Academic Freedom and Professional Standards: A Case Study
Academic Freedom in Conflict: The Struggle Over Speech Rights in the University (James Lorimer & Co.) (March 2014, Forthcoming)
29 Pages Posted: 14 Dec 2013
Date Written: December 13, 2013
Academic freedom is supposed to allow for new ideas and approaches to germinate, but it is conditioned on compliance with accepted disciplinary and professional standards. This limiting condition has been explained and defended by Robert Post, which explanation and defense has been criticized by Judith Butler. Butler’s critique conceives of the condition as antithetical to disciplinary growth: the application of conventional professional norms by academic bodies not of the discipline or by disciplinary bodies unsympathetic to arresting or paradigm shifting approaches does or could abet a stultifying conservatism. To that extent, the profession’s theory of academic freedom is at odds with itself.
This essay unpacks Butler’s critique. To make analysis more concrete, the essay works that critique through a publicly prominent case: the dismissal of Professor Ward Churchill at the University of Colorado. Churchill claimed that academic freedom accorded him the right to publish works of scholarship pseudonymously, so long as the consent of the putative authors had been given: that such was, or should be held to be an allowable practice in the discipline of American Indian Studies, any standard in the academic profession at large or in other disciplines to the contrary notwithstanding. This paper addresses those arguments. It defends the profession’s conception of academic freedom by application of which Churchill’s conduct was held by a properly constituted faculty body to be professional misconduct.
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