Academic Freedom and Political Indoctrination
30 Pages Posted: 9 May 2011
Date Written: May 5, 2011
The boundaries between academic freedom and political indoctrination have eroded in recent years, and influential figures and institutions have resisted efforts to reinforce it. This can be seen in the most recent pronouncements of the American Association of University Professors and in the academic work of influential scholars like Matthew Finkin and Robert Post. The trend is also well illustrated by the decision late last year of the Pennsylvania State University Senate Committee on Faculty Affairs to amend that university’s academic freedom policy to delete language that provided: “It is not the function of a faculty member in a democracy to indoctrinate his/her students with ready-made conclusions on controversial subjects.” The conflation of political indoctrination with academic discourse appears repeatedly in various academic controversies, especially on topics relating to Israel and the Middle East. This development is deeply problematic for several reasons. This conference paper argues that the erosion of the boundaries between academic freedom and political indoctrination entails significant risks for the doctrine and that a firmly circumscribed but vigorous conception of academic freedom can avoid these risks. Specifically, this paper argues that political indoctrination cannot be considered academic because it exhibits five characteristics that are inconsistent with the academic function: non-educativeness, controversy, extraneousness, imbalance and bias. Moreover, recent efforts to redefine these five concepts in narrow terms are inconsistent with the basic values that academic freedom is intended to support. Finally, this paper apply these concepts to the William Robinson case, demonstrating that only a robust conception of these five strands can properly illuminate the issues at stake in that case.
Keywords: academic freedom, freedom of speech, higher education, bias, American Association of University Professors
JEL Classification: I29
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation