Academic freedom is at the core of university philosophy. Carissa Gray has been an educator for 19 years. She is a strong proponent of academic freedom for teachers and students. She believes that everyone should understand what academic freedom is and why it is so important in higher education.
What is Academic Freedom?
According to the American Federation of Teachers, or AFT, academic freedom “is based on the idea that the free exchange of ideas on campus is essential to good education.”
It provides specific protections to individual professors, the university as a collective, and students.
1940 Statement of Principles on Academic Freedom and Tenure
Carissa Gray states that The 1940 Statement of Principles on Academic Freedom and Tenure is considered the guiding document for academic freedom. It provides teachers with the freedom to discuss their subjects in the classroom. It also states that controversial topics that don’t have a bearing on the subject should not be discussed.
Restrictions can be placed by an institution in line with their religious or other aims. These should be clearly stated before faculty appointments.
The statement also provides freedom during research. Faculty members may speak as citizens about controversial topics. However, they should make it clear that they are speaking personally, and not as representatives from the university.
Academic Freedom vs. the First Amendment
The first amendment is the cornerstone of our nation. It allows all citizens freedom of speech, with very little restriction, even if the speech is disruptive or unpopular. There are some limitations. Hate speech, for example, is not covered under the first amendment.
Academic freedom is more limited. Educational institutions, particularly classrooms, are considered non-public areas. This means that speech that is disruptive to academic or operational functions is not allowed.
Academic Freedom For Professors
According to Carissa Gray, academic freedom allows professors to teach their curriculum as they see fit. Their freedom is preserved through shared governance and tenure.
Shared governance allows faculty and staff to participate in the university’s decisions. Tenure provides professors with job security. Tenure professors can’t be fired unless it’s proven that they are incompetent or have behaved unprofessionally.
Academic Freedom For Students
Academic freedom also applies to students. Academic freedom doesn’t offer the same freedoms to students as faculty. Instead, it’s meant to be complementary.
Students are permitted to disagree with a professor. This allows for discussions and debates which facilitate learning. Students may not agree with a professor’s statements, but they are responsible for learning the course content, even if they disagree.
Carissa Gray notes that students are also offered confidentiality. They may share opinions and beliefs with professors in private. The professor is to keep these beliefs confidential.
Students are entitled to political options that may differ from their professors. They should never be penalized or improperly evaluated because they hold different views.
Carissa Gray is an associate English Professor at Georgia State University Perimeter College, which she joined in 2003. She served as the Department Chair of English, Arts, and Humanities from 2009-2016.
She founded Instructional Technology Coaching, and frequently speaks at regional and national conferences, including the National Organization for Student Success Conference, which was held in Atlanta, GA.