“When is it legitimate for government officials to intrude upon academic freedom?”
Is this possible, or does it give the left too much credit for being reasonable?
Daniel J. Smith and Adam Kissel write at the Tennessean:
When should government infringe on academic freedom in a democracy?
A tension in public education today pits the democratic will of the people against the desire of schoolteachers and professors to be left alone to make their own educational choices. When is it legitimate for government officials to intrude upon academic freedom?
In the public schools, there is already a lot of legitimate engagement. Legislatures do set curriculum standards, graduation requirements and funding formulas. Universities, however, were founded to be independent so that the search for truth is not limited by politics. Should they be totally independent even though the public is paying millions for them?
In many states, the ideological composition of faculty at public universities is increasingly out of balance with the ideological composition of their taxpaying citizens. This is certainly the case where the faculty and administration have grown overwhelmingly skewed towards the left. That means the search for truth may be limited by politics after all.
Individual vs. institutional academic freedom
So how can elected officials intervene in higher education without compromising academic freedom? Individual academic freedom is an inviolable feature of institutions of higher education because their core purpose includes exposing students to a wide range of competing ideas. This is necessary to develop their critical-thinking skills so that they become citizens who can make up their own minds about disinformation and the truth. When the First Amendment and academic freedom protections for scholars at public universities conflict with the democratic principle of majority rule, free speech and academic freedom win.
Constraints on what a scholar can express are clearly off limits. Also off limits should be any restriction on the ability of scholars to raise external support for their academic endeavors. Provided that the university is satisfied that the external funding leaves the academic freedom of participating faculty uncompromised, external funding can enable minority viewpoints to be heard in environments with strong faculty bias against them.
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