Academic Freedom in an Age of Conformity: Confronting the by Joanna Williams

By Joanna Williams

Universities, as soon as on the vanguard of campaigns for highbrow liberty, are actually bastions of conformity. This provocative booklet lines the loss of life of educational freedom in the context of fixing rules in regards to the function of the college and the character of information and is a passionate name to fingers for the ability of educational suggestion today.

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Extra resources for Academic Freedom in an Age of Conformity: Confronting the Fear of Knowledge

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Such freedom demanded a special kind of organization; universities needed both liberating and protecting from external threats. Moberly firmly linked universities’ value to society with a minimalist role for the state: ‘Direct state action, like surgery, should be occasional and rare; its function is negative rather than positive, it is to remove otherwise immovable obstacles’ (1949, p. 241). This notion of academic freedom as arising from inaction on behalf of the state was supported by the American educational philosopher Robert Maynard Hutchins, who wrote in 1952 that ‘Academic freedom is simply a way of saying that we get the most out of education and research if we leave their management to people who know something about them’ (p.

He was clear that at the present day there are some to whom the concept of academic freedom, so far from being an ideal to be supported, is something which should definitely be opposed. The belief that academic life should conform to central regulations and disciplines is not something which is only to be found east of the Iron Curtain. (p. 58) As the 1960s drew to a close, student protests spread from America to Britain and the rest of Western Europe. Often such protests were a response to contemporary political issues such as the war in Vietnam.

Such a belief in the relationship between freedom, criticism and the pursuit of knowledge first emerged in Ancient Greece. Socrates, Aristotle and Plato are all credited with promoting ideals of free speech and free inquiry. Intellectuals in the ancient academy were ‘dedicated to the art of critical debate, the posing of questions, and the search for solutions’ (Poch, 1993, p. 3, in Papadimitriou, 2011). Socrates has been recorded as arguing for the freedom to keep challenging people in the agora, or marketplace, on the basis that only the gods are wise and humans can be wise only in recognizing their own ignorance (Annas, 2000, p.

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