Throughout history, we have become accustomed to scholars serving a very specific role. These professionals are expected to learn pre-determined curricula, design lessons to impart this knowledge to their students, and not question those who are in charge of making the decisions about this protocol. This has been especially true in the higher education sector. The problem is, professors and educators are supposed to challenge their students to think critically and to always challenge preexisting knowledge. It is important for professors to practice what they preach.
Academic freedom is very important for professors in order to maintain their ability to truly instruct and prepare their students for the world beyond their educational environments. These scholars should also be free to research and publish any inquiry in which they see value. While tenure is a controversial subject, because it is thought to protect ineffective teachers, the practice allows experienced academics to be able to challenge what has been previously accepted as fact or practice, and to continue making progress in new discoveries about our world. There are several reasons why this academic freedom is so important to professors.
One of the biggest barriers to academic freedom at the collegiate level is political correctness. Particularly in the current social and political climate, investigating and teaching about topics involving race, sexuality and the like is often not supported by leaders on campus. However, when professors are restricted in the topics that they are supported in and permitted to research and teach, it limits the ability of those learning from them to come to a full and complete understanding of the subject matter and the world around them. Professors feels strongly that in order to best educate and prepare students for the post-academic world, it is essential to have the freedom to investigate difficult and taboo topics and publish and teach about the findings.
One of the hallmarks of a well-rounded education is the ability to listen to theories and opinions on two sides of argument and make an independent judgment for oneself. Unless a student is exposed to a variety of viewpoints and perspectives about the subject matter that they are studying, they will be robbed of experiences in critical thinking, evaluation and assessment. These skills are crucial both in society and in most workplaces. Doctors, lawyers, business managers and many other professionals have jobs that require the ability to make informed and calculated decisions regularly. Without academic freedom, professors are limited in the exposure to differing viewpoints that they can offer to their students and to readers of their published works.
Limitations and Responsibility
While many interpret academic freedom to mean that anything goes, this simply isn’t true. Nor do most scholars want this to be the case. All instruction and research should be, and is required to be, within the bounds of the law. Also, all studies are thoroughly reviewed to ensure that they are ethical and not harmful to participants prior to getting the green light. Similarly, shoddy research and inefficient teaching shouldn’t be tolerated. There is never unbounded permission to say or publish anything without consequence, especially concepts that are racist or sexist. The majority of professors want fair academic freedom that represents the responsibility, esteem and intellect of their profession, and eschew a complete free reign.
The current political and social climate continues to cause many leaders in higher education to be wary of too much freedom for their professors. However, it is crucial for the success of learners everywhere that colleges continue to exercise academic freedom for the well-rounded education of their students.