Academic Freedom


The term "Academic freedom" which has only begun to be used recently (from the early 20th century), refers to "the insulation of professors and their institutions from political inference" (Kennedy, 1998:1), and asserts the realm of academia more so than any other public domain, unconventional though and behavior deserve special protections. They deserve this academic freedom because they are " ... all looked upon, by students and others, as persons somehow responsible for advancing the capacities and potentialities of the next generation. This is a very large responsibility, and it's the essence of academic duty." (Kennedy p22) Kennedy speaks of the responsibility society places on academics to use their standing to influence the community in positive directions. When an academic voices their opinion towards society along with their freedom to do so, comes responsibility to do so in a way not to harm others. These ethical responsibilities when not executed result in the academic and their partner institution to face 'public hostility' and there freedoms put under public critic.

For academics this tradition ensures a safe and protected space for "intellectual experiment" (Kennedy, 1998:1). This implies loose structures and minimal interferences, and is necessary for academic freedom to exist.

"The ideal of academic freedom is an important part of liberal institutions."(Menand1998: 250)Membership in the academic community imposes on students, faculty members, administrators and trustees an obligation to respect the dignity of others, to acknowledge their right to express different opinions, and to foster and defend intellectual honesty, freedom of inquiry and instruction, and free expression on and off the campus.(Hamilton 2002: 390) The expression of dissent and attempt to produce change, therefore may not be carried out in ways which injure individuals or damage institutional facilities or disrupt the classes of one's teachers or colleagues. Speakers on campus must not only be protected from intimidation and harassment by political interference with the autonomy of academic institutions, but also given the opportunity to be heard. (Hamilton 2002: 151, 187)

In chapter four of "The Future of Academic Freedom", Sunstein(1996:94) highlighted the problem of hate speech interferes with academic freedom, commencing with some background information as follow. A system of politics in a liberal democracy, in her account, is not supposed merely to protect preexisting private rights or to reflect the outcome of interest-group pressure, nor that it is intended to aggregate existing private preference, or to produce compromises among various affected groups with self-interested stakes in the outcome. Instead, it is designed to facilitate new information and perspectives influence social judgments about possible course of action. The system of free expression is to ensure broad communication about matter of public concern among the citizenry at large and between citizens and representatives. To illustrate how a system of liberal politics constraint the public sphere, Menand(1998:202)expressed that In principle, government may not regulate ideas because they are simply offensive or pervasive. In dealing with political speech, government may not regulate speech unless the relevant harms are likely to occur, intended by the speaker, and imminent, based on the created influence on listeners.

Problems in Academic Domain

After reading Kennedy's "Academic Freedom, Academic Duty", we can see there are lots of problems existing in the academic world. Some of the problems will be listed as follows:

Unequal Opportunity to Access Education Resources

Education is supposed to be the "greatest weapon" to realize social equality but has actually become the accelerator of social injustice. To reveal the reasons behind the problem, four aspects can be taken into account:1). Government investment is insufficient; Then schools in certain areas begin to charge at random, and those rich ones pay what they can to get better education, which leads to corruption. 2). Academic resources are distributed unequally; 3). Class gap resulted in unequal education; 4). Education corruption further enhances the unequal status. Therefore, measures have to be taken by the government to increase the input on education, and distribute the resources equally by the supervision of law.

Curricular Goal Setting
Curriculum setting is one vital component in academic field. However, it has often become the topic for discussion. What subjects should students learn at different stages of their life? What standards should be followed? The question has been discussed for thousands of years, yet there is no universal criterion. Different countries, from the concept of country, to municity, to county, to state, should make their curriculum according to their local condition. Copycatting is inappropriate.

Relation to Freedom of Speech

According to the Encyclopedia Britannica, academic freedom is supposed to give freedom to students and scholars to communicate, discuss and express their own ideas and thoughts on any controversial social or political issues without "unreasonable interference or restriction from law". It also gives the teachers the right to determine what is to be taught in class. Hence, the freedom of speech is "necessary condition for academic freedom" (The University of Cape Town statement), giving all scholars the right to voice their opinions openly in classes. Eventhough, the academic freedom gives all academics the right to express and discuss their thoughts without restriction, it is not the same thing as the freedom of speech.

