Academic Freedom - Right, Obligation And Control Argumentative Essay

Published: 2021-06-21 23:38:10
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Category: University, World, Teaching, Democracy, Society, Ethics, Freedom, Constitution

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Academic freedom refers to a very old debate which has evolved over the centuries to having become an integral part of constitutions around the globe such as in the 1940 Statement of Principles on Academic Freedom and Tenure in the United States, the 1996 Constitution of South Africa, the German Constitution and the 1987 Philippine Constitution, all referred to the right to academic freedom in their own specific manners. In actuality, it means the right to research and convey new ideas through teaching without any inconvenience regardless of the ideas being controversial (Encyclopedia of Ethics 10). There is though, in almost all constitutions, a part which deals with the idea of the abuse of academic freedom. So, in short, there is always an aspect of neutrality involved whenever the subject of academic freedom is taken up. Obviously since this is not a perfect world, the dialogue between whether or not to rely exclusively upon academic freedom is inherent upon the basic assumption that all the participants of the debate happen to be striving for a collective positive cause by supporting or denouncing academic freedom.
The proponents of academic freedom usually refer to it as a movement against the restrictions and subsequently oppression with respect to the flow of information. Albert Einstein, an obvious supporter to the concept of academic freedom was quoted to have put his words regarding his understanding towards the subject in such a manner that he considered it not only a right to research, publish and teach that which one holds to be true but also a duty that one has over abstaining from concealing the truth (Middle East Studies Association). One may then conclude that academic freedom is both about right and obligation. This is where the point of view of the adversaries towards the concept coincides. They specifically emphasize upon obligation and consequently control.
One way of seeing the point of view of those who go against academic freedom is to look at the concept of classical conditioning (also known by Pavlovian conditioning). Classical conditioning is, “a type of learning in which a behavior (conditioned response) comes to be elicited by a stimulus (conditioned stimulus) that has acquired its power through an association with a biologically significant stimulus (unconditioned stimulus).” (American Psychological Association). One may see it in simpler layman terms as the deviation of behaviour with the help of made-up circumstances which force the learner to act in a specific manner unconsciously. With respect to academic freedom, it may be considered as giving out information which may change perceptions of people at large towards certain aspects. This has to be kept in mind that this type of conditioning has been known to have been used at various points in the past to bring about political unrest and even the formation of militant insurgencies. Although most of the time as part of whole groups, one can very well imagine what implications can a complete freedom of giving out information can have upon the society as a whole given the fact and emphasizing the point given beforehand that this is not a perfect world.
It would be more helpful to form a better judgement by looking at this subject through various examples that have been laid down over the course of history. Two political scientists from Southeast Asia and Europe condemned violence by separatist movements in their countries through published articles. One was assassinated outside his university while the other survived an assassination attempt (Defending ‘Dangerous’ Minds 1).
In 1903 when Professor John Spencer Bassett made a comment of the controversial comparison of Booker Taliaferro Washington to a Southerner Robert Edward Lee “at a time when race baiting was commonplace”, there was a huge uproar and the Democratic leaders in Raleigh who were on the Trinity College Board of Trustees demanded that Professor Bassett be fired. Many major newspapers attacked him for his comments and demanded his termination. The Professor himself handed in his resignation. What ended with, what has been reported, a threat of the whole faculty to resign, the resignation was not accepted. A year later President Theodore Roosevelt also spoke in commendation of Professor Bassett (Duke University Archives).
In 2005, Lawrence H. Summers of Harvard University suggested that natural gender difference might be one of the causes of why fewer women succeed in careers of mathematics and science. There was considerable contentment in the public regarding his comment (The Boston Globe).
Socrates for his ideas, Galileo for his views of the solar system, Descartes for likewise reasons and many other teachers who taught of Darwinism have been similar examples of being suppressed. One cannot know how many others were completely suppressed (Encyclopedia of Ethics 10)
The subject of academic freedom is as vast as it is controversial. There are wide spread implications of how this one aspect of freedom of expression affects the way one lives and learns. Malcolm Gladwell, an African American writes in his book ‘Blink’ of how seriously Americans today are faced with prejudice regarding race which is a subsequent result of the everyday experiences including literature. And this does not involve one’s conscious efforts but a sub-conscious formation which has a considerable impact upon how one acts. (88)
Do teachers have an exclusive right to extend their believes and knowledge to their students? If so, does there need to be an extent as to which they can perform this action? Obviously if the former condition needs to be fulfilled then that would surely be a case in favour of academic freedom while the latter condition would go against the whole idea. It is obvious that both points of view stand at two major extremes with little in common. If given outright freedom, one observes that it gives undue power to individuals to spread ideas that may not be in the common favour of the society. If suppressed, it puts a stop to the further distribution of ideas again going against the common favour of the society and reinforcing the fact that this is not a perfect world. The different constitutions priory mentioned do take into account this fact and allow their courts to deviate from the clauses of academic freedom if the ideas go against the common interests of the society such as defaming a minority group or showing racism etc. Consequently to say that either one of the two extreme ideas is dominantly right would not be correct. There needs to be an intermediate way to spread ideas but not in a manner harmful to others. Academic freedom needs be established but with specific restrictions which prevent its abuse.
Becker, L. C., & Becker, C. B., Encyclopedia of Ethics, New York, Routledge, 2001, Edited. Print, 10
Gladwell, M., Blink, London, Penguin, 2006, Print, 88
In Defence of Academic Freedom, Middle East Studies Association, Web, 26 November 2013,
Glossary of Psychological Terms, American Psychological Association, Web, 26 November 2013,
Defending ‘Dangerous’ Minds, Quinn, R., Items & Issues - Social Science Research Council, 1, Vol. 5, 2004, Web, 26 November 2013,
Summers' remarks on women draw fire, Bombardieri, M., The Boston Globe, Web, 26 November 2013,

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