Academic Freedom in Post-September 11 America: A Research Guide

By Anderson, Janet Beuthe | Reference & User Services Quarterly, Fall 2009 | Go to article overview

Academic Freedom in Post-September 11 America: A Research Guide


Anderson, Janet Beuthe, Reference & User Services Quarterly


One only has to pick up a newspaper to learn of the continuing implications of September 11 on our political lives, but the terrorist attacks have had far reaching cultural and academic consequences as well. In her guide to academic freedom in a post-September 11 America, Janet Beuthe Anderson surveys the resources that inform the growing debate surrounding this topic. As librarians and academics struggle to navigate the newly besieged information world, her guide will be of great use to all of us wondering what new lines have been created, how we can work to eradicate some of those new lines, and how we can shore up the lines that protect our daily work.

As a recent graduate of the School of Library and Information Science at Indiana University, Bloomington, Anderson is in a unique position to create this guide as she is both a researcher on the topic and immersed in a world affected by the very issues she researches. A member of the American Library Association and the Progressive Librarians Guild, Anderson has long been interested in the topic of censorship and free speech and spent part of her time at Indiana researching literature related to academic freedom after September 11.--Editor

Academic freedom has long been an important issue to those in the academic profession, yet few fully grasp what academic freedom entails. Does it protect only the faculty of a university? What about other employees or officials? Is there a difference between public versus private colleges? Do students have the right to academic freedom, and, if not, should they? What exactly is protected under academic freedom? How is this freedom ensured? Many more questions and concerns may arise when the topic of academic freedom is discussed, which illustrates both the importance and uncertainty surrounding this subject.

The aspects involved with this issue have become ever more uncertain as well as more disputed, controversial, and significant since two commercial passenger jet airliners flew into the World Trade Center in New York City on September 11, 2001. Much like the Cold War in the 1950s, the new War on Terror has brought with it an examination of what is being taught and what information is available to citizens of America. Also, similar to the McCarthyism of the Cold War era, many in the field of academia are crying out in anger at what some see as invasions of privacy and witch-hunt tactics aimed at weeding out potential terrorists.

With such practices and questions arising, it only made sense that academic freedom policies be reexamined in a way that allows the public to take part. While there is much written on this often controversial topic generally, there is not as much available about the role of academic freedom in a post-September 11 America, and when resources are unearthed, it is often hard to extract the unbiased, educational resources from the editorialized and politically charged materials. This research guide attempts to do precisely that--allow those in academic settings (including librarians, faculty, students, and staff) to discover the available sources addressing this issue. The need for this research guide is due in part to the need to define and clarify the questions surrounding academic freedom and to the fact that no such guide has been compiled since the events of September 11. The most recently published bibliography on this topic was Stephen Aby and James Kuhn's Academic Freedom: A Guide to the Literature (Greenwood Press) in 2000. Their guide, which covers more than 480 sources and is organized into 11 categories, provides essential information on the topic, including detailed annotations ranging between 150 and 300 words for each source, but lacks information that is pertinent since September 11. Therefore the aim of this guide is to encourage librarians to broaden their collection of recent resources on this topic, both for scholarly research as well as to provide support to those who may have concerns about academic freedom as it affects them directly. …

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