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Understanding Academic Freedom

Henry Reichman

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Part of the acclaimed Higher Ed Leadership Essentials series, this book surveys academic freedom's history and its application in today's universities.

Academic freedom is once again at the epicenter of the crisis in higher education. A community college instructor in Iowa is pressured to resign after his pro-antifa social media comments garner vicious harassment that administrators find threatening to campus safety. A tenured biology professor at a college on Long Island is threatened with dismissal because she allegedly grades students too strictly. And in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, a…

Part of the acclaimed Higher Ed Leadership Essentials series, this book surveys academic freedom's history and its application in today's universities.

Academic freedom is once again at the epicenter of the crisis in higher education. A community college instructor in Iowa is pressured to resign after his pro-antifa social media comments garner vicious harassment that administrators find threatening to campus safety. A tenured biology professor at a college on Long Island is threatened with dismissal because she allegedly grades students too strictly. And in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, a conservative activist calls on his followers to take advantage of online classes to send "any and all videos of blatant indoctrination" to his organization so that it might expose and blacklist "leftist professors."

These incidents from the 2019–20 academic year represent only the tip of the iceberg. Academic freedom, long heralded as a core value of American higher education, may now be in as much danger as at any time the 1950s. But what is "academic freedom"? A value upheld for one's supporters (but not one's opponents) when discussing a polarizing controversy? Or a narrow claim of privilege by a professorial elite, immune from public accountability?

In this concise and compelling book, Henry Reichman, who chaired the American Association of University Professors' Committee on Academic Freedom and Tenure for nearly a decade, mounts a rigorous defense of academic freedom and its principal means of protection: the system of academic tenure. Probing academic freedom's role in multiple contexts, Reichman draws on a wealth of historical and contemporary examples to offer the first comprehensive introduction to the concept in all its manifestations. Elucidating its sometimes complicated meanings, Reichman argues that academic freedom—like its cousin, freedom of speech—cannot easily be defined but, instead, emerges from the contextual application of guiding principles developed and modified over time. He also explores why the rise of contingent faculty employment represents the gravest current threat to academic freedom; reveals how academic freedom is complicated by both fiercely polarized campus environments and the emergence of social media that extend speech beyond the lecture halls of the academy; and touches on the rights of students in and out of class, including treatment of student protest movements.

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Understanding Academic Freedom

Henry Reichman

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Reviews

Reviews

Reichman addresses the issue of academic freedom in a timely matter. His lengthy service as chair of AAUP's Committee A makes him especially well qualified to deal with this subject.

Academic freedom has become a flashpoint both in recent discussions of higher education and more broadly in the ongoing culture wars. Understanding Academic Freedom promises to be both an important and a timely intervention on a subject of great and increasing concern.

One part user's manual, one part call to action. Reichman offers a clear, engaging review and analysis of historical precedents, legal cases, and current events to argue that the revitalization of academic freedom is essential to counter the decades-long right-wing assault on knowledge and expertise, and to ensure the survival of America's democratic experiment.

From social media bullies and boards pushing political agendas to science skeptics and presidents beholden to corporate interests, universities confront a remarkably hostile environment for academic freedom. As he has done before, Hank Reichman incisively frames an urgent agenda to protect academic freedom as essential for higher education to thrive.

A terrific introduction to the principles of academic freedom that are foundational to the work of scholars and teachers and an engaging guide to the complexities of applying those still vital principles to the myriad circumstances of modern academic life.

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About

Book Details

Publication Date
Status
Available
Trim Size
5
x
8
Pages
248
ISBN
9781421442150
Table of Contents

Introduction
1. History
2. Research
3. Teaching
4. Citizenship
5. Tenure
6. Law
7. Students
8. Knowledge
Appendix: Principles of Academic Freedom
Further Reading
Acknowledgments
Notes
Index

Author Bio
Henry Reichman
Featured Contributor

Henry Reichman

Henry Reichman is Professor Emeritus of history at California State University, East Bay. The author of The Future of Academic Freedom and Censorship and Selection: Issues and Answers for Schools, he chaired the Association of American University Professors' Committee A on Academic Freedom and Tenure from 2012 to 2021.