AAUP report on academic freedom in the classroom

The intellectual independence and integrity of higher education’s classroom faculty have been under attack for some time—by the press, by conservative commentators, and by politicians. The American Association of University Professors (AAUP) is convinced that it is time to take back the classroom on behalf of academic freedom. In a clear and carefully reasoned historic new report, we counter these attacks and lay out the principles of responsible college pedagogy. The full report, Freedom in the Classroom, is available in the September–October issue of Academe , our journal of record, and online.

The report differentiates instruction from indoctrination. It addresses demands for “balance” in the classroom and offers a very specific and limited disciplinary rationale for the relevance of balance. It argues forcefully that college instructors have the right—and, some would argue, the responsibility—to challenge their students’ most cherished beliefs.

The report also takes up the most controversial issue, politics in the classroom, and offers an analysis for your consideration. We adapt an example from a 2007 New York Times column: “Might not a teacher of nineteenth-century American literature, taking up Moby Dick , a subject having nothing to do with the presidency, ask the class to consider whether any parallel between President George W. Bush and Captain Ahab could be pursued for insight into Melville’s novel? Might not an instructor of classical philosophy, teaching Aristotle’s views of moral virtue, present President Bill Clinton’s conduct as a case study for student discussion?”

No matter what the discipline, no matter what subject matter or historical period a course description defines, we suggest, the field of contemporary culture and politics is available for comparison, analogy, and contrast. To say this is to reaffirm the life of the mind, to assert that in human culture anything may potentially be connected to anything else.

This e-mail is being sent to more than 350,000 faculty and academic professionals in the United States and to tens of thousands in other countries. Not all faculty and academic professionals have the sort of academic freedom we value, but they all need to hear these principles articulated and affirmed. We encourage you to read the full report, discuss it with your students and colleagues, send us your comments, and join our efforts to disseminate this message.

See Michael Bérubé’s essay “Why the AAUP’s New Statement ‘Freedom in the Classroom’ Matters” online in the September 11 issue of Inside Higher Ed.

Cary Nelson
AAUP President

The AAUP Online is an electronic newsletter of the American Association of University Professors. For more information about the AAUP, visit https://www.aaup.org/aaupportal.htm.

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