of the university and its staff to regulate the subject matter of courses taught at the university; d) The freedom of the university and its staff to teach and assess students in the manner they consider best promotes learning; and e) The freedom of the university through its council and vice-chancellor to appoint its own staff. [35]


The 1987 Philippine Constitution states that, "Academic Freedom shall be enjoyed in all institutions of higher learning."[36] Philippine jurisprudence and courts of law, including the Philippine Supreme Court tend to reflexively defer to the institutional autonomy of higher institutions of learning in determining academic decisions with respect to the outcomes of individual cases filed in the courts regarding the abuse of Academic Freedom by professors, despite the individual merits or demerits of any cases.[37] A closely watched case was the controversial case of University of the Philippines at Diliman Sociology Professor Sarah Raymundo who was not granted tenure due to an appeal by the minority dissenting vote within the faculty of the Sociology Department. This decision was sustained upon appeal by the dissenting faculty and Professor Raymundo to the University of the Philippines at Diliman Chancellor Sergio S. Cao; and though the case was elevated to University of the Philippines System President Emerlinda R. Roman, Roman denied the appeal which was elevated by Professor Raymundo to the university's board of regents for decision and the BOR granted her request for tenure. A major bone of contention among the supporters of Professor Raymundo was not to question the institutional Academic Freedom of the department in not granting her tenure, but in asking for transparency in how the Academic Freedom of the department was exercised, in keeping with traditions within the University of the Philippines in providing a basis that may be subject to peer review, for Academic decisions made under the mantle of Academic Freedom.

South Africa

The South African Constitution of 1996 offers protection of academic freedom and the freedom of scholarly research.[38] Academic freedom became a main principle for higher education by 1997.[38] Three main threats are believed to jeopardize academic freedom: government regulations, excessive influence of private sector sponsor on a university, and limitations of freedom of speech in universities.[38]

There have been an abundance of scandals over the restricted academic freedom at a number of universities in South Africa.[39] The University of KwaZulu-Natal received fame over its restricted academic freedom and the scandal that occurred in 2007.[39] In this scandal a sociology lecturer, Fazel Khan was fired in April 2007 for "bringing the university into disrepute" after he released information to the news media.[39] According to Khan he had been airbrushed from a photograph in a campus publication because of his participation in a staff strike last February.[39] In light of this scandal the South African Council on Higher Education released a report stating that the state is influencing academic freedom.[39] In particular, public universities are more susceptible to political pressure because they receive funds from the public.[39]

United Kingdom

The Robbins Report on Higher Education,[40] commissioned by the British government and published in 1963, devoted a full chapter, Chapter XVI, to Academic freedom and its scope. This gives a detailed discussion of the importance attached both to freedom of individual academics and of the institution itself. In a world, both then and now, where illiberal governments are all too ready to attack freedom of expression, the Robbins committee saw the (then) statutory protection given to academic freedom as giving some protection for society as a whole from any temptation to mount such attacks.

When Margaret Thatcher's government sought to remove many of the statutory protections of academic freedom which Robbins had regarded as so important, she was partly frustrated by a hostile amendment to her bill in the House of Lords. This incorporated into what became the 1988 Education Reform Act, the legal right of academics in the UK 'to question and test received wisdom and to put forward new ideas and controversial or unpopular opinions without placing themselves in jeopardy of losing their jobs or the privileges they may have'.[41] These principles of academic freedom are thus articulated in the statutes of most UK universities. Professor Kathleen Stock formerly of University of Sussex resigned from her role due to controversy from students and the media regarding her transphobic views.[42] In response to such concerns, the Equality and Human Rights Commission has issued guidance.[43] The Guidance provides detailed procedures for universities to consider in determining whether or not specific events can go ahead. It also provides ways to reduce any potential barriers for freedom of speech in regards to specific events. The guidance also makes clear the statutory requirement of universities to ensure they protect freedom of speech on campus however as well as compliance with the Prevent Strategy and the Equality Act 2010. In 2016 the Warden of Wadham College Oxford, a lawyer previously Director of Public Prosecutions, pointed out that the Conservative government's anti-terrorism "Prevent" strategy legislation has placed on universities 'a specific enforceable duty ... to prevent the expression of views that are otherwise entirely compatible with the criminal law'.[44]

