Teaching and Learning Practices for Academic Freedom: Volume 34

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(15 chapters)


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Part I: Practicing Academic Freedom


In democratic societies, universities are unique institutions that are responsible for conducting critical research, training students and educating the next generation in pursuit of knowledge for community and societal welfare. Universities are a platform where like-minded knowledgeable people are encouraged to think freely and formulate educational policies for the progress of their nation. Academic freedom to think, teach or conduct research is a key legitimating concept (Menand, 1996) and is based on the belief that faculty and even students who form a part of the body of academia should not be subjected to any kind of coercive policies and external authority that limits their ability to think, practice and pursue knowledge. Accountability to stakeholders also is a critical part of academic freedom, which comes with autonomy and is essential for optimizing the activities of a university.

Academic freedom in teaching–learning methods is crucial to a nation’s growth. The concept comes with numerous misnomers and is subjected to much academic debate and doubts. This book is dedicated to seeking the widening frontiers of academic freedom and authors have put forth their opinion in the form of case studies and empirical research that considers academic freedom of faculty and students as one of the main goals to be achieved by any university. Advancement of knowledge and quality of research is to be encouraged and supported by the leadership team in any institution of higher education where autonomy to work freely remains the foremost criterion of success. Truth and intellectual integrity remain the fundamental principles on which the foundation of a university should be laid (Downs, 2009).


In this article, I trace the slow evolution of the contemporary idea of “academic freedom” through two court cases of the early twentieth century. Unfortunately for academics, this history does not end with a ringing endorsement of the right of academics to speak freely without being afraid of losing their teaching jobs. Rather, the courts have tended to agree that while faculty do have freedom of speech under the first amendment, they do not necessarily have the right to keep their jobs no matter what they say. This chapter illustrates the court’s early validation of punishing the “free speech” of employees if it promotes a “bad tendency” in Patterson v. Colorado in 1907 and concludes with Oliver Wendell Holmes’ ruling in 1919 that introduces the concept of the “marketplace of ideas” to evaluate speech even though the defendants were convicted of espionage as they exercised their “freedom of speech.” For the educator, freedom of speech is essential in having the academic freedom to pursue their discipline.


Academics in the field of higher education have been studying various factors that might contribute to students’ progress and impact their grading. One such factor could be practicing academic freedom among students. The concept of academic freedom in most case is restricted to faculty alone and is often interpreted as the freedom to teach and conduct research. The neglected field in academic freedom is student. As faculty are engaged in the pedagogical approach of teaching and learning, it is obvious that students will encounter ideas and beliefs through books and wider reading as it is expected of them to do so. There comes the point when students start questioning the popular beliefs and the policies that have been imposed without making them a key stakeholder in those issues. The chapter takes one case study of an international university in Iraq where a strict attendance policy undermines the key concept of academic freedom among students. The author used a qualitative method to interview a cohort of 39 students, 10% of the entire student population that are currently engaged in undergraduate study. The sample comprised both male and female students, and no significant difference was noticed in the response of either of these sample groups.


Our chapter addresses the balance assessment professionals must strike in supporting academic freedom, shared governance practices, and learning improvement efforts within colleges and universities in the United States. Specifically, we address how assessment professionals (faculty or staff whose primary job involves accreditation or the assessment of student learning) can encourage increased educational equity while supporting academic freedom. The authors offer a unique perspective. As former faculty members, current assessment practitioners, and a current academic administrator, we work to ensure that our institutions are using assessments of student learning to improve learning for all students. This work gives us insight into the ways in which assessment information shapes institutional efforts, balancing the rights of faculty to control the curriculum with the rights of historically underserved students (including students from underserved ethnic or racial groups, first generation college students, students from low-income households, and students with special needs or disabilities) to receive a quality education. We propose that one solution to this apparent conflict is to provide faculty with data that allow them to analyze the ways in which their assessment choices influence educational equity. To contextualize our work in this area we summarize institutional and faculty freedoms and discuss areas of conflict. We then describe ways to reduce areas of conflict by creating a culture of inquiry that centers around consideration of data and opportunities to modify assessments to increase educational equity.


When developing online programs, institutions have a social responsibility to safeguard academic freedom. In the United States, a perceived lack of career relevance, declining enrollments, and a desire to expand institutional impact have compelled numerous institutions to create online degree programs. The decision to scale some online programs, in collaboration with for-profit online program managers, into enrollments in the thousands is seen by a number of faculty and professional organizations as evidence of the rise of neoliberalism, at the expense of academic freedom and faculty governance.

This chapter begins by setting the context for the discussion of academic freedom and online degree programs. I provide a review of the growth of online degree programs and discuss some of the reasons a campus might choose to take programs online, as some of the reasons reveal tensions impacting academic freedom. I follow with case examples and strategies that may help institutions balance online initiatives with practices that preserve academic freedom and quality. The chapter concludes that the challenges raised should not be framed as “either/or” choices – the examples provided demonstrate that academic freedom can and should be sustained, especially within large programs, regardless of being on-ground or online.


