Recall: academic freedom is the freedom for university members who participate in scholarly fora to freely inquire, research, teach, learn, collect, curate, speak, and disseminate. This is a special family of freedoms that goes beyond constitutional protections of free expression. It is the university members’ roles in the university’s central mission of pursuing truth and advancing knowledge that affords them this special class of freedoms. Further, the scholars themselves — in virtue of their roles and their qualifications — are the ones who define the particular mission of their university through the process of collegial governance.
Academic freedom is both broader than constitutionally protected freedom of expression, and more focused. It is broader in the sense that it covers not only expression, but also inquiry, methodology, learning, curation, etc. It is more focused in that it is not laissez-faire but purposeful — the purpose is the advancement of knowledge.
A university president who effectively communicates these core ideas of the source and distinctiveness of academic freedom and the attendant notions of collegial governance and institutional autonomy goes a very long way toward helping the public to understand choices about which kinds of outside events to permit on campus.
“We didn’t permit that rental because the associated event flew in the face of our mission of advancing knowledge,” such a president might say. If the public asked “how so?” the president could reply that not only was the planned event unscholarly but that, by fostering a toxic campus environment, it compromised the ability of the university’s scholars — especially its Indigenous and racialized scholars — to flourish, and to play their part in advancing the university’s scholarly mission. And so on.
A powerful and depressing must-read from George Yancy.
By recounting, in explicit language, the white backlash that I encountered after writing “Dear White America,” those violent and dehumanizing racist modes of address, I risk becoming retraumatized. The retelling is imperative, though. For too long, I have had black students say to me that they feel unsafe at PWIs (predominantly white institutions). I must believe them. And while they may not have been called a nigger to their faces, such white spaces position them as inconsequential, deny their blackness through superficial concerns for “diversity,” and take their complaints as instances of individual problems of institutional adjustment. I insist on bearing witness to black pain and suffering at PWIs because the deniers are out there. We are told that what we know in our very bodies to be true isn’t credible. This is a different kind of violence, the epistemic kind.