Funding Academic Freedom

By Bowen, Roger W. | Academe, January/February 2005 | Go to article overview
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Funding Academic Freedom


Bowen, Roger W., Academe


Academic freedom is not free. What does this cliche mean? Recently, two faculty members at Benedict College in South Carolina challenged a new grading policy imposed by the college president and were dismissed for "insubordination." They dared to question a mandate forcing faculty to assign grades to first-year students based on the formula of 60 percent for effort (attendance) and 40 percent for actual performance. One of the dismissed faculty members wrote that the president's grading policy "will undermine the academic integrity of my classes and my professional standards as an instructor." Goth faculty members turned to the AAUP for financial assistance and advice.

The AAUP pursued this case through its Committee A on Academic Freedom and Tenure. (see the resulting report on pages 51-54.) It also invited these two courageous professors to apply to the Academic Freedom Fund, one of our few endowed Rinds, for support in their battle for academic justice. The Academic Freedom Fund was established nearly fifty years ago for "establishing and maintaining academic freedom through research, publication, and assistance to faculties and faculty members in institutions of higher education when need arises, and for related activities." A governing board consisting of AAUP members and supporters acts on recommendations for disbursal of funds by the general secretary.

Since its inception, the Academic Freedom Fund has disbursed almost $500,000. Most awards have gone to scores of individual faculty members to assist them in their battle to preserve their jobs when their academic freedom has clearly been threatened. Dut the fund has also been used to support conferences and workshops dealing with academic freedom, to help AAUP chapters at colleges or universities where academic freedom has been threatened, to subsidize reports about academic freedom, and to assist special committees dedicated to examining particular aspects of academic freedom.

To read the reasons for the granting of support from the fund is to summarize the fight to protect academic freedom over the past five decades: unfair dismissals, a denial of appointment to an accused Marxist, defense of constitutional rights, a battle against creationism, a situation in which theology trumped the faculty's freedom to profess at a religiously affiliated school, a lecture series about academic freedom, a study of challenges to academic freedom in post-September 11 America, and so on.

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