Critical Inquiry: A Tool for Protecting the Dissident Professor's Academic Freedom

32 Pages Posted: 3 Oct 2008

See all articles by Jennifer Elrod

Jennifer Elrod

University of California, Irvine School of Law


Although the 2006 mid-term elections were, in part, a referendum on the Iraq War and voters overwhelmingly expressed their opposition to that armed conflict, the voices of dissent were often muted prior to that election. Between 2001 and 2006, those citizens, including some professors, who did speak out against or question the war, were called unpatriotic, anti-American, and a host of other pejorative names. However, under the third principle of academic freedom promulgated by the American Association of University Professors (AAUP), all tenured and tenure-track professors enjoy the freedom of extramural utterance when speaking as citizens and are, thus, are protected from administrative interference when they comment upon political issues, including the Iraq War or a presidential administration.

However, such AAUP protection has often been lacking for dissident professors, as I demonstrate in my paper. I examine Professor Ward Churchill's controversial essay about September 11, 2001. Although Churchill had spoken about the subject, without incident, a number of times between 2001 and early 2005 on college campuses, he became the target of conservative attacks in January 2005 after a Hamilton College professor went to the media with his personal objection to Churchill's appearing on a panel at the college to discuss "The Limits of Dissent." A firestorm of controversy erupted and caused the University of Colorado to investigate Churchill for more than two years. The fallout for Churchill was severe: he was fired from his position as tenured professor.

The absence of meaningful protection under the AAUP's tenet of extramural utterance for a tenured faculty member raises the specter that full, robust, and meaningful debate on political matters can be stifled or silenced by outside actors who are not employed by the academic institution. I propose a solution: critical inquiry as a tool to protect the dissident academic speaker through a mediated, structured forum sponsored by the university in which the speaker's ideas are vetted by other academics. Such a solution protects the university's interests as a metaphorical space in which a broad range of ideas are examined and debated and its mission of training students whose future roles include meaningful and informed participation in a democracy and leadership of the institutions of society.

Suggested Citation

Elrod, Jennifer, Critical Inquiry: A Tool for Protecting the Dissident Professor's Academic Freedom. California Law Review, Vol. 96, December 2008; UC Irvine School of Law Research Paper No. 2008-16. Available at SSRN:

Jennifer Elrod (Contact Author)

University of California, Irvine School of Law ( email )

401 E. Peltason Dr.
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Irvine, CA 92697-1000
United States
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