Who's Afraid of Academic Freedom? is a fantastic compilation of essays about a critically important and understudied topic. It has been 100 years since the definition of academic freedom was laid out by the Academy and 75 years since it has been studied and synthesized in any significant way, thus making this collection of essays one of the most important documents in that last century regarding the Academy and its role in our society. I would consider this to be the leading compendium of ideas and thinking on academic freedom yet produced.
Who's Afraid of Academic Freedom?by Akeel Bilgrami
In these seventeen essays, distinguished senior scholars discuss the conceptual issues surrounding the idea of freedom of inquiry and scrutinize a variety of obstacles to such inquiry that they have encountered in their personal and professional experience. Their discussion of threats to freedom traverses a wide disciplinary and institutional, political and
In these seventeen essays, distinguished senior scholars discuss the conceptual issues surrounding the idea of freedom of inquiry and scrutinize a variety of obstacles to such inquiry that they have encountered in their personal and professional experience. Their discussion of threats to freedom traverses a wide disciplinary and institutional, political and economic range covering specific restrictions linked to speech codes, the interests of donors, institutional review board licensing, political pressure groups, and government policy, as well as phenomena of high generality, such as intellectual orthodoxy, in which coercion is barely visible and often self-imposed.
As the editors say in their introduction: "No freedom can be taken for granted, even in the most well-functioning of formal democracies. Exposing the tendencies that undermine freedom of inquiry and their hidden sources and widespread implications is in itself an exercise in and for democracy."
Scholars consider threats to free inquiry.Editors Bilgrami (Philosophy/Columbia Univ.; Secularism, Identity, and Enchantment, 2013, etc.) and Cole (Mason Professor of the University/Columbia Univ.; The Great American University, 2010, etc.) bring together eminent scholars—Stanley Fish, Noam Chomsky and Judith Butler, among them—to analyze the vexing and controversial issue of academic freedom. The concept began in the late 19th century, when American colleges no longer aimed to train men for the ministry but rather to become critical thinkers. "To criticize and augment, as well as to preserve the tradition, became an accepted function…," write the editors. "This was an extraordinary departure for a system that previously had aimed primarily at cultural conservation." Coincident with internal changes was new funding: private support by prominent businessmen, who assumed they could influence curriculum and hiring. Princeton professor Joan Scott notes that the doctrine of academic freedom was codified in 1915 by the American Association of University Professors to ensure faculty autonomy in newly established research universities. The AAUP held that teaching, research and publications should be evaluated only by professional scholars with relevant expertise. That stipulation still engenders debate, as government funding and Institutional Review Boards weigh in on research parameters. Like other contributors, Columbia philosophy professor Michele Moody-Adams sees the university as a refuge where intellectual diversity, however unsettling to donors, colleagues or even students, must be preserved. Several contributors consider whether academic freedom is guaranteed by the First Amendment or whether it has a special legal status. A final, eye-opening essay summarizes a study conducted at Columbia in which 1,610 faculty members were asked to evaluate 14 vignettes suggesting challenges to academic freedom: research curtailed by IRBs, for example, or faculty making politically unpopular remarks in class. The results showed wide disagreement about what free inquiry means and what academic freedom protects. Cogent essays about a topic crucial to the university and to all discourse in a democracy.
Academic freedom, the editors of this lively and challenging volume tell us, is a value because 'it enables the pursuit of other values.' It can even be at odds with some of those values, and this is why the topic needs the careful and varied attention it receives in these essays. Is academic freedom a subset of the freedom of speech, and if not, what is it? Who sets the rules for freedom of this or any kind? Who changes the rules when they don't seem to be working? And what does 'working' mean in this context? There are no easy answers in this book, but there are ideas and counter-ideas in abundance, and it handsomely illustrates and defends (and shows it is not afraid of) the value it names in its title.
The phrase 'academic freedom' is often used carelessly: here is a work that will allow a more careful conversation about those many crucial issues facing the academy, in which a well-worked out understanding of conceptions of academic freedom is, as its authors show, an essential tool.
Who's Afraid of Academic Freedom? is a fantastic compilation of essays about a critically important and understudied topic. It has been one hundred years since the definition of academic freedom was laid out by the academy and seventy-five years since it has been studied and synthesized in any significant way, therefore making this collection of essays one of the most important documents in that last century regarding the academy and its role in our society. I would consider this to be the leading compendium of ideas and thinking on academic freedom yet produced.
This impressive collection of 17 essays, with its broad range of social, scientific, legal and philosophical analyses, will be vitally important to democratic and political dialogue.
A sober reminder that while academic freedom may be a 'given,' its proponents can never rest on their laurels.... Recommended.
- Columbia University Press
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- 5.90(w) x 9.10(h) x 1.40(d)
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- 18 Years
Meet the Author
Akeel Bilgrami is the Sidney Morgenbesser Professor of Philosophy and a professor on the Committee on Global Thought at Columbia University. His books include Secularism, Identity, and Enchantment; Self-Knowledge and Resentment; and Belief and Meaning.
Jonathan R. Cole is the John Mitchell Mason Professor of the University at Columbia University. For fourteen years, he served as provost and dean of faculties at Columbia. His latest book is The Great American University: Its Rise to Preeminence, Its Indispensable National Role, Why It Must Be Protected.
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