Is Academic Freedom Still Relevant Today?

Published: 2021-07-01 10:18:28
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Education has gone through diverse transformation stages that are associated with different innovations and inventions. However, it is impossible to talk about education in the early days without necessarily talking about academic freedom and its impact on the education. In the early days, academic freedom was significantly supported because it was considered to be an assurance of invention of new ideas and discoveries in the education sector. At the same time, it gave an opportunity for the old ideas that were considered relevant to be appreciated and irrelevant ones to be discarded. Academic freedom is considered to be one of the core foundations of liberty arts in education. Proponents claim that education needs freedom; therefore, academic freedom provides the platform for the academia to maintain their freedom of inquiry. However, the relevance of academic freedom seems to have been lost to many people in the contemporary society. Therefore, this research seeks to demonstrate that academic freedom is still significant and needs to be embraced in all learning institutions.

The debate on the relevance of academic freedom has been a great concern to the public and also academicians for a long time. Despite its significant contribution to the development of liberty ideas in education, its controversies have not been discarded either. The academic freedom principles can be traced back to the early 20th century when various organizations including the American Association of Universities and the Association of American Colleges and Universities helped create the guidelines that highlight the ways in which academic freedom concepts can be used effectively (Williams, 2016). However, today, it is difficult to talk about academic freedom. With the new and different challenges that have emerged in the contemporary society, it has contributed greatly to the changed perception of academic freedom. However, the question that still runs across the minds of many people is that, do we still need academic freedom, following the new challenges experienced in the education sector. The answer to this question may not be easy as, yes or no; however, it needs a close examination of the concept of academic freedom before one can make the assumption or judgment that it is still relevant to the contemporary society. As will be expounded in the preceding sections of this paper, academic freedom is still important in the contemporary society.

Scholars have enjoyed the freedom of expression of perceptions and thoughts through the published materials (Gappa et al., 2007). It is the academic freedom that has granted them this kind of enjoyment in which they are able to express and pursue the truth about a certain topic or phenomenon as far as it can take them. However, this freedom over the recent years seems to be infringed in certain areas. Unlike the earlier days when professors were allowed to freely to teach their ideas and facts including the controversial ones without much constraints, today, most of the higher institutions regulate the way professors and even students express themselves. Despite the existence of parameters that guides the academic freedom; it is still a problem in different institutions. As a result, a debate about academic freedom has been there in the media for many years; but it seems that people do not agree on the same things. In the United States, professors are allowed to express their ideas and facts to the students; however, it is limited to the non-controversial facts (Gappa et al., 2007). Despite the existence of such laws, most of the higher institutions across the United States seem to neglect the significance of academic freedom. Another controversial issue that has emerged in the debate about academic freedom is about the definition. Academic freedom is understood as the ability to make a free choice on what, how, and when to teach in the higher learning institutions (Williams, 2016). Understanding what entails the concept of academic freedom, it will help understand its relevance in the education especially at the higher learning institutions.

Academic freedom involves making free and independent choices regarding the research and the publication of its findings (Williams, 2016). Academic freedom gives the faculty in the higher learning institutions to make a free choice on what agendas to pursue in their research, the kinds of questions to ask, formulate and design their hypotheses (Van Ginkel, 2002). It also provides the faculty with the freedom to choose when and how to make the findings of their study public. This is an important function that academic freedom performs in education. Different theories that were discovered a long time ago and are now very helpful in the contemporary education study are some of the impacts of academic freedom. Proponents have argued that academic freedom supports and enhances innovativeness in education (Shils, 1993). According to Shils (1993), academic freedom welcomes the discovery of new ideas that can help explain the phenomenon that has not been explained yet. Theories that are used today in different fields of study were discovered and made available up to date because of the freedom that was given to the academia at that time. Some of the earlier scholars and great contributors to the development and foundation of education like Plato, Socrates, and Aristotle (Ornstein et al., 2016) expressed their views freely. From their perceptions and ideas, a theoretical framework of various studies ranging from philosophical to educational concepts was laid and outlined. However, this could not have been possible if there was no academic freedom. Therefore, it is important to note that academic freedom is important not only to the current generation but also to the future generation.

