Academic Freedom, the Presumption of Openness, and Privacy
International Journal of Open Government (IMODEV), Vol. 2, p. 151-164, 2015
12 Pages Posted: 1 Jun 2017 Last revised: 28 Jun 2017
Date Written: 2015
There is, at least in large principle, freedom of information in the United States, a presumption that government and its functions will be and should be open to the public. This means that many government documents ranging from budgets to extraterrestrial life investigations to arrestees’ mugshots are available to anyone who makes a request for them. The idea is that robust openness gives citizens the ability to learn exactly what government players are doing and, as the documents may sometimes reveal, why.
There are groups with interests that compete with such openness, however, including those professors and researchers whose salaries are paid by the government. These scholars work in public colleges and universities; they are, therefore, public employees and subject to freedom-of-information laws. This essay focuses on public information within the academy – and the effect that such openness has on academics’ First Amendment-based academic freedom. Academic freedom gives many of them rights within reasonable limits to research what they want, to learn what they want, and to teach as they choose. In that way, these government players have a constitutional layer of privacy-related protection for their educational interests that seemingly competes with a presumption of openness.
Given the strongly ideological interests behind many requests for academic information, and given the tempering effect on academic expression excessively open access could have, the essay focuses on the threat to academia when states or government or courts are too willing to expose certain academic information. It argues that information privacy law and related Supreme Court concerns about thought investigation could well help shift judicial perception back toward the importance of academic freedom.
Keywords: Privacy, Academic Freedom, Freedom of Information, First Amendment, FOIA
JEL Classification: K00, K13
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation