In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Academic Freedom and Tenure in the United States

  • Introduction

Education Academic Freedom and Tenure in the United States
Luther Spoehr
  • LAST REVIEWED: 29 May 2019
  • LAST MODIFIED: 29 May 2019
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199756810-0170


Academic freedom is a German import. Throughout the 19th century, more and more American scholars undertook advanced study in Germany and returned to the United States committed to wissenschaft (systematic research), a commitment that in their view required lehrfreiheit (faculty’s freedom to teach) and lernfreiheit (students’ freedom to learn). Institutional resistance to these ideas resulted in highly publicized instances of faculty being fired, but although academic freedom did not acquire force of law, competition for notable scholars, the need for expertise in an increasingly complex society, and other factors helped to get faculty demands incorporated into university governance. The landmark event in academic freedom’s early years was the founding of the American Association of University Professors (AAUP) in 1915. Their “Declaration of Principles on Academic Freedom and Academic Tenure” insisted that university faculty are “appointees,” like judges, with “professional functions to perform in which the appointing authorities have neither competency nor moral right to intervene.” Since then, the definition of academic freedom has evolved to include specific protection of research, teaching, and, most controversial and problematic, extramural speech. It has also expanded to include more and more institutions, with backing from prominent professional organizations—the 1940 “Statement of Principles” (which updated the 1915 “Declaration”) along with the 1970 “Interpretive Comments” has been endorsed by literally hundreds of academic groups. These supportive developments periodically met resistance from business, government, and populist elements, which argued that academic freedom shielded economic inefficiency or political radicalism. The First Red Scare (during and after World War I) and the Second Red Scare, featuring McCarthyism (after World War II), are just two eras during which academic freedom was under serious attack. Today, postmodern theory calls “objective truth” into question, leading some academics themselves to doubt the usefulness or even the possibility of academic freedom. This bibliography is an introductory guide to past and present arguments for and conflicts about academic freedom. Many works mentioned here define “academic freedom” broadly and include free speech and other rights often linked to the narrower definition of academic freedom that pertains to faculty research, teaching, and extramural speech. Entries indicate which aspects of academic freedom are dealt with in each work. This bibliography builds on the work of previous bibliographers and includes the most important items they mention, but most references here have been published (either in print or online) since the earlier bibliographies appeared.

Reference Works, Overviews, and Surveys

The items in this section offer comprehensive introduction to the study of academic freedom. They include reference works, collections of sources, essay collections covering a wide range of relevant topics, and analytical narratives spanning long periods of time.

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