Who Has Academic Freedom?

We’re now in the final leg of our scan of what UNESCO, AAUP, AUCC, CAUT and University of Waterloo have to say about the main features of academic freedom. So far, we’ve looked at:

  • the source and purpose of academic freedom,
  • the various freedoms that are included in the broader category of academic freedom,
  • the responsibilities that go along with academic freedom, and
  • institutional autonomy.

All that remains is to answer the question “Who has academic freedom?” Here’s what each of the organizations we’ve been looking at have to say:

UNESCO says that academic freedom applies to “higher education teaching personnel,” which it defines as “all those persons in institutions or programmes of higher education who are engaged to teach and/or to undertake scholarship and/or to undertake research and/or to provide educational services to students or to the community at large.”

AAUP specifies that “college and university teachers” have academic freedom, but notes that “the word ‘teacher’… is understood to include the investigator who is attached to an academic institution without teaching duties.”

AUCC characterizes academic freedom as “fundamental to the protection of the rights of the teacher to teach and of the student to learn.”

CAUT says that “all academic staff” have academic freedom.

Finally, as we’ve seen, University of Waterloo has two policies (Policy 33 and Policy 71) that discuss academic freedom, as well as a section on academic freedom in its memorandum of agreement with its faculty association. Policy 33 (a policy primarily aimed at faculty and staff) says that “all members of the University community” have academic freedom. Policy 71 (a policy aimed at students) discusses students‘ academic freedom. The MOA with the faculty association characterizes academic freedom as vital to the “professions of teacher, researcher and scholar.”

In sum, the question of who has academic freedom is one of the (somewhat) contested aspects of academic freedom. On the most liberal accounts (like University of Waterloo’s) all members of the university community enjoy academic freedom. On the most conservative accounts, only professors enjoy academic freedom. Some of the campus controversies we’ve seen in recent years invite the question of whether students have academic freedom. Notice that of the five organizations we’ve surveyed, two say that students have academic freedom (to learn), and the other three remain silent on students’ freedom. Notice a bit of an overlap too with the question of responsibilities. In general (but not always), the organizations that elaborate a number of responsibilities as flowing from academic freedom tend not to characterize students as having academic freedom. The major exception to this pattern is AUCC. Finally, notice that most of the statements we’ve looked at tend to describe academic staff as teachers, although some of them go on to make clear that researchers also have academic freedom. It is an interesting historical question why the organizations we have surveyed are comparatively inattentive to the research aspects of the job of post-secondary instructor, and indeed tend to efface entirely the fact of university researchers and professors who do not teach.

Tomorrow, our survey behind us, we’ll provide a final snapshot of what we’ve learned.