What is academic freedom? And who polices its boundaries? Our guests on today’s show argue that the popular conception of academic freedom has become too closely connected with the concept of free speech. Penn State Professor Michael Bérubé and Portland State Professor Jennifer Ruth are the authors of “It’s Not Free Speech: Race, Democracy, and the Future of Academic Freedom.”
Academic freedom gives faculty the right to teach, research, and speak about matters of public concern without being punished — even where their views, findings, or methods are controversial. Educators on college and university campuses must be free to speak their minds, ask tough questions, and facilitate learning without the threat of institutional censorship, coercion, or intimidation.
The United States Supreme Court ruled in Sweezy v. New Hampshire (1957) that the government should be “extremely reticent to tread” in areas of academic freedom rights and political expression, especially when the views challenge prevailing norms. Chief Justice Earl Warren held that research and scholarship “cannot flourish in an atmosphere of suspicion and distrust,” and that students and faculty “must always remain free to inquire, to study and to evaluate, to gain new maturity and understanding; otherwise our civilization will stagnate and die.”
FIRE is now my favorite organization in America. Its advice and support in those critical first 24-72 hours of the cancellation campaign against me were crucial in the pushback that ultimately allowed me to survive and thrive.
When Georgetown Law suspended faculty member Ilya Shapiro and launched an investigation into a controversial tweet, FIRE stepped in to defend his free speech and academic freedom rights. Georgetown finally reinstated him on after a 122-day investigation, determining that the law school couldn’t punish him for a tweet he posted before the start of his employment.
In this report, we explore findings from a national survey of 1,491 faculty at four-year colleges and universities in the United States regarding their attitudes on free expression and academic freedom. These findings provide a mixed picture on the state of academic freedom among American faculty. A majority of faculty surveyed endorsed broad conceptualizations of freedom of speech and academic freedom. But faculty are split evenly on whether DEI statements are a justifiable requirement for a university job or are an ideological litmus test that violates academic freedom.
On April 13, 2023, Amy Wax spoke to the FIRE's Faculty Network about the various accusations against her, particularly those involving discriminatory harassment based on in-person comments to students. Professor Wax had the opportunity to present her case and try to win the faculty support needed to convince Penn to drop its disciplinary proceedings. The faculty audience, in turn, had the opportunity to push back against her arguments and ask her difficult questions during the 1-hour Q&A period of this 90-minute webinar. Over 150 faculty from FIRE's Faculty Network attended this event.
Too many college campuses silence students who dare exercise their right to free expression. For a more thorough analysis of your expressive rights at colleges and universities, consult FIRE’s Guide to Free Speech on Campus.
Learn more about how FIRE advocates for your rights.
Browse by Issue
- Academic Freedom
- Due Process
- Free Speech
- Freedom of Conscience
- Press Freedom
- Religious Liberty
- Title IX
Subscribe to FIRE updates to get the latest free speech news in your inbox as it happens!