Academic freedom is a valuable and quite fragile characteristic of our society that, like other forms of liberty, requires eternal vigilance to preserve it. It is difficult to define in the abstract, but one who has been deprived of it knows it. In totalitarian societies such as the Communist countries, academic freedom is unknown. It is noteworthy, therefore, that academic freedom is often denounced by those who, in other contexts, wish to be considered strongly anti-Communist. One might even say that to attack academic freedom is to take the Communist line.
Briefly, academic freedom may be defined as the protection from pressures that would inhibit scholars from freely investigating whatever they are interested in and responsibly discussing, teaching, and publishing their conclusions. A Johns Hopkins professor has ably argued that “so-called abuses are the only proofs that the freedom really exists; as long as the professors do not say things that impress those who have power to interfere as dangerous or loathsome, there is no way of telling whether academic freedom is only a sham.… Only when the university authorities or others in power are sorely tempted to silence a professor, to … ‘go after’ him in any way, and when they resist the temptation out of respect for academic freedom—only then can one see that such freedom exists.”
Academic freedom is needed at least as much to protect professors from one another as to protect them from politicians or the public. The tendency is very great to create uniformity in an academic department through support of one or another of the various ways of approaching philosophy, sociology, literature, or whatever the discipline may be. Recently we have seen professors violating the principles ...1
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