Academic Freedom in a Time of Silencing

Ashley Thorne

On the hundredth anniversary of its founding, the American Association of University Professors (AAUP) has released a “Centennial Declaration,” a statement of 10 principles of academic freedom. It is collecting signatures on this declaration at a time when the concept of academic freedom is increasingly being superseded by its competitor, “academic justice.”

Academic justice, a term coined by Harvard senior Sandra Korn in a 2014 Harvard Crimson editorial, is the doctrine that some ideas are simply not entitled to academic freedom. In other words, those in higher education who style themselves as owning the moral high ground may take it as their right to determine what subjects may be part of an academic discussion—and which ones can rightfully be shut out. This appears to have been the case recently at Marquette University, in a situation we are tracking where a student was told by a graduate instructor that some opinions, such as the student’s opinion on homosexuality, “are not appropriate” for the classroom.

In a timely op-ed in the New York Times yesterday, Ross Douthat observed that such political correctness used as a censor teaches rising generations of Americans exactly the wrong lesson: “The common thread in all these cases […] is a belief that the most important power is the power to silence, and that the perfect community is one in which nothing uncongenial to your own worldview is ever tweeted, stated, supported or screened.”

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