Faculty Senate Defines 'Academic Freedom'

Faculty Senate Defines 'Academic Freedom'

By Alexis BlueUniversity Communications
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Members of the University of Arizona Faculty Senate on Monday approved a formal definition of academic freedom, a concept often referred to in UA documents, but previously undefined.

Under the concept of academic freedom, faculty members have the right to express their personal views and opinions, including those that might be critical of campus institutions and leadership, without fear of reprisal.

Patricia Hoyer, chairwoman of the University's Committee on Academic Freedom and Tenure, which hears cases in which faculty members feel their academic freedom has been violated, told the senate most of the UA's peer institutions have formal definitions of academic freedom. While the concept is generally understood, Hoyer said, CAFT decided at its 2007 annual meeting that having something in writing would be beneficial as the committee hears faculty grievances and members began working to create a formal definition (provided below).

CAFT hears primarily three types of cases: those involving dismissal of tenured faculty, faculty suspension without pay and cases in which there has been an alleged violation of due process related to academic freedom, such as a denial of promotion, Hoyer said. The committee of elected, tenured faculty then makes recommendations to the University president on what course of action should be taken.

The committee hears two to three cases a year on average, Hoyer said.

Protecting the rights of faculty members and students to have an unrestricted ability to express opinions is critical, Hoyer said after the meeting.

"It's part of the intellectual process – thinking and criticizing and challenging," she said. "It's one of the basic tenets of education."

The definition approved by the Faculty Senate states, in part: "The major premise of academic freedom is that open inquiry and expression by faculty and students is essential to the University's mission."

"It's kind of understood by everybody what academic freedom is, but it's nice to have a formal definition," said Hoyer, adding that Arizona State University and Northern Arizona University each have their own definitions of the concept.

Prior to Monday's approval of the UA definition for academic freedom, CAFT had used the American Association of University Professors' 1940 Statement of Principles on Academic Freedom and Tenure as a guideline, Hoyer said.  

With a formal definition now approved, planning can begin on distributing the definition to the campus community and hopefully updating the UA Web site and University Handbook for Appointed Personnel with the new language, Hoyer said. 

The following is the definition of academic freedom approved by the Faculty Senate:

Academic freedom is one of the primary ideals upon which the University of Arizona was founded and continues to be a core value. The major premise of academic freedom is that open inquiry and expression by faculty and students is essential to the University's mission. Academic freedom shall be understood to include but not be limited to the following: 

  • Academic freedom is essential to the fundamental mission of discovering and advancing knowledge and disseminating it to students and the society at large.
  • Academic freedom enables faculty members to foster in their students a mature independence of mind, and this purpose cannot be achieved unless students and faculty are free within the laboratory, classroom, and elsewhere to express the widest range of viewpoints in accord with standards of scholarly inquiry.
  • Academic freedom protects faculty from any and all arbitrary interferences with their ability to carry out their missions in research, teaching, service and outreach.
  • Academic freedom extends to expressing opinions concerning matters of shared governance or the functioning of the University and the units within.
  • An essential component of academic freedom is the right of faculty members to be free from any adverse action resulting in whole or in part from the exercise of freedom of speech, belief, or conscience in any venue, to the maximum extent consistent with the fulfillment of clearly defined teaching, research, service or clinical obligations.
  • A core aspect of academic freedom is the right to due process sufficient to minimize the risk that adverse actions are taken, even in part, as a result of the faculty member's exercise of academic freedom.
  • Academic freedom includes the right to criticize existing institutions (including professions, paradigms and orthodoxies).

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