Magazine article Phi Kappa Phi Forum

The Academic Responsibility of Academic Freedom

Magazine article Phi Kappa Phi Forum

The Academic Responsibility of Academic Freedom

Article excerpt


The term "academic freedom" has become a mantra so commonly, and erroneously, used that it is rendered almost meaningless (Bellack). Most assume that it is a well-defined concept; however, in reality it is more philosophic than legal and is often used as a justification for actions taken inside and outside of the classroom that have nothing to do with the original intent of academic freedom. The roots of the concept of academic freedom are found in medieval times, when universities were considered free from the constraints of civil law and faculty were believed to need protection from political and religious interference (Bellack). Today academic freedom is a right, protected by the First Amendment, as determined by the Supreme Court in Keyishian v. Board of Regents in 1967 (AAUP). The concept of academic freedom, however, must be accompanied by an equally demanding concept of academic responsibility. The purpose of this paper is to explore the balancing effect that academic responsibility has on academic freedom.


Academic freedom is essential for both teaching and research. In the teaching aspect, it is "fundamental for the protection of the rights of the [professor] in teaching and of the student to freedom in learning" (AAUP 1). Freedom in research is essential for the development of new knowledge. Academic freedom is defined by the American Association of University Professors (AAUP) as freedom to:

* Conduct research and disseminate the results without externally applied presuppositions about the direction and findings of the research

* Teach subjects in the classroom for which one is qualified and has specific knowledge

* Express opinions in public through speech or writing, without institutional censorship or discipline.

As such, academic freedom is central to the intellectual process of increasing knowledge (Mercer, Galvin, and Jones) both in the research laboratory and in the classroom. It is not, however, an excuse for poor teaching technique.


While academic freedom is reasonably well accepted and somewhat understood, academic responsibility is much more vague and often obscure. Academic responsibility includes the obligations, legal and ethical, that correspond to and balance the freedoms associated with academic freedom.

The academic freedom to conduct research and disseminate the findings without interference is balanced by the responsibility to use ethical principles and adhere to federal regulations and guidelines in the research process (Thompson et al.). It is the responsibility of professors conducting or overseeing research to protect the rights and welfare of those (the subjects) without whom knowledge could not be advanced.

The freedom to teach subjects for which the professor is qualified and has specific knowledge is balanced by several academic responsibilities. Academic responsibility includes "defining one's philosophy of adult education, the design, implementation and evaluation of curriculum, preparation of course materials, [and] teaching and evaluating in the classroom" (Thompson et al. …

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