The blog of Academe Magazine. Opinions published here do not necessarily represent the policies of the AAUP.
One indication of the statement’s disregard for academic freedom is this claim: “the phrase ‘academic freedom’ has become subject to promiscuous usage as, on occasion, institutions and faculty have sought to shelter actions or utterances under that rubric without regard to its meaning.”
While one can find a few instances where colleges invoke the nonsensical “institutional academic freedom” (including this document, sadly) to justify infringing academic freedom, the main problem with academic freedom is the lack of usage, not “promiscuous usage.” The use of such a term implies that a major problem in academia is too much talk about academic freedom, when it’s the absence of academic freedom that is the real crisis.
Worst of all, there’s absolutely nothing in this document about the importance of accreditation agencies paying attention to academic freedom in their own process. The statement warns about “inappropriate influence from external centers of power – public and private” without any self-awareness that accreditation is one of those external centers of power that can endanger academic freedom. Accreditation agencies need to be very careful not to impose narrow-minded standards about curricula and other choices that rightly should be made by faculty at individual colleges, and too many of them fall short in this regard. Accreditation at virtually all colleges above minimal quality should take the form of an open discussion for improvement, not the imposition of national standards using threats.
While the statement is valuable for making the rather obvious (but often ignored) declaration that academic freedom should be examined during the accreditation process, it falls short in being unable to define academic freedom properly, and failing to alert accreditation agencies to the need to protect academic freedom in their own actions.