Charting Academic Freedom: 102 Years of Debate

National Association of Scholars

New York, NY (May 22, 2017) – The National Association of Scholars has released a chart that compares the ten most important statements on academic freedom in American history.  "Charting Academic Freedom: 102 Years of Debate" starts with the World War I era “Statement of Principles” from the newly founded American Association of University Professors, and extends to recent declarations by Middlebury College professors and two Princeton professors.

The chart makes clear at a glance that “academic freedom” has changed its meaning many times in the last 102 years. During World War I, professors were worried that college trustees posed a risk to their right to speak out on controversial issues.  They sought protection by claiming that their “scientific” pursuit of truth deserved a special status in society.  By contrast, 107 Middlebury College professors issued a statement in March, decrying the “incivility and coarseness” of their own students, who had violently suppressed a speech by a visiting scholar.  

“The NAS has published this chart to improve the quality of the national debate over academic freedom,” said Peter W. Wood, president of the National Association of Scholars.  “The American public is rightly concerned that the freedom to learn in American colleges and universities has been damaged.  Disinvitations to prominent speakers; riots at places such as Berkeley, Middlebury, and Claremont McKenna; and other efforts to intimidate both faculty members and fellow students have become all too common,” said Wood. “But efforts to repair the situation have been hampered by confusion over what ‘academic freedom’ really is.  Our chart is meant to give all sides of the debate a roadmap of the major policy statements.”

View a scrollable version of the report here.

View a printable version of the report here.

About the National Association of Scholars: The National Association of Scholars works to foster intellectual freedom and to sustain the tradition of reasoned scholarship and civil debate in America's colleges and universities. To learn more about NAS, visit

Contact: David Randall / Director of Communications / [email protected] / (917) 551-6770

Image: Station Crisfield integral part of small, fishing community by Coast Guard News // CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

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