Even if the principal idea of the academic freedom is to give people the right to express their thoughts freely, there are limits in restricting some statements. Deliberate insults - statements which are made intentionally to harm others are not even "in principle covered by the idea of academic freedom". (Dworkin, 1996) It is quite similar to having limits on freedom of speech; to prohibit any disastrous situations from happening. If people were absolutely free in expressing their opinions, they can possibly abuse others with no intention. This is the reason why with freedom (of speech) comes the responsibility. Thus, with the academic freedom given to them, people must take responsibility in what they are stating and how they are expressing their thoughts.

Repression of expression cracks down our academic freedom?

University academic needs a high degree of independence to give the knowledge and educating students need a free environment that allow free flow of ideas and debates to receive the knowledge. However, academic freedom in Australia seems to be suppressed by the government to the Australia Research Council allowed for greater political interference in the funding of research, while the pressure on universities to become commercial enterprise (Canberra Times, 2008, ‘New Laws whittle away academic freedom’). Furthermore, anti-terrorism and sedition laws together have further weakening the academic freedom. For example, the Australian Federal Police used its separate powers to interview a student of terrorism studies. In 2005, a Monash University student was questioned by the police after buying and borrowing books on Palestinian suicide bombings, a subject he was researching his course on terrorism (Canberra Times, 2008, ‘New Laws whittle away academic freedom’). From this case, freedom in Australia seems not to be well protected in the era of terrorism and new security laws have made academic freedom fragile. According to the 2005 Statement on Academic Freedom, ‘…academic freedom may be defined as the freedom to conduct research, teach, speak, ad publish, subject to the norms and standard of scholarly inquiry, without interference or penalty, wherever the search for truth and understanding may lead’. To improve the academic quality, Australia may need a formal law reform to constitution or legislation for the protection of academic freedom like other countries did. For instance, the constitution of the Republic of South Africa 1996 provides protection for academic freedom in section 16 of its Bill of Rights, and stated that ‘Everyone has the right to freedom of expression, which includes academic freedom and freedom of scientific research’ (Canberra Times, 2008, ‘New Laws whittle away academic freedom’) Furthermore, freedom of expression should not depend upon the favor of the government of the day, because it is hard to maintenance our academic freedom if the freedom of expression is absented.

Academic Freedom and Responsibility

Much has been said about the free reign that academics should have under "Academic Freedom" with reference to freedom of speech but, as Kennedy puts it, "academic duty" is less talked about (1998, p. 2). "Academic duty" refers to the responsibility that academics have when exercising their freedom of expression, in other words, the limit to which one is entitled to express one's opinion. Academics have to be aware of the fine line that separates their criticism from being constructive for the good of academic progression and being just plain accusations such as in the Paul Mees case where he said that the authors of a particular report "should be in jail". The reason why academics should be clearly aware of this fine line is because the general public considers educational institutions as a "credentialing device" (Kennedy, 1998, p. 7), thus the words of academics highly accredited in their field would be taken as a validated source than,say, that of the general public. Consequently, the implications of what is said by these academics would have a social impact on others. For example regarding the Bendle vs Burke case described in the lecture, Burke and his associates could have been detained without chargeunder sedition laws just because Bendle, considered an academic expert, deemed them to be pro-terrorists. Thus, because of their highly-influential opinions, academics should take responsibility in their expressions to prevent undue harm upon others.

Every university handbook has an academic freedom policy. Academic freedom is one of the most cherished notions of the university, for it suggests that each individual professor and the university as a whole, act as autonomous agents in the pursuit of truth. If the academician were not to be granted his/her freedom, the entire enterprise of humanistic knowledge would lose its footing. The significance of academic freedom goes far beyond the basic political rights of professors. Academic fredom is the seal that certifies that what the academy transmits and generates is a product of free thought, not coercion, and is therefore, knowledge (Wallen).
The conflict surrounding academic freedom these days often occur either on charges of the suppression of speech or, on the alleged 'abuse' of academic freedom to cloak discriminatory practices.

