No, Professors’ Academic Freedom Should Not Be Virtually Unlimited

The American Association of University Professors formerly promoted academic freedom that balances the privileges of additional speech protections with accompanying duties. No more.

Last December, I wrote an article for The Federalist entitled “Oberlin College Did the Right Thing by Firing Joy Karega.” There, I argued that the American Association of University Professors’ 1940 “Statement of Principles on Academic Freedom and Tenure” (hereafter, “Statement”) and 1970 “Interpretative Comments” (hereafter, “Comments”) contain contradictions that lead, in part, to confusion about the limits of academic freedom.

My article advocated for a measured approach to academic freedom that balances rights and privileges with duties. The Statement declares that when professors speak as citizens, they should be free from institutional censorship; however, their position as professors requires “special obligations,” including accuracy at all times, exercising appropriate restraint, showing respect for the opinions of others, and making every effort to indicate they are not speaking for the institution. These obligations are sometimes referred to as the “responsibility standard.”