6 Chapter 6: Academic Freedom and the Role of Instructors in Society

A. Session Introduction

“Freedom is just another word for nothing left to loose”– Kris Kristofferson

Academic freedom is a unique aspect of the postsecondary sector and that primarily applies to full time teaching staff at universities. The principle of academic freedom grew with the evolution of universities to enable faculty members, through mechanisms such as tenure, to engage not just in the instruction of knowledge but also in knowledge creation. Academic freedom affords certain powers to university professors that permit them to make knowledge claims and to teach and publish what and how they see appropriate. Academic freedom also prevents attempts to thwart this expression.


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The power is quite unique and is not bestowed on very many professions. It is therefore no surprise that there are recurring attacks on this freedom (Shreker, 2007). The way to institutionalize is it is by granting academic tenure to the faculty members. De George (1997) explains:

The main purpose of academic tenure is to prevent the possibility of a faculty member being dismissed because what he or she teaches, writes about is considered by either administrators or some people outside the institution to be wrong or offensive. (p. 10)

The reason that this privilege is awarded in the universities and not in the colleges because the duties of university professors is to engage in research and thereby in knowledge production/creation. Historically, the idea of academic freedom became ensconced in the universities around the same time that the knowledge production was seen as a core responsibility of the professors. This also explains why, for the most part, the sessional and part-time instructors are not granted this privilege.

Since officially, the expectation of the college professors is not to engage in research and thereby make knowledge claims, the idea of tenure is not prevalent in colleges. For the same reason the sessional instructors who have not shown a track record and selected on tenure track position also are not protected by academic tenure for exercising academic freedom.

In this week, we examine the various characteristics of academic freedom, and what it means for the relationship between postsecondary educators and society.

B. Learning Outcomes

By the end of this session, you will be able to:

  • Define academic freedom
  • Understand the differences between academic freedom in colleges and universities
  • Articulate why academic freedom may be important to society and what some of the drawbacks may be

C. Session Resources

It is recommended that the reading be read in the order listed, hence they are not in alphabetical order.

Hogan, B.E. & Trotter, L.D. (2013). Academic freedom in Canadian higher education: Universities, colleges, and institutes were not created equalCanadian Journal of Higher Education. (43) 2, 68-84. Retrieved from http://journals.sfu.ca/cjhe/index.php/cjhe/index [*note that APA style dictates that if there is no doi for an article – as is the case here – the link should be to the journal homepage. I have embedded the permalink from the Brock library in the title. That should take you the off-campus sign in, and then directly to the article*]

Churchill, W. (2001). Some people push back: On the justice of roosting chickens. Retrieved from: https://www.ratical.org/ratville/CAH/WC091201.pdf

Jaschik, S. (2013, April 2). Final loss for Ward Churchill. Inside Higher Ed. Retrieved from https://www.insidehighered.com/news/2013/04/02/supreme-court-rejects-appeal-ward-churchill

D. Learning Activities

1. Why is academic freedom important in universities? What are potential issues that might arise with academic freedom?

2. Why has academic freedom not been granted to college professors to the same degree as university professors? Given some of the changes to colleges, including the increased focus on granting degrees and conducting applied research, do you thing college professors should be entitled to academic freedom?