Thursday, February 09, 2006

John Dewey on Academic Freedom

You apparently take the ground that a modern university is a personally conducted institution like a factory, and that if for any reason the utterances of any teacher, within or without the university walls, are objectionable to the Trustees, there is nothing more to be said. This view virtually makes the Trustees owners of a private undertaking….[But] the modern university is in every respect, save its legal management, a public institution with public responsibilities. [Professors] have been trained to think of the pursuit and expression of truth as a public function on behalf of the interests of their moral employer—society as a whole….They ask for no social immunities or privileges for themselves. They will be content, for their own protection, with any system which protects the relation of the modern university to the public as a whole.
“Professorial Freedom,” 1915
Originally appeared as a letter to the editor of the New York Times

We may insist that a man needs tact as well as scholarship or, let us say sympathy with human interests—since “tact” suggests perhaps too much of a juggling diplomacy with the questions at issue….Lack of reverence for the things that mean much to humanity, joined with a craving for public notoriety, may induce a man to pose as a martyr to truth when in reality he is a victim of his own lack of mental and moral poise.
“Academic Freedom,” 1902

Source: Both quotes as presented by Louis Menand in The Metaphysical Club: A Story of Ideas in America, 2001.

About John Dewey, a founder of AAUP, the American Association of University Professors.


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