Academic miscinduct is regularly billed as a common problem in university research. Sexual harassment charges, especially if they involve a faculty member, receive front-page scrutiny. There was an apparent failure in Academic duty such as the tuitions being too high, racial tension which inevitably lead to segregation, epidemic of research misconduct, athletic scandals and political correctness is an epidemic. (Kennedy, 1998)

Liberal education involves more than the mind. It also involves developing students’ personal qualities, including a strong sense of responsibility to self and others. Liberally educated students are curious about new intellectual questions, open to alternative ways of viewing a situation or problem, disciplined to follow intellectual methods to conclusions, capable of accepting criticism from others, tolerant of ambiguity, and respectful of others with different views. They understand and accept the imperative of academic honesty. Personal development is a very real part of intellectual development.

Freedom, Responsibility and Politics controversies

Freedom(academic freedom and freedom of the press)is plainly related to a general political value, which is freedom of speech. Claiming something to be free speech “will always be evidence that a political line has been drawn rather than a line that denies politics entry into the forum of public discourse”(Fish:112)This concept is related to a case when someone' speech is in need to be protected by "free speech". When speech is protected by "free speech", it is a "political" prize won by those whose speech is "subversive to their own aspirations"(Fish:114)-self-interest and political preference.

For instance,The senior political journalist of Herald Sun McManus and Harvey took the risk to expose government confidential based on an illegally obtained cabinet document illustrated tabloid press’s appetite for scandals and negativism that caters for their broad readership. On the other hand, Paul Mees' strongly worded attack on government over transport privatization was firmly associated with his leftwing activism. Alternatively, "Political line" can also refer to speech against the ring-wing populism that prevails in the views within academies and the press. For instance, those who believes that "most Asutralians today are not democrats, that is , people who believe in popular rule"( Terry Irving in the Southern Tree of Liberty 2006).

Issues in regards to whether public transport in Victoria should be privatized or not is matter of personal political preferences (Mills), so as to the amount of veteran benefits concerned by McManus and Harvey. Mills believes that private political preference in relations to government interventions and actions "with about equal frequency, improperly invoked and improperly condemned". Therefore, there is no guidelines to determine which certain politically subversive speech/ agenda yields the most optimal outcome for the nation or society. Given that "free speech is hates speech" and that hate speech is most likely related to political speech according Fish, so the only guideline to determine whether a speech is appropriate or not is indeed subject to political correctness and responsibility that constituted by socio-political influences in the society.

Cases in relate to "academic/journalist in troubles" in the course, can illustrate that these scholars/journalists are "sliding down to the slope of tyranny"(Fish:115) in the disguise of their propositions in safeguarding the society against tyranny. In a liberal society, if tyranny in a system of politics refers to those restrict informational and perspectives that influence social judgments about possible course of action. The university and the court who regulate their speeches are “never in business to protect speech, but classifying speech in relation to a value”, given that "there is no such thing as free speech". (Fish:113) Mees was punished by the university in order to prevent political commitment value to marginalize the pursuit of truth and free speech in the virtue of academic freedom. The professor's explicit political bias has violated academic freedom which is damaged in many folds. First, It is morally harmful to those students whose freedom to absorb facts. Second, it damages the general culture of independence that academic freedom nourishes, against its purpose to "creates a culture of individual intellectual responsibility and that protects it from disintegrating into a culture of intellectual conformity."(Menand:331)

Free speech in relate to academic freedom is not, except in very special circumstances, a right to speak one's mind in a position maintained and supported by others.(Menand:221)On one dimension, the utterance of the scholars in these cases were irresponsible to the consequence that could be led by the restriction to individual intellectual responsibility of others(students). Any invasions to academic freedom is only harmful in itself but make future invasion more likely. On the academic forum, these scholars are political scientists, "unlike public officers or private citizens of power, should not be pressed constantly by the immediate decision on a wide variety of fronts". Their "training fosters critical skills and the refined research methologies can be invaluable in conditions of uncertainties".(Collonlly),as according to Milton(Cited in Fish:113), "truth is always in the course of emerging". Mees' own vision of truth imposed on scholars is indeed a form of prejudice which impact on the consequence in achieving congruence between "desires and ability"(Collony) of scholars and the public to the formulation of truth in the future.

