Academic Affairs is gearing up to begin a sustained campus conversation about academic freedom. Public discussions about speech on campus have tended to focus on the First Amendment and on our legal rights to freedom of speech and expression. As provost for academic affairs and vice provost for faculty affairs, we see those discussions as missing a crucial part of the overall issue: academic freedom. It is academic freedom that shapes and protects the work that faculty and students do in our key endeavors of learning, teaching, research, creative work and inquiry. We need greater awareness and understanding of academic freedom here at CU Boulder.
But just what is academic freedom?
Simply stated, a central part of the mission of the university is to engage in the creation of knowledge and the pursuit of truth through scholarly inquiry, disciplinary discovery and creative works. The mission of the university is also to educate and prepare students to be curious and discerning participants and leaders in our society.
Our ability to successfully and inclusively engage the university’s mission is grounded on the principle of academic freedom, which protects faculty members’ ability to teach and perform their scholarly, creative and research activities in the highest manner of professionalism and integrity. Academic freedom also protects students’ ability to learn and to engage in inquiry and discussion in the classroom and related educational spaces.
Academic freedom provides the academic community with these rights and privileges, along with solemn responsibilities to teach using inclusive pedagogy and with scholarly integrity. Academic freedom also carries with it the academic community’s responsibility to engage in a free search for knowledge and truth unimpeded and unencumbered by any partisan political and/or ideological pressures. Without consideration of diverse perspectives, experiences and viewpoints, our ability to conduct rigorous research and scholarship, make scientific discoveries and pursue truth would fall short.
Stated differently, our understanding of a truth viewed from a narrow or unidimensional perspective is not as rich as the understanding that derives from broader and multidimensional perspectives. Similarly, our ability to disseminate knowledge would fall short if the pedagogical discourse leading to the dissemination is conducted in a way that excludes people who have historically been underrepresented in higher education and have not been fully engaged as participants in that discourse.
Ultimately, the university relies on inquiry, research, evidence and critique to evaluate truth claims based on established disciplinary standards. CU Boulder thus encourages discussion of minority and unpopular viewpoints. The key is that—in the classroom and other education spaces—those viewpoints and truth claims need to be relevant to the subject and to course topics, and they need to emerge from relevant disciplinary standards for research, inquiry and analysis.
The foundation upon which the academy is built is academic freedom. The strength of this foundation is greater when we engage more people and are inclusive of diverse ideas and perspectives in the practice of academic freedom and in service of our campus mission.
To that end, we invite you to join us on Feb. 19 for the first in a series of campus conversations about academic freedom that will occur over the next year. For more information, visit CU Boulder’s webpage on academic freedom.
Russell L. Moore
Provost and Executive Vice Chancellor for Academic Affairs
Vice Provost for Faculty Affairs