United States

In the United States, academic freedom is generally taken as the notion of academic freedom defined by the "1940 Statement of Principles on Academic Freedom and Tenure", jointly authored by the American Association of University Professors (AAUP) and the Association of American Colleges (now the Association of American Colleges and Universities).[45] These principles state that "Teachers are entitled to freedom in the classroom in discussing their subject."[45] The statement also permits institutions to impose "limitations of academic freedom because of religious or other aims", so long as they are "clearly stated in writing at the time of the appointment".[45] The principle also refers to the ability of teachers, students, and educational institutions to pursue knowledge without unreasonable political or government interference.[46] The Principles have only the character of private pronouncements, not that of binding law.

Seven regional accreditors work with American colleges and universities, including private and religious institutions, to implement this standard. Additionally, the AAUP, which is not an accrediting body, works with these same institutions. The AAUP does not always agree with the regional accrediting bodies on the standards of protection of academic freedom and tenure.[47] The AAUP lists (censures) those colleges and universities which it has found, after its own investigations, to violate these principles.[48] By 2022, 88 percent of four-year colleges and universities will limit student free speech, reversing a 15-year trend, according to the College Speech Codes annual report. The Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression (FIRE) reported that 426 out of 486 institutions have at least one policy restricting student speech.[49]

It is an area where students have the freedom to think critically regarding information they come across, and where they can express concepts in an ever-growing topic within a field. It also opens up the ability for those students to discuss and even question particular sections of work to further advance their fields. Such an environment is maintained by professionals of such fields through the students’ professor(s). These people help guide the process of creating an expansive environment that protects ideas and encourages thought. They use the core protections and concepts within academic freedom to streamline this environment creating process. Professors, therefore, encourage discussion and analysis by presenting a multi-directional format in the information they teach. Professors draw from the same core information derived by their field, but express in a multitude of different ways to give students a way of discussing and comparing the data they receive. This way of encouraging discussion and critical analysis develops a more complete understanding of the subject matter. Such expansion in understanding also allows fields to recover data previously "glossed over" that pertained to accomplishments made by non-European societies in older times and cracking the original Europe-centered view of the world.[50]

Academic freedom started in America after the Civil War disrupted the previously stagnating systems of higher education. The educational system that Germany had was analyzed by universities to progress fields of research. Johns Hopkins University was the first to use this education system.[51]

Prior to the turn of the twentieth century, a professor by the name of Edward Ross published the free silver movement supporting document known as Honest Dollars. The document placed the professor in political disagreement with the owners of Stanford University. The Stanford family made their money from the railroad industry that the professor had publicly ridiculed. In 1900, the professor expressed politically charged statements that called for the expulsion of Japanese immigrants from the country which would lead to his termination from the university. This decision was followed by seven other professors resigning from the university and elevated the matter to national scrutiny. This event would set in motion the creation of the AAUP to provide monetary and legal security, filling the gaps in many of their contracts.[52]

In 1957, the U.S. Supreme Court began to take up the matter starting with the case of Sweezy v. New Hampshire. In Keyishian v. Board of Regents (1967), the Supreme Court made connections between the First Amendment and academic freedom as an especially important protection on the grounds that it was crucial to everyone. Such First Amendment protections only applied to public institutions, and academic freedom contains protections outside of the First Amendment as the Court never outright declared that it contained academic freedom.[53]


Academic freedom in Israel is taken from "the Law of the Council for Higher Education".[54] Paragraph 15 in which it states that "a recognized institution is free to all its academic and administrative matters, within the framework of its budget, as it sees fit. In this paragraph, 'academic and administrative matters' – includes: determining a research and teaching program, appointing the authorities of the institution, appointing teachers and promoting them, determining a teaching method and study, and any other scientific, educational or economic activity". It seems that the paragraph is worded in a clear and comprehensible way even for laymen. The body that is supposed to guard academic freedom, as well as maintain an adequate academic level in the higher education institutions, is the Council for Higher Education – hereinafter "The Council". This council consists of academics who serve as professors at universities, and public figures, with the Minister of Education as the head of the council.

