Academic Freedom and Responsibility: The Free Heritage of the Modern University
Since early medieval times, scholars have defended the rights of academia to be free of intervention by state, church, society or administrators. Academia inherited the privileges of monkhood in defense of a free, informed and scholarly exchange of ideas against outside intervention. Today, academic freedom and tenure are essential because they help protect faculty from pressures that could cloud scholarly judgment. They are no privileges, but earned rights, linked to high standards of knowledge and integrity. Roots of current definitions of academic freedom stretch back to 12th century England and Italy, where Universities fought for the privilege to govern themselves. Ideally, the search for truth was independent and free from pressures. Today, the 1940s attempts of codification of binding formal, written standards for academic freedom are under attack. Attempts to limit academic freedom range from politically inspired hirings to limits of teaching through standardized assessment. The independence of universities to govern themselves serves the public interest: informed consent needs an atmosphere of free debate as condition for the Kantian ideal of "Enlightenment" as exit from self-inflicted tutelage. Rational consensus as foundation of a modern - or postmodern - society can only emerge through free discourse. Academic freedom goes beyond John Stuart Mill's claim that liberty is essential to shelter dissenters from prevailing public views: It combines the responsibility to uphold high scholarly and moral standards with the necessity to defend the classical role of the university: "The common good depends upon the free search for truth and its free exposition" (AAUP). Philosophically, the modern dream of absolute certainty has to be replaced by the acknowledgment of the Merits of Uncertainty; philosophy itself is the history of heresies: the holy Inquisition solved conflicts by burning opponents. Modern universities have to shelter their members from such fate, for the sake of society.
Keywords: Philosophy, Freedom, Tenure, Akademische Freiheit, Forschung und Lehre, media, ethics, bill of rights, faculty governance, senate, free university, Kant, Enlightenment
Dr. Achim D. Koeddermann
Associate Professor of Philosophy, Senate, State University of New York, College at Oneonta