Does academic freedom still matter?
Academic freedom, the freedom of teachers and students to teach, study, and pursue knowledge and research without unreasonable interference or restriction from law, institutional regulations, or public pressure. Its basic elements include the freedom of teachers to inquire into any subject that evokes their intellectual concern; to present their findings to their students, colleagues, and others; to publish their data and conclusions without control or censorship; and to teach in the manner they consider professionally appropriate. For students, the basic elements include the freedom to study subjects that concern them and to form conclusions for themselves and express their opinions.
Source: Encyclopedia Britannica
A scholarly career can be destroyed by universities or governments on the alleged grounds that the content of the work, real or imagined, is determined to be a threat to existing powers. Perhaps it was the syllabus for a course or the topic of a dissertation thesis that one advises that brings down the wrath of the state; or perhaps it was occasioned by the political positions one has taken within the university or outside its walls – unionization, demilitarization, opposition to nationalism. Those political positions are distorted by the censors, and by those with the power to destroy a career and expel a citizen; these positions are the exaggerated, demonized, and sensational version of the political positions the scholar may hold. For instance, a call for democracy is interpreted as sedition; a call for peace mutates into an alliance with terrorism; a call for freedom is taken to be a call to violence. As we know, the actual political viewpoints for which scholars are punished can be directed toward a government or its policies, about the university and its unfair practices, its modes of exploitation, or its use of the security police to quell open inquiry and public discussion, to conduct surveillance, its ties to corporate or state interests that leads it to police its faculty. And we know that it can be the university that censors and dismissed the faculty, or the regional government, or the state, or a complicitous alliance among these authorities.
Judith Butler, Scholars At Risk
Berlin, 20 April 2018
Scholars At Risk