“So That Teachers May Freely Teach and Students May Freely Learn”: Safeguarding the Future of Academic Freedom with Henry Reichman

Academic Freedom, Authors, Awards, Intellectual Freedom Round Table

Government interference in classroom curricula. Financial pressures and conflicts of interests. The death of tenure. Trigger warnings, cancel culture, censorship, and the chilling effect.

Henry Reichman
Henry Reichman

With all the pressures threatening open inquiry and free expression on campus, you might wonder: “Does academic freedom have a future?” Join the IFRT Reads community to explore this question with Oboler Award-winning author and academic freedom scholar, Henry Reichman, and his 2019 book, The Future of Academic Freedom

Academic freedom is a specific application of intellectual freedom principles to the rights of faculty in colleges and universities. Academic freedom stems from the conviction that teaching and research in higher education are a common good, and that “the common good depends upon the free search for truth and its free exposition.” 

Academic freedom confers both rights and responsibilities in the activities of teaching, research, and public speech by faculty members when acting as private citizens. Tenure, the job security afforded to many full-time faculty members following the successful completion of a probationary period, ensures both the freedom and the financial security to conduct their teaching and research in the pursuit of truth – wherever that may lead.

The Future of Academic Freedom.

The American Association of University Professors (AAUP)’s 1940 Statement on Principles of Academic Freedom and Tenure set the gold-standard for academic freedom. The AAUP even extends academic freedom to students in a statement that addresses freedom of expression in the classroom, student privacy, formation of student organizations, inviting speakers to campus, student press, off-campus speech activities, due process, and student participation in institutional governance. However, legal protections for student academic freedom are even less certain than for faculty. Some version of academic freedom might also be observed in school systems in K-12 education.

Academic libraries also feature in AAUP’s reports on academic freedom. Ensuring unrestricted access to library collections and licensed electronic media, protecting researcher privacy and confidentiality, and supporting open access publishing are specific library contributions to academic freedom recognized by the AAUP.

The Association of College & Research Libraries (ACRL), a division of ALA focused on academic libraries, issued its own statement on academic freedom:

“[ACRL] opposes any actions that limit the free expression of ideas of librarians and faculty on campus, in the classroom, in writing, and in the public sphere, especially in the context of higher education and its traditional support for academic freedom.  Further, [ACRL] opposes retaliation for the expression of those ideas.  A free and vigorous exchange of ideas is integral to sustaining an environment in which teaching, learning, and research may thrive.”

The statement was informed by Intellectual Freedom Principles for Academic Libraries: An Interpretation of the Library Bill of Rights. The interpretation provides guidance on protecting the privacy of library users, collection development and preservation activities, vendor licensing and Internet access, freedom of expression in library displays and meeting room use, and the delivery of library services and due process procedures. 

In a letter endorsing the statement, the AAUP observed

“Academic freedom, for example, is indispensable to librarians, because they are trustees of knowledge with the responsibility of ensuring the availability of information and ideas, no matter how controversial, so that teachers may freely teach and students may freely learn.”

Promotional graphic for the IFRT Reads event featuring Henry Reichman and his book, The Future of Academic Freedom.

Indeed, Reichman concludes that the future of academic freedom is up to us. To learn how you can defend the future of academic freedom, join IFRT members for an IFRT Reads discussion of Henry Reichman’s 2020 Oboler Award-winning work, The Future of Academic Freedom. In The Future of Academic Freedom, Reichman provides the reader with the tools to defend academic freedom by “illuminating its meaning, the challenges it faces, and its relation to freedom of expression.” 

Discussion will start in the IFRT Reads community on ALA Connect and will culminate in a presentation and Q&A session with the author on Friday, May 7th. You can submit questions in advance here. More information on getting involved in the discussion and joining the IFRT Reads member community is available on the IFRT website.

Composed by the Intellectual Freedom Round Table Publications & Communications Committee. Follow us on Twitter @IFRT_ALA.

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