Most professors and administrators are aware that academic freedom is in danger of being brushed aside by a public that has little understanding of what is at stake. They may be only marginally aware that the defense of academic freedom is endangered by certain confusions concerning the nature of academic freedom, the criteria for its violation, and the structure of an adequate justification for claims to it. These confusions were enshrined in some of the central documents on the subject, including the 1940 Statement on Academic Freedom and Tenure, agreed upon by the American Association of University Professors and the Association of American Colleges and endorsed by many professional organizations. Careful analysis of them will not do away with debate; it will bring the debate into focus, so that attacks on academic freedom can be appraised as near or far away from the center of the target and can then be appropriately answered.
Nearly all the contemporary writing on academic freedom consists of attack or defense. The Concept of Academic Freedom is the first book to deal exclusively with fundamental conceptual issues underlying the battle. In the discussion of these issues, certain philosophical positions crystallize: radical versus liberal conceptions of the status and function of university teachers, specific versus general theories of academic freedom, consequential versus nonconsequential theories of justification. Partisans (and enemies) of academic freedom would do well to decide on which side of these divisions they stand, or how they would mediate between sides. Otherwise many questions will remain unclear: What is under discussion—a special right peculiar to academics or a general right that is especially important to academics? Is justification of that right possible? Can the right be derived from other rights, or from the theory of justice or of democratic society? Or is the argument for academic freedom one that more properly turns on the consequences for society as a whole if that freedom is not protected?
The essays in this book explore these and other problems concerning the defense of academic freedom by radicals, the justification for disruption on campus, and the control of research.
Contributors to the volume include Hugo Adam Bedau, Bertram H. Davis, Milton Fisk, Graham Hughes, Alan Pasch, Hardy E. Jones, Alexander Ritchie, Amelie Oksenberg Rorty, Rolf Sartorius, T. M. Scanlon, Richard Schmitt, John R. Searle, Judith Jarvis Thomson, and William Van Alstyne. All are outstanding in their fields. Many have had practical experience in the legal profession or with the American Association of University Professors on the issue of academic freedom.