The UK government’s attempt to “prevent” terrorism and extremism in the university sector is rightly seen as an intolerant threat to academic freedom. However, this development has not come from a “right wing” authoritarian impulse, but rather, replicates many of the discussions already taking place in universities about the need to protect “vulnerable” students from offensive and dangerous ideas. Historically, the threat to academic freedom came from outside the university, from pressures exerted from governments, from religious institutions who oversaw a particular institution or from the demands of business. Alternatively it has been seen as something that is a particular problem in non-Western countries that do not have democracy. While some of these problems and pressures remain, there is a more dangerous threat to academic freedom that comes from within universities, a triumvirate of a relativistic academic culture, a new body of identity-based student activists and a therapeutically oriented university management, all three of which have helped to construct universities as safe spaces for the newly conceptualized “vulnerable student.” With reference to the idea of vulnerability, this chapter attempts to chart and explain these modern developments.


This chapter questions the contribution of bureaucratic organization to the core missions of the modern university. Although perfectly fit for the execution of peripheral functions, teaching and research do not thrive in such an environment. This accommodation failure has much to do with the many ways the marketplace has crept into our thinking about the function of education and the value of new discovery. Relevant external forces only exacerbate these tendencies. The prospects for emancipation include a resurgence of individuality, perhaps carried by the possibilities of technology which reverses its current capability to standardize and commodify. A more fundamental rethinking of post-secondary education may be needed.

Part II: Academic Freedom in Research


This contribution targets the need to manage the balancing act faced by middle-sized, non-elite universities between serving as educational institutions with a strong regional focus on the one hand and research institutions that meet international standards on the other hand. The difficulties of meeting these diverging demands will be assessed and spelled out with regard to how university governance and strategic research planning can proceed while taking into account legal, institutional and financial constraints.

The argument proceeds in three steps. First, the normative framework provided by the fundamental right to academic freedom is established. Second, the chapter develops the specific question of whether academic freedom is at stake in cases (as happened in the middle of twentieth century) where universities have been created with a view to bringing higher education to a region without a strong academic background and this in the aim of serving both the population and the local economy. Third, it is shown that the problem can be overcome by the dynamics that academic work unfolds.


This chapter argues that the near-universal exclusion from the academy of the Shakespeare Authorship Question (or SAQ) represents a significant but little-understood example of an internal threat to academic freedom. Using an epistemological lens, this chapter examines and critiques the invidious and marginalizing rhetoric used to suppress such research by demonstrating the extent to which it constitutes a pattern of epistemic vice: that, by calling skeptics “conspiracy theorists” and comparing them to Holocaust deniers rather than addressing the substance of their claims, orthodox Shakespeare academics risk committing acts of epistemic vice, injustice and oppression, as well as foreclosing potentially productive lines of inquiry in their discipline. To better understand this phenomenon and its implications, the chapter subjects selected statements to external criteria in the form of the Association of College and Research Libraries’ 2015 Framework for Information Literacy for Higher Education, which provides a set of robust normative dispositions and knowledge practices for understanding the nature of the scholarly enterprise. The analysis reveals that the proscription against the SAQ constitutes an unwarranted infringement on the academic freedom not only of those targeted by this rhetoric, but – by extension – of all Shakespeare scholars as well.


In the era of the knowledge economy, universities are expected to contribute to the economic development of their countries. Therefore, their research agendas must be relevant to the local context and geared, though not uncritically, to the national educational agenda. To do this diligently requires research autonomy. However, due to the low government investment in research on the African continent, universities have had to rely on other sources of funding, which usually come with strings attached. Our study investigates the case of Ghana, in particular, the University of Ghana, the leading research university in the country. We drew on resource dependence theory, which suggests that, despite external pressures on universities, they can enhance their autonomy through the implementation of strategic measures. Primarily, we analyzed documents such as research reports, journal articles and speeches in the light of Clark’s (1998) model of the “entrepreneurial university,” which, if adapted with care and in a localized form in Ghana, may contribute to the research autonomy of its universities. We found that, although research autonomy in Ghanaian universities is limited due to their over-reliance on external donor funding, it is likely to be strengthened if the government of Ghana follows through on plans to increase research funding and universities continue with measures to diversify their funding sources.


This chapter centers on practices of Review Ethics Board (REBs) as they may impact academic freedom for faculty members acting as participants in research. A case example is provided, which highlights the authors’ experience applying for ethics clearance to conduct a qualitative research study. While the study was classified as minimal risk and received ethics clearance from the researchers’ host institution, additional research ethics applications were required from the higher education settings identified, before being able to recruit participants. In addition to pressing timelines, extra workload and the coordination of different requirements for each institution, not all REBs permitted faculty members the option to reveal their identity and their beliefs on pedagogical practices. This particular experience with the ethics review process elicited questions centering on research ethics committees’ practices in terms of (a) providing opportunities for faculty members, as participants in research, to freely share information about their beliefs and teaching practices as well as (b) infringing on faculty members’ autonomy and rights to intellectually express, share and take ownership of their personal beliefs and pedagogical approaches to teaching in higher education.

Name Index

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Subject Index

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Cover of Teaching and Learning Practices for Academic Freedom
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Innovations in Higher Education Teaching and Learning
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Emerald Publishing Limited
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