Professor Don Downs: ‘Mobilization on Behalf of Academic Freedom is Essential’

By April 4, 2013

FIRE supporters may know University of Wisconsin-Madison Professor Don Downs from his work with the Committee for Academic Freedom and Rights (CAFAR) and the numerous victories it has secured for student and faculty speech rights in the University of Wisconsin system, or perhaps from his excellent keynote address at FIRE’s summer conference last year. We were thrilled when the Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation recognized his efforts with the $10,000 Jeane Jordan Kirkpatrick Prize for Academic Freedom last month.

His acceptance speech was published on Minding The Campus recently. Downs, with a number of gracious acknowledgements of FIRE, made a compelling case for why students and faculty need to be proactive and mobilize to defend their rights on campus:

Let me conclude by stressing the lesson that I take away from all this: mobilization on behalf of academic freedom is essential. Courts are distant, and their rulings are often either ignored or fudged around. When you mobilize for freedom, you develop an infrastructure that can remain in place for future action, and you have to persuade others to take your principles seriously. You have to convince other minds, which then establishes a better environment for your beliefs. This is what we have accomplished at Wisconsin to some meaningful extent, and which FIRE has done at the national level. At Wisconsin, we were able to appeal to our heritage of academic freedom, which many non-involved faculty took seriously when given the chance.

I highly recommend reading his brief remarks in full. Congratulations, Professor Downs!