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What is Academic Freedom

What is Academic Freedom

The Four Components of Academic Freedom

1. Academic Freedom in Teaching

If universities and colleges are to fulfill their purpose to preserve, disseminate, and advance knowledge, then academic staff must have the freedom to exercise their professional expertise and judgement about how and what to teach. Academic freedom in teaching is the right, without restriction by prescribed doctrine, to freedom to teach and discuss. It includes the freedom of academic staff to organize course content and classroom or laboratory activities, to assess and evaluate student academic performance, to select pedagogical approaches, and to assign educational material, including textbooks, in a manner consistent with relevant academic standards and the course description approved by the academic body of the institution. 

2. Academic Freedom in Research

The freedom of academic staff to pursue and disseminate scholarly research is essential to the foundational mission of higher education to advance knowledge. Academic freedom in research ensures that academics can create new knowledge by granting them the freedom, within the law and consistent with professional standards and ethics, to inquire, speculate, investigate, and share the results of their research with peers and the public. Institutions have an obligation to ensure that academic staff are unimpeded in their research activities and are free from outside influence and pressure, including attempts to suppress research results or limit publication.

3. Intramural Academic Freedom

Intramural academic freedom is the right of academic staff to participate in institutional governance and comment on any aspect of policy, practice, or issue related to the institutions or systems where they work. Importantly, “intramural” does not refer to where the expression takes place, but rather to its subject – the academic’s institution or system. Intramural academic freedom allows for robust faculty interaction regarding all aspects of the academic life – whether in departmental or faculty meetings, committees, informal discussions, or exchanges with administrators. Every higher education institution relies upon academic staff engagement in governance, including in often contentious and difficult education and academic decision-making – on hiring committees, searches for senior administrations, departmental and faculty curriculum committees, and academic policy setting bodies. The ability of academic staff to successful perform these crucial roles depends on freedom of intramural expression.

4. Extramural Academic Freedom

Extramural academic freedom is the right of academic staff, within the law, to freely express their views, whether related to their area of scholarly expertise or not, on matters of public interest or concern without reprisal or censorship.  Extramural expression is an essential component of academic freedom because the other pillars of academic freedom cannot be fully exercised in an environment where there are institutional restrictions on the content or manner of the debates, exchanges, and discourse of academic staff.