Academic freedom helps n creating a free and civil society (Shils, 1993). Democratic societies like United States, UK and even Canada need to recognize the importance of academic freedom. It is not good to claim that a country is democratic and yet some important sectors that also make up the key pillars of the society are neglected and their rights infringed. The growing trend of banning speakers from debates in public instead of giving them opportunities to express their views is one of the ways that some societies hypocritically claim to be democratic. Additionally, the changing political dimension in the contemporary society has also contributed greatly to the infringement of the rights and freedom of academia (Williams, 2016, p. 3). Politicians have taken the opportunity to make reforms in the university policies with the aim and claim of protecting the academic freedom, but it turns out to be a strategy to control the freedom of higher education institutions. It is not possible to have a free and civil society without freedom in higher institutions of learning such as universities and colleges. However, politicians are not entirely to be blamed on the reduced academic freedom in certain countries like the UK. In the UK, the government monitors every students activities and behavior in the school through the authorities (Williams, 2016). Some of the reforms are made following the erosion of security threat associated with the immoral and uncontrolled school behavior. The Counter Terrorism and Security Act enacted in 2015 aims at controlling the radicalization of young people in the learning institutions across the UK (Williams, 2016, p. 4). The recently increased cases of religious extremism and radicalization in higher learning institutions have made it less easy for the government to trust all the students on campuses across the UK. This kind of strategy has also been undertaken in other countries like the United States. However, it is important to note that academic freedom is as well important as the learning process in the campuses. All it needs is proper guidelines and implementation mechanisms that ensure that the academic freedom of academia is not limited or infringed in any way and at the same time, the security measures are also taken to eliminate the security threats in the society.

The issues of civility in most of the higher learning institutions that have recently emerged in the discussion have also contributed a controversy in the debate about academic freedom. Some people claim that it is an intentional distraction from the larger issue of racism and systemic discrimination witnessed in various universities. Racism and systemic discrimination are very high in most of the larger or international universities across the globe. Opponents may claim that racism is mainly contributed by the universities through academic freedom that allows the professors and students to express their views and opinions in different communication platforms such as electronic, speech, and writing without fear of sanction (Vials, 2016). This may not be true as the academic freedom is limited to certain areas where the speaker is not allowed to cross. Academic freedom is limited to areas like where the speaker may use an expression that impairs or seem to infringe the rights of others. Therefore, there is no way that one can claim that a statement made by someone who is limited to what he has to say can incite others to engage in racism. This is just but a distraction of the public from seeing the bigger picture of racism and systemic discrimination. Again, it is important to understand that education has contributed significantly to creating unity and bringing cohesion in the society, something which was not the case when education had not been established before. In the United States, for example, there are over 300 million people from different ethnic and racial backgrounds; however, regarding reducing racism problem, learning institutions have been in the forefront in inculcating the values of unity which has greatly assisted in creating cohesion in the regions where people have always been in conflict with other people from different racial group. In fact, racism is more extended by the government as compared to learning institutions because when education which is an essential commodity is not provided for the citizens it becomes a shortcoming of the government to fully take its responsibility. When students come together from different ethnic, racial, and cultural background, they share their ideas and experiences. This, as a result, promotes social interaction and socio-cultural globalization and not the other way round as opponents of academic freedom claim. However, we cannot also ignore the possibility of people who may try to manipulate their freedom to incite others on the basis of racism and ethnicity. Instead of blaming one another, it is important to ensure that everyone takes responsibility as it should so as to avoid such cases where universities which are learning institutions are tuned into radicalization centers or camps for criminal activists. Law and policy implementers need to take responsibility for ensuring that the academic freedom is not misused by the users (Van Ginkel, 200). At the same time, professors and students need to understand the extent of their freedom in academia. With this kind of understanding, I believe that cases of radicalization and incitement of one race against the other may be minimized in most of the learning institutions especially the international universities where people come from across the world.

Development of technology has contributed a lot regarding learning and teaching processes in the learning institutions across all levels of learning from kindergarten to the universities. Academic freedom provides the professors and teachers to choose the mode of teaching that would suit the learning process. They are allowed to choose the content which they wish to teach and how they wi...

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