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Joan W. Scott Knowledge, Power, and Academic Freedom ALTHOUGH THE TERM “ACADEMIC FREEDOM” HAS COME TO SEEM SELFevident — so often is it invoked to condemn egregious violations of the perceived rights of members of university communities—it is, in fact, a complicated idea with limited application. In its origins in the United States at the turn of the last century, academic freedom pertained only to faculty—to those who produced and transmitted the knowledge necessary for the advancement of the common good. And not neces­ sarily to tenured faculty, since the practice was virtually unknown then. Academic freedom was aimed at resolving conflicts about the relationship between power and knowledge, politics and truth, action and thought by positing a sharp distinction between them, a distinc­ tion that has been difficult to maintain. Rather than offer a pat defini­ tion, I want to look at some of the tensions that bedevil the concept of academic freedom, both as a theory of faculty rights and as a practice that can defend them. THE BUSINESS OF THE UNIVERSITY The American version of the doctrine of academic freedom, codified in the 1915 “Declaration of Principles” of the American Association of University Professors (AAUP), was formulated during the Progressive era at a crucial moment in the history of higher education, one that saw the coming into prominence of the research university (AAUP, 1915). The idea of academic freedom was premised not only on a sharp distinction between religious and secular institutions, but also on the autonomy social research Voi 76 : No 2 : Summer 2009 451 of the faculty of the new research university from the very forces that supported it: state legislatures and philanthropic businessmen. If the tension between what John Dewey referred to as sectarian discipleship and intellectual discipline seemed relatively easy to resolve (by the time of the AAUP’s declaration, colleges were no longer exclusively training grounds for the ministry), the antagonism between corporate America and the American university persists to this day. As early as 1902 (in an essay called “Academic Freedom”), Dewey warned of the erosion of the educational mission by the need to curry favor with funders: “The great event in the history of an institution is now likely to be a big gift rather than a new investigation or the development of a strong and vigorous teacher” (Dewey, 1902: 62-3). Dewey was not alone in his worry about the effects of money on the production of knowledge. Thorstein Veblen’s trenchant critique of the business methods of universities, The Higher Learning inAmerica, was published in 1916, followed in 1923, by Upton Sinclair’s denun­ ciation of the close ties between corporate America and universities: The Goose-Step: A Study in American Education. The passion and polemi­ cal tone of these books attest to the intensity of the conflict as it was felt in those years. These authors were responding to pressure from financial backers such as Clarence Birdseye, a lawyer and the father of the future frozen food magnate who, in 1907, compared “college standards” unfavorably with “business principles.” He urged faculty and administrators to im itate “a good manufacturer,” and alumni to “help introduce business methods into the work of your alma mater.” Andrew Carnegie had no use for humanistic training, arguing that it was “fatal” to “the future captain of industry.”And Frederick Winslow Taylor offered models of corporate efficiency for the reorganization of university life (Donoghue, 2008: 4-5, 7-8, 1-23). Businessmen and politicians, then as now, have had little patience with the ideal of learning for its own sake and even less respect for faculty who often espouse ideas at odds with their views of the purpose and value of higher education. Today the sums may be larger and their impact 452 social research on university research operations greater, but the pressure to bring universities in line with corporate styles of accounting and manage­ m ent persists. The principle of academic freedom articulated a vision of the university that was at once immune to these powerful interests and that promised to serve them, however indirectly, by producing new knowledge for the common good. Indeed, academic freedom rested on the assumption that...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1944-768X
Print ISSN
0037-783X
Pages
pp. 451-480
Launched on MUSE
2014-04-30
Open Access
No
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