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Colleges at the Crossroads

Taking Sides on Contested Issues


Edited By Joseph L. DeVitis and Pietro A. Sasso

Focusing on crucial issues in higher education, this book challenges readers to go beyond taken-for-granted assumptions about America’s colleges and universities and instead critically examine important questions facing them in today’s troubled world. Each chapter presents divergent perspectives, that is, "pro" and "con" views, in the hope of stimulating reasoned dialogue among students, faculty, administrators, and the public at large. Readers will explore how internal factors in the academic community often interact with external social, economic, and political influences to produce conflictual results. They will see that academe is hardly value-neutral and inevitably political. This book urges them to transcend strident political persuasion and instead engage in the careful analysis needed to make colleges better.

The text provides in-depth appraisal of key topics of controversy: the purposes of higher education, liberal education, academic freedom, political correctness, tenure, shared governance, faculty workload, admissions tests, student learning, Greek life, the worth of college, equity and social justice, athletics, student entitlement, technology and distance instruction, and college amenities. The book will appeal to students, faculty, staff, and all those interested in the future of higher education. It is especially useful for courses in contemporary issues in higher education, foundations of higher education, higher education and society, college student development, and the organization and administration of higher education.

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6. What Is Academic Freedom for? (Ashley Thorne)


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6.  What Is Academic Freedom for?


Stranded on an uninhabited island, a senior FedEx manager—played by Tom Hanks in the movie Castaway—uses an ice skate blade to knock out his own abscessed tooth. The incident shows his resourcefulness during his exile from civilization. It’s also an illustration of something being employed for a purpose other than its intended use.

You can use ice skates to knock out a sore tooth, but that’s not what ice skates are for.

Academic freedom too has its rightful purposes.

Prepositions are important here. Most thinking about academic freedom is on academic freedom to. The concern is to know what a person with academic freedom is entitled to do. Is she free to teach and to research according to his or her professional judgment? Is she free to speak her political opinions in class? Free to criticize the university?

There’s also the question of to whom academic freedom belongs. Does it belong only to tenured faculty members, or is it also rightly claimed by assistant professors or adjuncts? What about students, administrators, campus speakers, and the university as a whole?

All these questions matter, but the one I take up here is academic freedom for. For what purpose does academic freedom exist?

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