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Academic Freedom

Academic freedom is a professional right of the faculty. It is grounded in the faculty member’s qualifications for the position as reviewed by his/her peers. It consists in the freedom to teach, research, write, and to speak in our capacity as citizens without restraint by the administration.

This right differs from the Constitutional right to freedom of speech and assembly guaranteed by the First Amendment in the sense that it is the necessary condition for a faculty member to fulfill his/her professional obligations and responsibilities as a teacher, researcher, and writer. It is also meant to protect faculty members from reprisal for exercising their free speech rights.

Along with the protection to practice our craft, academic freedom protects the faculty in taking part in the governance of the institution by speaking out on matters of educational policy, even when or especially when opposing the views of the administration.

In the current collective bargaining agreement, only the “Preamble” speaks to the issue of academic freedom, saying that both management and the union pledge themselves to protect it. Without explicit language from within the body of the contract defining academic freedom and specifying means to remedy alleged violations, we have to rely on other procedural protections of members’ rights, such as due process in disciplinary cases, reasons in negative personnel decisions, the Article 8 guarantee of adherence to non-discrimination and other federal laws.

If you think your academic freedom is under attack or has been violated, please consult your campus or PSC grievance counselor, or the PSC Academic Freedom Committee right away. Here are important links:

  • PSC-CUNY Contract The preamble of the contract states “CUNY and the PSC seek to maintain and encourage, in accordance with law, full freedom of inquiry, teaching, research and publication of results, the parties subscribe to Academic Freedom for faculty members. The principles of Academic Freedom are recognized as applicable to other members of the Instructional Staff, to the extent that their duties include teaching, research and publication of results, the selection of library or other educational materials or the formation of academic policy.”
  • CUNY Statement on Academic Freedom, June 8, 1946. As cited in the UFS statement on academic freedom, CUNY has affirmed its support for academic freedom five times since their statement of 1946:
    • On June 8, 1946, according to the Calendar of the Board of Higher Education (predecessor body of the CUNY BoT), “The following principles of academic freedom as expressed by the American Association of University Professors in its 1940 Statement of Principles were approved by the Administrative Council after consultation with the faculties.” [The Administrative Council was the predecessor of the current Council of Presidents.] The statement above was followed by a citation of the first six paragraphs of the 1940 AAUP Statement.
    • On November 12, 1973, according to the Council of Presidents Minutes, “The Council of Presidents reaffirmed the principle that City University should remain a forum for the advocacy of all ideas protected by the First Amendment to the Constitution and the principles of academic freedom.”
    • On October 26, 1981, according to the Minutes of the Board of Trustees, the Board formally apologized for the firing of over 50 faculty and staff members in the 1941 Rapp-Coudert purge…, stating that CUNY “pledges diligently to safeguard the Constitutional rights of freedom of expression, freedom of association, and open intellectual inquiry of the faculty, staff and students”….
    • On September 24, 2001, the Board of Trustees unanimously endorsed the statement of then Vice Chair and subsequent current BoT chair Benno Schmidt about the controversy over a teach-in about the World Trade Center tragedy: “Academic freedom, freedom of inquiry in the search for truth, the freedom of thought to challenge and to speak one’s mind, these are the matrix, the indispensable condition, of any university worthy of the name. The City University of New York has a proud tradition of academic freedom. We will defend the academic freedom of our faculty and students as essential to the preservation of the University. That these are prized American values, as well as central to the academic mission, only makes their defense in times of crisis the more essential.”
    • On October 13, 2005, Chancellor Matthew Goldstein formally endorsed the following definition of academic freedom issued by the first Global Colloquium of University Presidents: “the freedom to conduct research, teach, speak and publish, subject to the norms and standards of scholarly inquiry, without interference or penalty, wherever the search for truth and understanding may lead.” Chancellor Goldstein observed that “The principle of academic freedom is so essential to colleges and universities that it could be said to be part of the genetic code of higher education institutions.” He concluded that “it is our insistence on academic freedom that makes possible our ability to work together toward our most difficult and important task: the creation and dissemination of knowledge.”
  • University Faculty Senate Statement on Academic Freedom — “The State of Academic Freedom at CUNY and What We Can Do About It” This is a UFS pamphlet published in September 2009 that assesses the definition, history, practice and protection of academic freedom at CUNY.
  • The AAUP is an affiliate of the PSC with a long and distinguished history of protecting academic freedom. It has rich resources on academic freedom including:
  • The AFT, our main national affiliate, has a special section on its website entitled Academic Freedom in which it defines academic freedom thusly:

    The concept of academic freedom is based on the idea that the free exchange of ideas on campus is essential to good education. Specifically, academic freedom is the right of faculty members, acting both as individuals and as a collective, to determine without outside interference: (1) the college curriculum; (2) course content; (3) teaching; (4) student evaluation; and (5) the conduct of scholarly inquiry. These rights are supported by two institutional practices—shared governance and tenure…. Academic freedom ensures that colleges and universities are “safe havens” for inquiry, places where students and scholars can challenge the conventional wisdom of any field—art, science, politics or others.

  • PSC Academic Freedom Committee The PSC has an active Academic Freedom Committee that reports to the Executive Council. The committee’s mission is three-fold
    1. Educate members about the state of academic freedom – past and present — nationally and at CUNY. Demonstrate the importance of academic freedom in a contemporary university characterized by growing centralization, corporatization, assaults on faculty governance and reliance on contingent labor. Promote discussion of key issues about academic freedom through PSC print and digital media and face-to-face meetings and forums.
    2. Proactively identify issues that threaten academic freedom and, as appropriate, provide advice and/or research to PSC Executive Council on how to respond to such threats.
    3. Recommend to the PSC Executive Council actions to be taken to further affiliate campaigns on issues of academic freedom. Help promote national initiatives and campaigns (e.g. the work of the AFT and AAUP in response to the so called “academic bill of rights; the work of the AAUP to build institutional protections for the academic freedom of adjuncts and graduate employees).

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