Wednesday, April 09, 2008

An Academic Freedom Quiz

I like to think of myself as an expert on academic freedom, having just published my second book on the subject. So when I scored a zero on a quiz about academic freedom, it worried me. Not about my level of knowledge, but about what others think.

One of difficulties in educating people about academic freedom is the widespread information out there about the concept. Evidence of this is an “Academic Freedom Quiz” that Steven Bell, Associate University Librarian for Research and Instructional Services at Temple University, posted yesterday on the Association of College and Research Libraries blog.

Here’s the problem with the quiz: every single “correct” answer is wrong. That’s not all Bell’s fault. His quiz is based on an article in the Legal Reference Services Quarterly, V. 25 (4) 2006, pp. 13-35.

Here are Bell’s answers to the quiz questions:

1. Academic freedom is:
a) an inherent right granted to faculty
b) a protection guaranteed to those who have a faculty contract
c) a privilege granted to faculty by individual institutions
d) all of the above

Bell says, “the answer is (c). According to the article ‘a key to understanding academic freedom is the fact that academic freedom is not an inherent right for faculty and others seeking its benefits…It is actually a privilege granted by individual universities. Each university defines academic freedom for its campus.’”

This is false. The correct answer is (d). Academic freedom exists in many senses. It is sometimes granted by campus policies (c). It is sometimes guaranteed in faculty contracts (b). But it is also an inherent right given to faculty (a). That’s why the AAUP censures institutions even if they refuse to grant academic freedom to their faculty.

2. A tenured professor directs a member of your library staff not to remove from the stacks several “library use only” books that need bibliographic maintenance work because she may need to refer to them at any time for her studies. Academic freedom gives the faculty member the right to do so. True or False?

Bell writes, “The answer is False.”

The accurate answer is, “It depends.” Library staff don’t have to obey every demand of a professor, but academic freedom does give everyone the right to make such requests without suffering retaliation.

3. Academic freedom is not a guarantee of freedom of speech. True or false?

Bell writes, “The answer is true. According to the article ‘While academic freedom is related to freedom of speech they are not the same thing’. Freedom of speech is a constitutional right and typically relates to interaction with the government, not one’s employer. Since academic freedom is granted as a privilege by an institution it cannot guarantee a constitutional right.”

The correct answer is false. Academic freedom at public colleges is a guaranteed constitutional right under Supreme Court rulings since the 1960s. Academic freedom as a moral right also guarantees freedom of speech in the sense of the general right to speak freely on issues like any citizen can without suffer punishment.

4. Both tenured and tenure-track faculty enjoy the benefits of academic freedom? True or false?

Bell writes, “The answer is false. The protections of academic freedom are not available until they have been granted as a result of completing the tenure process successfully.”

The correct answer is true. Academic freedom is protected for all faculty (and staff as well). However, only tenured faculty have an additional layer of due process required before being dismissed.

5. For academic librarians, having traditional intellectual freedom typically means:
a) a guaranteed right of free speech
b) a commitment to ensuring users’ access to information
c) a right to enjoy the protections of academic freedom even if not tenured
d) a form of academic freedom that applies only to collection development work

Bell writes, “The correct answer is (b). While academic freedom can incorporate the concepts of intellectual freedom, intellectual freedom does not offer all the protections of academic freedom.”

The correct answer is a, b, and c. Academic librarians are entitled to free speech, and the protections of academic freedom, as well as having a commitment to user access.

6. Which one of these organizations was the first to issue an official statement regarding the right to intellectual freedom:
a) american association of university professors
b) american library association
c) american civil liberties union
d) united nations

Bell writes, “The correct answer, according to the article, is (b). The American Library Association first issued, in 1948, Article IV of the ALA Library Bill of Rights a few months prior to the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights.”

In reality, the answer is (a). The AAUP’s 1915 statement on academic freedom was not a universal statement of intellectual freedom for everyone, but academic freedom and intellectual freedom are deeply intertwined. Academic freedom protects intellectual freedom on college campuses, and the AAUP has established a tradition of intellectual freedom in academia that should be expanded across our society.

Now, many of my views on academic freedom are debated by scholars, which is why a simplistic academic freedom quiz isn’t very useful. But the misunderstanding of academic freedom displayed in this quiz, and the extremely narrow of academic freedom it exemplifies, should concern us.

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