These scholars are punished because their speeches are considered to be irresponsible, that is the lack of insight of the consequences to the intellectual responsibilities of individuals, in consistence to the traditional ideals of liberty which believes that "no truth can be imposed upon another"(Caudfield 2009) Especially that the case in which professors are assumed to have being accredited by certain academic accreditation authority and that their visions of truth are seemly accepetd to be valid.
As a result, punitive actions imposed on scholars are not an indication that " a line that denies politics entry into the forum of public discourse", although debatable.

Alternatively, Traditional ideals of liberty has also suggested "no truth can be asserted without being questioned", in contrast to the modern ideals of freedom in regards to individual responsibility- "Because we are subjects and lack the freedom and power to act as we like, we cannot be held entirely responsible for our actions"(Lecture Six slice:7) Indeed, this is related to the limitation of Harm principles in eye of modern liberalists which rise to the role of individual responsibilities in modern liberal societies- Conducts of Inviduals are limited by individuals responsbilities. Some believes repsonsibilities are essential in disciplinary societies, whereas others perceives that is a risk. Since responsibilities are constituted by our society under socio-political influences, thereby a risk may emerge if the society transform itself as a tyrant(Mills), through censoring humans "desires and abilities" in the pursuit of freedom.

Academic Freedom and Causal Responsibility

Academic Freedom in the true sense of the word should imply freedom to express ones opinions in which ever way they choose. However this is not the case as their are limits placed on what people can and cant say, as much expression coincides with the harm principle. This means expression in relation to harming one. This is due to the responsibility that academics have on society as they are extremely influential. So there is this constant battle between free expression and harmful expression, which doesn't take into account the truth of ones free expression.

In reference to Lavin ‘He explains that what counts as a cause is contested responsibility, settled by convention but rarely by unanimity and perhaps never by an deeper actual responsibility’ he is implying that this notion that there is no actual responsibility being taken, is a direct result of preventing crimes and ‘making attachments to political action’ (Lavin, C 2008: 48). Therefore one can see this standpoint, as the individual not being able to exercise their free rights and responsibilities as adults, but rather only being able to take responsibility within a preexisting political framework.

SBS In Trouble over Tamil Language Program

The Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA) has picked up their pace in issuing reports on complaints. Normally taking several years, they have taken only one year. On the 29th of September, ACMA issued findings against SBS in relation to two broadcasts of the Tamil Language Program on 26 October 2008 and 18 January 2009 respectively. The subject matter was criticisms of and allegations against the Sri Lankan Government.

SBS was found to have breached its code of practice in relation to balance and accuracy. ACMA found that SBS did not offer other views during the program and failed to confirm an online video’s authenticity that commented on an atrocity allegedly committed by members of the Sri Lankan army. SBS has already counseled the presenters in the broadcasts.

Young Liberals - Making Education Fair

The Young Liberalsare the youth division of the liberal party in Australia and membership is open to those between 16 and 30 years age of youth citizens. All members of the young liberals have full party-membership and each of them has to decide which part they want to join. Also they are active in Liberal Party campaigning during all state and federal elections.

The Young Liberals have on occasion been noted for their incendiary and boorish behavior during certain events. An example of this was during the National Union of Students conference in Ballarat during 2005, when it was announced that the Howard government had made student unionism non-compulsory. During the conference, triumphant members of the Young Liberals swore at security guards, loundly sang 'God Save the Queen' over a traditional Aboriginal welcome ceremony; and chanted "we're racist, we're sexist, we're homophobic" in an attempt to provoke other students, a tactic that proved embarrassing when footage of their behaviour was screened on the ABC's Lateline programme.