At the disposal of "The Council" is an executive body called the "Committee for Planning and Budgeting", which mainly deals with the matter of universities budgeting and establishing relevant procedures and guidelines for budget and salary matters. Another body that is supposed to guard academic freedom is the "Committee of the Heads of the Universities", which is a voluntary body, but has an influence on the work of the Legislature and "The Council ". Through their employee committees, and through the personal activity of each of them, these bodies can try and influence the preservation of academic freedom.

In general, it can be said that the essential academic freedom, the one aimed at the freedom of teaching and research, was preserved, and the government neither interfered nor tried to interfere in these contents. Its way of influencing this matter is by providing incentives for teaching in this or that way, or for research in certain fields, and this is through grants. The fact that the government finances a significant percentage of the current budget of the universities (around 70% or more), also allows the government to decide what will be the tuition fee for a student at the budgeted universities in Israel.[55] But, In 2021, an academic committee of the prestigious Israel Prize decided to award the Israel Prize in the field of mathematics and computer science to Professor Oded Goldreich from the Weizmann Institute of Science. The Minister of Education did not accept the committee's recommendation on the grounds that Goldreich signed a petition calling for an academic boycott of Ariel University, which is located in the territories of Judea and Samaria, which are occupied territory, as well as for appealing to the German government to revoke its decision that the BDS movement is an anti-Semitic movement. The award committee appealed to the Supreme Court for a violation of its academic freedom, and the court overturned the decision, and ordered the Minister of Education to award Goldreich the award. Godreich received the award a year later.[56]

In recent years, a fierce debate has erupted on the issue of academic freedom, following extreme political statements by a number of university faculty members. The vast majority of the controversial statements were those that called for an academic boycott of Israel, or support for organizations that support an economic and academic boycott of Israel. The question that was at the center of the storm was whether an academic faculty member (hereafter referred to as a professor) is protected by the principle of freedom of speech, or is it forbidden, when he wears the guise of a professor, to express a political position that might identify the position with the institution he allegedly represents. All the more, is it permissible for the professor to express a political position during his teaching, and even to invite representatives of political bodies to lecture in his classes, and without maintaining a balance between those invited.[57] Referring to that background, the Minister of Education at the time Naftali Bennett (in 2017) asked Prof. Asa Kasher to compile an academic Code of Ethics for universities,[58][59] a code that was approved by "The Council" in March 2018. All the research universities (7 universities), with the exception of Ben-Gurion University of the Negev, which already had for an academic code of ethics that also included the issue of freedom of expression, refused to adopt this code on the grounds of infringing academic freedom.[60]

Academic freedom subject to Auditing

All research universities in Israel have a Chief internal auditor, relatively independent. This issue of the interrelationship between the internal audit in universities and the principle of academic freedom is discussed in detail in an article that appeared in a book issued on behalf of the Ben-Gurion university of the Negev – the only one as mentioned that has a binding academic code of ethicss.[61] In this matter there are some variations among the universities. The university auditor's authority to review issues under the authority of the university senate (especially academic issues and academic appointments) is limited in all universities, except for the Ben-Gurion University in the Negev. There it is written in its constitution and in the general regulations: "There is no control over the University Internal Auditor except the law, the constitution (of the university) and the general regulations", and according to the general regulations the auditor must (only) "respect the academic freedom granted to the university, including its faculty members" . The question immediately arises: who will determine which matter enjoys academic freedom and which does not. According to the article, only the Chief Internal auditor will determine this and in light of 2 rules: 1. Any issue on which the academic regulations stipulate a rule does not enjoy academic freedom, because the faculty members must act according to what is dictated in the regulations; 2. The university auditor will refrain from initiating an audit in the areas that appear in paragraph 15, mentioned above, of the Higher Education Council Law. The author of the article further maintains that the fact that the paragraph indicating the authority of the university auditor by virtue of the "Internal Audit Law 1992" in the Higher Education Council Law appears as a sub-paragraph in section 15, which grants universities and their faculty members academic freedom, adds validity to his approach. To say: academic freedom on the one hand, but not unlimited, and subject to audit on the other hand, and it all involves one short paragraph of the law.

