Five Defences of Academic Freedom in North American Higher Education
Academic freedom has long been under threat in North American universities. Explicit administrative control of academic speech, co-ordinated from without and within the university, was a feature of Harvard University practice from its opening in 1636 until at least the mid-19th century (Morison 1936 (1): 92-113). At the Université Laval (1663), and in the Royal and Pontifical University of Mexico (1551), the pressure to conform was no weaker (Harris 1976, Sierra 1948). It made little difference if one’s curriculum had eventually to be vetted by the Commonwealth of Massachussetts or the Congregation for the Propagation of the Faith.
Yet not long after the foundation of New World universities, philosophical support for academic freedom began to gather force on both sides of the Atlantic. On the European continent the ideas of Voltaire, Hume, and von Humboldt gave an impulse felt across the sea. One had Thomas Paine and Thomas Jefferson in the United States, William Lyon Mackenzie and Louis-Joseph Papineau in Canada carrying the banner of free speech in politics and in the educational world, bringing with them a swath of middle-class and upper-middle-class public opinion (Hofstadter 1955: 15-77, Ringer 1969, McClelland 1980: 17-81, McNaught 1978).
Eventually the old threats to academic freedom, ideological and religious threats especially, took on contemporary forms (Horn 1999, Metzger 1955). By the late 19th century, the tension between administrative and political control on one side, and unhampered academic research and speech on the other, had become a staple of literary and...
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