The 'Make Education Fair' campaign was launched by the youth division of the Liberal party (ie. The Young Liberals) in February 2008. It's purpose was to document examples of a supposed left-wing bias in both schools and universities. Students or teachers sympathetic to the campaign were encouraged to 'dob in' any staff who they saw as abusing their position as educators to instead express and spread their left-wing political views.

When initiating the campaign, President of the Young Liberals, Noel McCoy, told reporters "Lecturers and tutors are brazenly forcing students to agree with their political or ideological views and we want to catch them doing it." Comparisons to the Big Brother surveillance culture in George Orwell's 1984 were made by Harriet Alexander in the Sydney Morning Herald. Another comparison was made by the Greens Education spokesman John Kaye, who likened the programme to McCarthyism.

Paul Mees

Paul Mees, a senior lecturer in transport planning at the University of Melbourne and a registered Barrister and Solicitor of the Supreme Court of Victoria, delivered a speech about the issues regarding the privatisation of Melbourne's public transport system on August 23rd, 2007 at the University’s Australasian Centre for the Governance and Management of Urban Transport (GAMUT).

At the seminar, Mees was critical about the Victorian Government's report regarding the continuation of the private provision of public transport in Melbourne, and more directly critical of the figurehead of the department's assessment and the main author of the report, Jim Betts, former Director of Public Transport. Mees said the authors of the report were "liars and frauds and should be in jail". The comments made by Mees had been recorded for the purposes of 'podcasting' and, as a result, Mees' criticisms regarding Betts and the State Government's Transport Department were being transmitted to a large number of people following the GAMUT conference.

Betts was furious, responding to demand that the University of Melbourne remove the podcast. The University acted not only to remove the transmission, but also on proceedings of academic misconduct against Mees for blighting the name of the institution; supposedly damaging the University's reputation with the State Government.

In May 2008, Paul Mees was found guilty of misconduct and subsequently demoted, with his salary of $96,000 being reduced to $88,000. Mees appealed following the verdict, and despite the fact that his appeal was upheld, decided he did not want to be affiliated with an institution that would treat it's academics in such a manner, taking up a post as a senior lecturer in the School of Global Studies, Social Science and Planning at the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology (RMIT) instead.*

Dr King found it did not matter whether Dr Mees' statements were true or not. "His defence of truth should be dismissed," says Dr King's report. "Academics are entitled to be forthright in their views. But it is not their role to make allegations of personal misconduct or criminal misconduct in a public forum," Dr King wrote...

The University of Melbourne's reputation for upholding academic freedom has been damaged by the demotion of a senior lecturer after a complaint against him by the State Government, the tertiary union says...

Paul Mees' statement from the NTEU academic freedom forum, August 2008:

Other Useful Materials

The Future of Academic Freedom

By Louis Menand

Academic ethics : problems and materials on professional conduct and shared governance / Neil W. Hamilton.


Works Cited:

Dworkin, R. (1996) "The Future of Academic Freedom", The University of Chicago Press Ltd, London, p. 1

Lavin, C 2008. ‘Responsible Subjects’ The Politics of Responsibility. Illinois UP pp. 3-18, 137-138.

Kennedy, D. (1998) "Academic Freedom, Academic Duty", Academic Duty, Harvard Up, pp.1-22.
Wallen, Jeffrey (1998). Closed Encounters: Literary Politics and Public Culture. University of Minnesota Press, U.S. pp. 48-54
"ACMA finds two breaches of SBS code in Tamil Language Program" 29/09/09 Link:
'SBS breached code with Tamil programs' The Australian 29/09/09
Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia, "Young Liberals (Australia),
Alexander, Harriet. Meet the new Vanguard in Culture Wars. The Sydney Morning Herald. April 1st 2008.
The Canberra Times, 2008, 'New laws whittle away academic freedom' The Canberra Times, Dow Jones Factiva, Link:
Manand, L(1998) The future of academic freedom , University of Chicago Press
Sunstein, S(1998) "The problem of hate speech" in The future of academic freedom , University of Chicago Press
Hamilton, N(2002)Academic ethics: problems and materials on professional conduct and shared governance,Greenwood


Academic Freedom Watch,