Academic freedom for colleges and universities (institutional autonomy)

A prominent feature of the English university concept is the freedom to appoint faculty, set standards and admit students. This ideal may be better described as institutional autonomy and is distinct from whatever freedom is granted to students and faculty by the institution.[62]

The Supreme Court of the United States said that academic freedom means a university can "determine for itself on academic grounds:

  1. who may teach,
  2. what may be taught,
  3. how it should be taught, and
  4. who may be admitted to study."[63][64][65][66]

In a 2008 case, a federal court in Virginia ruled that professors have no academic freedom; all academic freedom resides with the university or college.[65] In that case, Stronach v. Virginia State University, a district court judge held "that no constitutional right to academic freedom exists that would prohibit senior (university) officials from changing a grade given by (a professor) to one of his students."[65] The court relied on mandatory precedent of the U.S. Supreme Court case of Sweezy v. New Hampshire[64] and a case from the fourth circuit court of appeals.[65][67] The Stronach court also relied on persuasive cases from several circuits of the courts of appeals, including the first,[68] third,[69][70] and seventh[71] circuits. That court distinguished the situation when a university attempts to coerce a professor into changing a grade, which is clearly in violation of the First Amendment, from when university officials may, in their discretionary authority, change the grade upon appeal by a student.[65][72] The Stronach case has gotten significant attention in the academic community as an important precedent.[73]

CAP Survey

In 2007, the Changing Academic Profession (CAP) survey was administered to the following European countries: Finland, Germany, Italy, Norway, and the United Kingdom. The aim of this survey was to gather comparative data between countries, “encompassing information about systems of higher education, along with the functions, productivity, and attitudes of professors/academics”.[74]

This survey was conducted three years before Finland would undergo major legislative changes in parliament, allowing Finish institutions to no longer exist as strictly entities of the state as they had up until this point, with universities being granted the privilege to exist as legal and financial independents. Because of the timing, the results of the survey would reflect the opinion of Finnish educators who had not yet experienced institutional autonomy through legislation. For this reason, Finnish academics would assert that labor unions played major roles in the protection of Finnish academic freedom.[74]

The survey also revealed that German academics generally felt that they had strong individual influence at the departmental level but lacked the ability to participate in decision making at the institutional level. However, according to Cambridge's findings, "Germany demonstrated the most diverse pattern of influence for selecting key administrators. The role of institutional managers was seen as being of most importance in selecting key administrators".[74]

British universities rely heavily on peer review and, with roughly 85% of British respondents having served as peer reviewers during their tenures.

Academic culture in the United Kingdom emphasizes peer review, along with strict discipline to protect academic freedom, while Norway focuses on a clear and effective line of communication between faculty and educators alike. "In Italy and Norway, it is typical for respondents to serve as members of national or international scientific bodies. The nature of universities is that they are recognised as bottom-heavy organisations with craft-like traditional academic work".[74]

Relationship to freedom of speech

Academic freedom and free speech rights are not coextensive, although this widely accepted view has been recently challenged by an "institutionalist" perspective on the First Amendment.[75] Academic freedom involves more than speech rights; for example, it includes the right to determine what is taught in the classroom.[76] The AAUP gives teachers a set of guidelines to follow when their ideas are considered threatening to religious, political, or social agendas. When teachers speak or write in public, whether via social media or in academic journals, they are able to articulate their own opinions without the fear from institutional restriction or punishment, but they are encouraged to show restraint and clearly specify that they are not speaking for their institution.[77] In practice, academic freedom is protected by institutional rules and regulations, letters of appointment, faculty handbooks, collective bargaining agreements, and academic custom.[78]

