Some thoughts on academic freedom

Seumas Millar
Professor of Social Philosophy,
School of  Humanities and Socila Sciences,
Charles Sturt University.

Quotations from
"Jones Flags Threat to World of Inquiry"
Campus Review, Vol: 8, No. 36:10, Sept. 16-22, 1998

On traditional acdemic values

"..... The intellectual independence of academics is a so-called traditional academic value. Other such values include institutional autonomy, collegial conceptions of governance, academic tenure and ownership of intellectual property, and the centrality of academics and of academic matters in the life of the university. These values are part and parcel of a particular conception - call it the traditional model - of the university and of the role of the academic. Roughly speaking, on this model universities have as a purpose the acquisition and dissemination of knowledge, both for its own sake as well as for the benefits that such knowledge brings to the wider community. Here knowledge is broadly conceived to embrace not only information, but also understanding and the skills to acquire information and understanding, including the skills needed by the professions."

On the nature of universities

" ..... One of the main things that follows is that the exercise of that (institutionally embodied) right [intellectual independence] by members of that institution ought to be facilitated and given special status and protection, and certainly not allowed to be infringed, either by other members of that institution or by external persons or groups. Specifically, the notion of the institutional embodiment of the right of free intellectual inquiry entails the following:

First, universities have been established as centres where independence of intellectual inquiry is maintained. This flows from the proposition that the university is an institutional embodiment of the moral right of the inquirers to freely undertake their intellectual inquiries. Universities are not for example, research centres set up to pursue quite specific intellectual inquiries determined by their external funders. Nor should particular inquiries undertaken by academics at universities be terminated on the grounds that some external powerful group, say government, might not find the truths discovered in the course of these inquiries politically palatable.

Moreover, the university, in so far as it pursues this purpose, can so pursue it, even if so doing is inconsistent with the collective goals and interests of the community or government. In this respect the right of intellectuals to pursue the truth is akin to the right of the judiciary to pursue justice even in the face of conflicting collective goals and interests, including the national interest."