History of Academic Freedom
Academic freedom is a solution in search of a problem. There have been few examples of professors who got into trouble for holding unpopular views. Riley mentions two of them. 1894, Wisconsin State Superintendent of Education charged Richard T. Ely of the University of Wisconsin at Madison with teaching and supporting alien and revolutionary doctrines, because he wrote an article in The Nation in favor of organized labor. Ely was acquitted. In 1900, Jane Stanford, the widow of the university’s founder, forced Edward A. Ross of Stanford University to resign, because he supported of socialism.
The Progressive Movement and John Dewey
In 1915, John Dewey and Arthur O. Lovejoy founded the American Association of University Professors. Dewey saw attempts by those outside academia to control the work of professional scholars as being a corruption of the independence of scholars.
Concept of Academic Freedom
Many people have had difficulty coming up with a clear definition of “academic freedom” and stating its limits. Is Holocaust denial an acceptable form of academic freedom? How much does academic freedom prevent administrators from holding faculty accountable for their behavior? Can university benefactors place restrictions on faculty scholarship?
Public Officials and Freedom of Speech
Riley discusses the 2006 U.S. Supreme Court case Garcetti v. Ceballos, which stated that the First Amendment does not allow public officials to keep their jobs, regardless what they say in the performance of their job. It is not clear whether the same principle applies to college professors.
Journalists are protected from government by the First Amendment. But, unlike college professors, journalists are not protected from being fired by their employer if they publish an article that the owner does not like.
Tenure at the Modern Research University
Stanford University was founded on the German model of a research university, where research was more important than teaching. In most American universities, teaching is regarded as a secondary responsibility of college professors. When research is the main criterion for judging faculty, only professors at other universities who are in the same field can evaluate the performance of professors. Administrators have only limited influence in the granting of tenure.
Much of the teaching at colleges and universities is performed by graduate students, adjunct faculty, temporary and part-time instructors. Their salaries and benefits are lower than those of full-time, tenure-track faculty. They are often required to share offices. Ph.D.s in the natural sciences can find jobs in private sector, but there is an oversupply of Ph.D. in the humanities, because too many students are admitted to their Ph.D. program. There are also lots of people with masters degrees who can teach, so colleges don’t need to hire humanities doctorates.
While it is difficult for administrators to fire tenured faculty at public colleges and universities, at private religious institutions, faculty who violate the religious rules can be fired.
In recent years in the United States, the tenure issue has been complicated by the fact that mandatory retirement for tenured faculty has been outlawed by federal age discrimination legislation.
Tenure in the United Kingdom
Maggie Thatcher’s Education Reform Act 1988 abolished tenure for academics appointed on or after November 20, 1987.
Foundation for Individual Rights in Education
The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) defends the academic freedom of college professors, including those who are conservative or libertarian.
Center for College Affordability and Productivity
Richard Vedder of the Center for College Affordability and Productivity lead a survey of school ranking based on outputs rather than inputs. Outputs used included the starting salaries of the graduates, the number of awards that the graduates received, and the amount of debt that the graduates were saddled with. The results were published in Forbes magazine. West Point was ranked #1.
American Council of Trustees and Alumni
This organization rates universities on the breadth of the content of their required courses. A poor rating will be given to schools that allow students to satisfy their breadth requirements with courses that are not rigorous or which are too specialized. Anne Neal is the president of ACTA.
The Author’s Recommendations
The author, Naomi Riley, asserts that you have the right to free speech, but not the right to a job, regardless of what you say. She recommends tenure for researchers only, not for teachers. She comments favorably on “professors of practice”, who receive get multi-year teaching contracts, instead of tenure. Riley says that there is no need for tenure to preserve academic freedom in these 3 situations:
• vocational disciplines: teachers are not doing research
• pre-stipulated political goals (similar to religious strictures)
• schools owned by corporations (e.g., the University of Phoenix)