Academic journal article American Journal of Pharmaceutical Education

Academic Freedom Should Be Redefined: Point and Counterpoint

Academic journal article American Journal of Pharmaceutical Education

Academic Freedom Should Be Redefined: Point and Counterpoint

Article excerpt


Academic freedom gives the professoriate the privilege to a free search for truth and knowledge and the right to impart those truths and knowledge to others, including students, the academy, and the general public, unfettered by political or ideological pressure. The protection of academic freedom did not exist in the early 1900s. Economist Edward Ross was fired from Stanford University in 1901 because his position on particular issues (eg, the gold standard) angered the cofounder of the university, Jane L. Stanford. (1) During the McCarthy era, many professors were sanctioned or fired for presumed Communist sympathies. (2)

The basic principles of the American Association of University Professors' (AAUP) 1940 Statement of Principles on Academic Freedom and Tenure assert that there is a clear and compelling societal benefit to academic freedom. (3,4) This statement was coauthored by the Association of American Colleges and Universities (AACU) and endorsed by over 200 academic societies and associations. Member institutions of the AACU are therefore obligated to adhere to the principles delineated in the statement. The legally binding nature of these principles for public institutions has been repeatedly supported by the US Supreme Court, which defined academic freedom as "a special concern of the First Amendment which does not tolerate laws that cast a pall of orthodoxy over the classroom" (Keyishian v Board of Regents, 385 US 589 [1967] and reviewed by Van Alstyne (5). Private colleges and universities are not governmental entities; therefore, the main source of legal protection for academic freedom at private colleges and universities is their own handbooks, policies, and faculty contracts, rather than the First Amendment.

The privilege of academic freedom requires faculty members to impart those truths and knowledge responsibly. Academic freedom is both an individual right and a collective responsibility. (6) In exercising academic freedom in teaching, the decisions of the collective may and in many cases must prevail over the dissenting position of an individual. (6) The conflict between the academic freedom of the individual teacher and the that of the collective faculty raises the question of whether the overall definition of academic freedom should be reexamined and revised to account for societal changes in the academy over time.

A debate held during the 2014-15 Academic Leadership Fellows Program (ALFP) discussed whether "Academic Freedom Should Be Redefined." The authors chose the topic because the AAUP 1940 Statement has been widely misunderstood and misinterpreted. Also, they felt this subject would be not only an interesting topic for debate and discussion but also one that would have great significance to academic pharmacy.

The 1940 Statement identifies 3 fundamental principles of academic freedom which contend that college and university teachers are entitled to full freedom in research and in the publication of the results, and freedom in the classroom in discussing their subject, and should be free from institutional censorship or discipline when speaking or writing as private citizens. (3)

Additionally, the Statement was based on the premise that "institutions of higher education are conducted for the common good and not to further the interest of the individual teacher or the institution as a whole." (3) Furthermore, academic freedom derives from the simple principle that "the common good depends upon the free search for truth and its free exposition." (3)


The American Association of College of Pharmacy (AACP), changed the direction for scholarship requirements for the 2014-15 ALFP cohort and instructed cohort teams to choose a topic to research and present as a debate at the AACP Interim Meeting. This paper provides a summary of the debate on academic freedom presented by one of the teams at the AACP Interim Meeting on February 6, 2015, in Austin, Texas. …

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