Academic Freedom in an Age of Political Polarization
Co-sponsored by the Albert Shanker Institute and the American Federation of Teachers
Academic freedom is best understood, John Dewey once wrote, as freedom of education: the freedom of students to learn the knowledge and skills of citizenship in a democratic society and the freedom of teachers to teach in ways that cultivate these skills and knowledge. As such, academic freedom is not only indispensable for the educational mission of the university, but vital to the safeguarding of freedom in the larger society.
Dewey’s vision of academic freedom as a public good, essential for democracy itself to flourish, has come under attack in recent years. In a hyper-partisan moment, when issues as different as climate change and gun violence have been crudely polarized and politicized, academic freedom too has been targeted by those who believe that the university should not be teaching critical and independent thinking, but propagating a particular political ideology. Provocateurs now use public events to spark disruption, initiate violence and attack intellectual diversity on campus, rather than engaging in productive dialogue and mutual learning.
From a variety of different perspectives, our panel addressed the issues raised by the need to defend academic freedom in an age of political polarization.
Sigal Ben-Porath, professor of Education, Political Science and Philosophy, University of Pennsylvania
Henry Reichman, professor of history, California State University, East Bay; president, AAUP Foundation; chair, AAUP Committee on Academic Freedom and Tenure.
Catherine Ross, Fred C. Stevenson Research Professor, George Washington University Law School
Moderator: Alyssa Picard, director, Higher Education, American Federation of Teachers