In the U.S., the freedom of speech is guaranteed by the First Amendment, which states that "Congress shall make no law... abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press...." By extension, the First Amendment applies to all governmental institutions, including public universities. The U.S. Supreme Court has consistently held that academic freedom is a First Amendment right at public institutions.[79] However, the United States' First Amendment has generally been held to not apply to private institutions, including religious institutions. These private institutions may honor freedom of speech and academic freedom at their discretion.


Evolution debate

Academic freedom is also associated with a movement to introduce intelligent design as an alternative explanation to evolution in US public schools. Supporters claim that academic institutions need to fairly represent all possible explanations for the observed biodiversity on Earth, rather than implying no alternatives to evolutionary theory exist.

Critics of the movement claim intelligent design is religiously motivated pseudoscience and cannot be allowed into the curriculum of US public schools due to the First Amendment to the United States Constitution, often citing Kitzmiller v. Dover Area School District as legal precedent.[80][81] They also reject the allegations of discrimination against proponents of intelligent design, of which investigation showed no evidence.[82]

A number of "academic freedom bills" have been introduced in state legislatures in the United States between 2004 and 2008. The bills were based largely upon language drafted by the Discovery Institute,[83] the hub of the Intelligent Design movement, and derive from language originally drafted for the Santorum Amendment in the United States Senate. According to The Wall Street Journal , the common goal of these bills is to expose more students to articles and videos that undercut evolution, most of which are produced by advocates of intelligent design or biblical creationism.[84] The American Association of University Professors has reaffirmed its opposition to these bills, including any portrayal of creationism as a scientifically credible alternative and any misrepresentation of evolution as scientifically controversial.[85][86] (As of June 2008), only the Louisiana bill has been successfully passed into law.[citation needed]

ALFP debate (2014)

In 1940, the American Association of University Professors (AAUP) provided a fundamental definition of academic freedom which goes as follows: “professors have the privilege to search for truth and knowledge and the right to impart those truths and knowledge to others, including students, the academy, and the general public, unfettered by political or ideological pressure”.[87]

Since being drafted, this definition has undergone two revisions in 1970 and 1999 respectively. The 1970 revision declares that the protections of academic freedom "apply not only to the full-time probationary and the tenured teacher, but also to all others, such as part-time faculty and teaching assistants, who exercise teaching responsibilities".[87] The 1999 revision places emphasis on the idea that post-tenure review should be conducted in a manner that respects academic freedom and due process.

In 2014, a debate was held by the Academic Leadership Fellows Program (ALFP), addressing the potential need to either further revise the text, overhaul it completely, or leave it as is. The argument that revision/overhaul is necessary asserts that due to rapid growth of technology in education, introduction of social media (which effectively blurs the line between existing as an academic and an individual with unique interests), increase in international students, and rise in student expectations for return on investment since 1999, the statement no longer applies to modernized academia and thus should be changed. The counterargument to revision/overhaul asserts that the AAUP's statement has aged well, and that overhauling the standard that has existed for decades would only stir up further confusion. Instead, it is necessary to "clearly articulate the statements' intended meaning through education, discussion, and by not supporting inappropriate behavior in the name of academic freedom".[87] This debate took place in front of a live audience, who after hearing both arguments agreed overwhelmingly with the counterargument.


In the 20th century and particularly the 1950s during McCarthyism, there was much public date in print on Communism's role in academic freedom, e.g., Sidney Hook's Heresy, Yes–Conspiracy, No[88] and Whittaker Chambers' "Is Academic Freedom in Danger?"[89] among many other books and articles.

Diversity initiatives

Since 2014, Harvard Medical School Dean Jeffrey Flier,[90][91] and American Mathematical Society Vice President Abigail Thompson[92] have contended that academics are asked to support diversity initiatives, and are discouraged from voicing opposition to equity and inclusion through self-censorship, as well as explicit promotion, hiring, and firing.[93][94]

Pontifical universities

Pontifical universities around the world such as The Catholic University of America, the Pontifical University of Saint Thomas Aquinas, Angelicum in Rome, the Université catholique de Louvain in Belgium, and the Pontifical Catholic University of Peru depend for their status as pontifical universities and for the terms of academic freedom on the Pope through the Congregation for Catholic Education. The terms of academic freedom at ecclesiastical institutions of education are outlined in the apostolic constitution Sapientia Christiana.[95]

Specific cases

While some controversies of academic freedom are reflected in proposed laws that would affect large numbers of students through entire regions, many cases involve individual academics that express unpopular opinions or share politically unfavorable information. These individual cases may receive widespread attention and periodically test the limits of, and support for, academic freedom. Several of these specific cases are also the foundations for later legislation.

The Lane Rebels

In the early 1830s, students at the Lane Theological Seminary, in Cincinnati, sponsored a series of debates lasting 18 days. The topic was the American Colonization Society's project of sending free blacks to (not "back to") Africa, specifically Liberia, and opposing freeing slaves unless they agreed to leave the United States immediately. The Society, whose founders and officers were Southern slaveowners, provided funding for existing free blacks to relocate to Liberia, believing that free blacks caused unrest among the slaves, and that the United States was and should remain a white country. (Blacks were not citizens until the ratification of the 14th Amendment in 1868.) The winner of the debate was the rejection of the Society's plan, which at best only helped a few thousand, in favor of abolitionism: the immediate, complete, and uncompensated freeing of all slaves.

The trustees of the Seminary, fearing a repeat of the anti-abolitionist Cincinnati riots of 1829, prohibited any further "off-topic" discussions", overruling the faculty in the process. As a result, the vast majority of the student body left Lane (the "Lane Rebels") to become the initial class of the new Oberlin Collegiate Institute. They first obtained a written guarantee from the Oberlin trustees that there would be no limits on discourse, and that the faculty, not the trustees, would control the internal affairs of the school.[96]

The Bassett Affair at Duke University

The Bassett Affair at Duke University in North Carolina in the early 20th century was an important event in the history of academic freedom.[97] In October 1903, Professor John Spencer Bassett publicly praised Booker T. Washington and drew attention to the racism and white supremacist behavior of the Democratic party. Many media reports castigated Bassett, and several major newspapers published opinion pieces attacking him and demanding his termination. On December 1, 1903, the entire faculty of the college threatened to resign en masse if the board gave in to political pressures and asked Bassett to resign.[98] He resigned after "parents were urged to withdraw their children from the college and churchmen were encouraged not to recommend the college to perspective students."[98] President Teddy Roosevelt later praised Bassett for his willingness to express the truth as he saw it.

Professor Mayer and DeGraff of The University of Missouri

In 1929, Experimental Psychology professor Max Friedrich Meyer and sociology assistant professor Harmon O. DeGraff were dismissed from their positions at the University of Missouri for advising student Orval Hobart Mowrer regarding distribution of a questionnaire which inquired about attitudes towards partners' sexual tendencies, modern views of marriage, divorce, extramarital sexual relations, and cohabitation.[99][100] The university was subsequently censured by the American Association of University Professors in an early case regarding academic freedom due a tenured professor.[101]

Professor Rice of Rollins College

In a famous case investigated by the American Association of University Professors, President Hamilton Holt of Rollins College in March 1933 fired John Andrew Rice, an atheist scholar and unorthodox teacher, whom Holt had hired, along with three other "golden personalities", in his push to put Rollins on the cutting edge of innovative education. Holt then required all professors to make a "loyalty pledge" to keep their jobs. The American Association of University Professors censured Rollins. Rice and the three other "golden personalities", who were all dismissed for refusing to make the loyalty pledge, founded Black Mountain College.[102]

