Freedom of Speech: Why We NEED Academic Freedom

Release Date
September 17, 2015

Topic

Civil Liberties Education Free Speech Justice Rights
Description

What are the threats to free speech and free inquiry on college campuses today? Academic Freedom—the ability to freely pursue knowledge and inquiry on campus—is under attack, and it’s important for students to push back.
This is video explains why academic freedom matters. Academic freedom means the right of everyone in the academic community to pursue truth and wisdom, and to reach conclusions according to his or her own rights. Harvard students’ Op-Ed is symptomatic of much broader trends across academia in recent decades. We’ve seen speech administrations establishing speech codes to tell students what they’re allowed to say.
And free speech zones to tell them where they’re allowed to say it. This justification is usually to create a safe space for learning, but advocates forget that a fundamental way to learn is to encounter ideas with which you disagree. Encountering an argument you oppose will either shift your thinking, or broaden and deepen your understanding of your own beliefs.
Either way, such encounters foster learning and critical thinking. And they help you to grow. But too many people on campus seem afraid to hear opinions that with which they disagree or which they find offensive. Lectures and panel discussions are getting cancelled or disrupted because some students have found the speakers objectionable.
This includes speakers from across the political spectrum. Including Condoleezza Rice, Janet Napolitano, Charles Murray, Ayaan Hirsi Ali, Christine Lagarde, George Will, and even the Chancellor of the University of California to name just a few. Such intolerance is harmful because it undermines the fundamental constitutional and moral right to speak your mind with intellectual honestly.
But it’s especially harmful on college campuses, where it suffocates the pursuit of truth that necessarily relies upon vibrant debate and varied research in order to breathe. You can’t have free inquiry if some groups have been empowered to bully others into thinking like them. As the famous educator, Alexander Meiklejohn, wrote, to be afraid of an idea, any idea, is to be unfit for self-government.
People who support free speech and open inquiry need to speak out and organize in order to save the principles of academic freedom and freedom of speech, which should be at the heart of any University. It’s time for a new free speech movement.

“The Doctrine of Academic Freedom” (article): The Harvard Crimson article referenced in the beginning of the video.
Free speech and its relation to self-government, Chapter I: The rulers and the ruled (digital book): Quoted by Professor Downs.
“The Coddling of the American Mind” (article): The effects of campus censorship on education and students’ well-being.
“Academic Freedom: What It Is, What It Isn’t, and How To Tell the Difference” (paper): Don Downs explains more about academic freedom.

Last year, a writer at Harvard student newspaper penned a column with the subtitle, let’s give up on academic freedom in favor of justice. She asked, if our university community opposes racism, sexism, and heterosexism, why should we put up with research that counters our goals? As a professor, I find this attitude really shocking, especially since this columnist is not alone.
On campuses around the country, people are arguing that free speech doesn’t apply to ideas they don’t like, which would inevitably include any idea they broadly deem incompatible with their beliefs. But think about it, just who would decide which ideas are allowable in the name of justice. After all, the question, what is justice, is one of the core questions in political and legal philosophy.
It always has been the subject of heated debate on campus and elsewhere. So it’s disconcerting that some students, faculty, and administrators think they’re so infallible, as to believe they’ve already arrived at the absolute truth. What could be more anathema to the spirit of the university and tolerance than believing that you have nothing left to learn.
This is why academic freedom matters. Academic freedom means the right of everyone in the academic community to pursue truth and wisdom, and to reach conclusions according to his or her own rights. Harvard students’ Op-Ed is symptomatic of much broader trends across academia in recent decades. We’ve seen speech administrations establishing speech codes to tell students what they’re allowed to say.
And free speech zones to tell them where they’re allowed to say it. This justification is usually to create a safe space for learning, but advocates forget that a fundamental way to learn is to encounter ideas with which you disagree. Encountering an argument you oppose will either shift your thinking, or broaden and deepen your understanding of your own beliefs.
Either way, such encounters foster learning and critical thinking. And they help you to grow. But too many people on campus seem afraid to hear opinions that with which they disagree or which they find offensive. Lectures and panel discussions are getting cancelled or disrupted because some students have found the speakers objectionable.
This includes speakers from across the political spectrum. Including Condoleezza Rice, Janet Napolitano, Charles Murray, Ayaan Hirsi Ali, Christine Lagarde, George Will, and even the Chancellor of the University of California to name just a few. Such intolerance is harmful because it undermines the fundamental constitutional and moral right to speak your mind with intellectual honestly.
But it’s especially harmful on college campuses, where it suffocates the pursuit of truth that necessarily relies upon vibrant debate and varied research in order to breathe. You can’t have free inquiry if some groups have been empowered to bully others into thinking like them. As the famous educator, Alexander Meiklejohn, wrote, to be afraid of an idea, any idea, is to be unfit for self-government.
People who support free speech and open inquiry need to speak out and organize in order to save the principles of academic freedom and freedom of speech, which should be at the heart of any University. It’s time for a new free speech movement.