Free Speech, Academic Freedom, and First Amendment Rights of College Faculty

April 18, 2011

College faculty and First Amendment advocates are heralding a recent legal decision supporting the First Amendment rights of college faculty. Many see it as a major victory for freedom of speech and academic freedom in higher education.

A careful reading of the decision, however, shows that it does not protect academic freedom. The decision does protect faculty speech but only when that speech falls outside the scope of the faculty member's academic duties.

The decision (Adams v. Trustees of the University of North Carolina-Wilmington) is thus fully consistent with many others indicating that, as I explained in an earlier post, the First Amendment no longer protects academic freedom. The decision may be the best that fans of the First Amendment could have hoped for, given the dismal state of First Amendment law in this area, but we must recognize its severe limitations...