William Shockley

In 1978, a Nobel prize-winning physicist, electronics inventor, and electrical engineering professor, William Shockley, was concerned about relatively high reproductive rates among people of African descent, because he believed that genetics doomed black people to be intellectually inferior to white people. He stated that he believed his work on race to be more important than his work leading to the Nobel prize.[103] He was strongly criticized for this stance, which raised some concerns about whether criticism of unpopular views of racial differences suppressed academic freedom.[104]

President Summers of Harvard

In 2006, Lawrence Summers, while president of Harvard University, led a discussion that was intended to identify the reasons why fewer women chose to study science and mathematics at advanced levels. He suggested that the possibility of intrinsic gender differences in terms of talent for science and mathematics should be explored. He became the target of considerable public backlash.[105] His critics were, in turn, accused of attempting to suppress academic freedom.[106] Due to the adverse reception to his comments, he resigned after a five-year tenure. Another significant factor of his resignation was several votes of no-confidence placed by the deans of schools, notably multiple professors in the Faculty of Arts and Sciences.[107]

Duke Lacrosse Scandal

The 2006 scandal in which several members of the Duke Lacrosse team were falsely accused of rape raised serious criticisms against exploitation of academic freedom by the university and its faculty to press judgement and deny due process to the three players accused.[108]

Professor Khan of the University of KwaZulu-Natal

In 2006 trade union leader and sociologist Fazel Khan was fired from the University of KwaZulu-Natal in Durban, South Africa after taking a leadership role in a strike.[109] In 2008 international concern was also expressed at attempts to discipline two other academics at the same university – Nithiya Chetty and John van der Berg – for expressing concern about academic freedom at the university.[110]

Author J Michael Bailey of Northwestern University

J. Michael Bailey wrote a popular science-style book, The Man Who Would Be Queen, the idea that trans women are motivated by sexuality. The book was heavily criticized by many academics, including Andrea James who said it exploited vulnerable people, especially children, Dr. Dreger who found that the book misrepresented those it portrayed and "did not qualify as scientific research", and Lynn Conway who found the tone of the book abusive and said that it was a recipe for further discrimination. In 2007 Dr. Conway and Dr. McCloskey filed formal complaints with Northwestern University accusing of Bailey of grossly violating scientific standards "by conducting intimate research observations on human subjects without telling them that they were objects of the study." They also filed a complaint with Illinois state regulators, requesting that they investigate Bailey for practicing psychology without a license.[111] Other academics, have accused him of sexual misconduct.[111]

Professor Li-Ann of New York University School of Law

In 2009 Thio Li-ann withdrew from an appointment at New York University School of Law after controversy erupted about some anti-gay remarks she had made, prompting a discussion of academic freedom within the law school.[112][113] Subsequently, Li-ann was asked to step down from her position in the NYU Law School.[114]

Professor Robinson of the University of California at Santa Barbara

In 2009 the University of California at Santa Barbara accused William I. Robinson of antisemitism after he circulated an email to his class containing photographs and paragraphs of the Holocaust juxtaposed to those of the Gaza Strip.[115] Robinson was fired from the university, but later the accusations were dropped after a worldwide campaign against the management of the university.[116]

The Diliman Affair of the University of the Philippines

The University of the Philippines at Diliman affair where controversy erupted after Professor Gerardo A. Agulto of the College of Business Administration was sued by MBA graduate student Chanda R. Shahani for a nominal amount in damages for failing him several times in the Strategic Management portion of the Comprehensive Examination. Agulto refused to give a detailed basis for his grades and instead invoked Academic Freedom while Shahani argued in court that Academic Freedom could not be invoked without a rational basis in grading a student.[117]

Professor Salaita of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

In 2013 the University of Illinois at Urbana–Champaign offered Steven Salaita a faculty position in American Indian studies but then withdrew the offer in 2014, after reviewing some of his comments on Twitter about Israel.[118]

