Sharing this message I sent to the campus community this morning.
Given recent conversations on campus and the controversies raging around the country concerning free speech, censorship, and the governmental intrusion into higher education, this seems a good moment to say something about academic freedom here at Wesleyan University. First, what does academic freedom mean? A former president of the American Association of University Professors started off this way:
- Academic freedom means that both faculty members and students can engage in intellectual debate without fear of censorship or retaliation.
- Academic freedom establishes a faculty member’s right to remain true to his or her pedagogical philosophy and intellectual commitments. It preserves the intellectual integrity of our educational system and thus serves the public good.
At Wesleyan, we might add that the intellectual integrity of our community is preserved when any of its members, including staff and students, can remain true to their intellectual commitments and their approach to learning. We trust that remaining true to one’s commitments is combined with remaining open to people with commitments different from one’s own. This is how real learning happens, with “independence of mind and generosity of spirit.”
As we state in the University’s governing documents (faculty handbook and student handbook): “every member of the Wesleyan community should feel that he or she can enter into controversy without fear of being silenced or constrained. This community’s commitment to the free exchange of ideas and pursuit of knowledge requires a wide range of protections for speech and expression, even when noxious or offensive. Belonging to this community, however, carries with it the responsibility of extending respect and openness of mind to others.”
In America today, academic freedom once again needs its defenders—people who know that learning requires freedom from intimidation and censorship while also demanding openness and attentiveness. The combination of qualities that constitute academic freedom may seem idealistic to some, but for us at Wesleyan it is the practical idealism at the heart of liberal education.
Michael S. Roth