Professor Guth of the University of Kansas

Professor David Guth of the University of Kansas was persecuted[tone] by the Kansas Board of Regents due to his tweet, from a personal account linked to the university, regarding the shootings which stated, "#NavyYardShooting The blood is on the hands of the #NRA. Next time, let it be YOUR sons and daughters. Shame on you. May God damn you."[119] Following the controversial comments, Kansas University suspended, but ultimately allowed him to come back. Because of this incident and the moral qualms it raised, the Kansas Board of Regents passed a new policy regarding social media. This new legislature allowed universities to discipline or terminate employees who used social media in ways "contrary to the best interests of the university."[119]

Professor Kershner of The State University of New York at Fredonia

Professor Stephen Kershnar, who lectures philosophy at The State University of New York at Fredonia, was banned from campus due to an academic thought experiment that stirred concerns in the community. Professor Kershnar is contesting the ban according to The New York Times on September 13, 2023.[120]

Samuel Paty of Conflans-Sainte-Honorine

On October 16, 2020, Samuel Paty, a middle school history teacher in the Conflans-Sainte-Honorine area, was beheaded by Abdoullakh Abouyezidovich Anzorov, an eighteen year old Russian Muslim refugee who had been living in France since he was six years old.[121] Paty had created a lesson for his class to teach his students the freedom of expression, in which he used the Charlie Hebdo satirical magazines that showcased caricatures of the Prophet Muhammad.[121] This information was posted on Facebook through a video from a parent of a Muslim student that was in the class where this lesson took place.[122] This video was posted onto Facebook nine days before the tragedy took place.[122] It was then reposted by another Facebook user who was a self-proclaimed imam that was known for having extreme Islamist views.[123] This Facebook user also attached Paty's personal cell phone number and the address of the school he worked at to the post.[123]

Because of this extreme act of terror, French President Emmanuel Macron decided to stand firm on his stances against Muslim extremism while also wanting to uphold France's values on freedom of expression.[124]  Macron and members of his party that are in the French Parliament decided to propose three bills that would drastically change the atmosphere of French society and education for the good of freedom of expression.

The first bill would criminalize on-campus gatherings that trouble the good order of the establishment; the punishment for violating this would be a $45,000 fine and/or 3 years in prison.[124] The second bill was a global-security bill that aimed to aid law enforcement in situations similar to the Paty murders. However, a multitude of the details/provisions of this bill made French citizens upset. One of these provisions is that this bill would criminalize the publication/sharing of photos of police officers unless their identifying features have been blurred.[124] This bill also stated that law enforcement will now be able to use drones to film citizens in public,[125] along with allowing body-camera footage from police officers to be live streamed in real time to French authorities.[124] Lastly, this bill would also harshen sentences for people that are charged with assaulting a police officer.[125]

The third bill's goal was to strengthen respect for the principles of the Republic by means of tweaking the education system in a multitude of ways. The French Government described this bill as a part of President Macron's strategy to counter radical Islamists attempts to influence French society in a negative way.[126] It would assign every French child with a tracking number to enforce the attendance of each child in government-recognized schools.[124] This would effectively end most homeschooling practices and privately religious owned schools in France, which means that French parents now cannot guide their child's education path to best suit their needs.[124] Elective home education would be subjected to an issuance of authorization by the State, and it would only be approved if the child's specific situation was defined by law.[126] This would also give the French government control over the quality and quantity of education that a French child gets, while also ensuring that all French children are educated in the values of the French Republic.[126] The bill would also criminalize sharing identifying information about a public servant that could be used to inflict harm along with "intimidating/threatening violence upon a public official from motives drawn from convictions or beliefs."[124]

Shortly after the murders, Macron also began to push for another proposed anti-extremist bill that would force imams to train in France while cracking down on the various groups that spread extremist and separatist ideals.[123] This bill would also increase public funding for Islamic studies along with providing funds for low-income housing in the banlieues around Paris, which has been an area notorious for violence.[123]

See also


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Further reading

External links