Suppose we thought of free inquiry as a social matter, a public good. We might ask not only whether individual scholars are free from illegitimate, especially external, censorship or attempts to control their work. We might ask also how much the university as an institution contributes to overall freedom of inquiry. To answer the second question would require assessing (among other things) how well universities educate students to be participants in free inquiry, how well researchers communicate their work to raise the quality of public discourse, and whether the results of scientific inquiry are made freely available to advance further inquiry or controlled as private property. It would require asking whether the specific structures and practices through which we organize academic work - from disciplinary departments to evaluation procedures to publication systems - do more to facilitate or obstruct free inquiry. This article will fall short of answering all these questions, but I hope it will put them on the agenda. I present them in the context of two successive transformations - the late 19th century reorganization of universities by disciplines devoted to the production of new knowledge and the dramatic 20th increase in scale and cost which challenged the internal integration of universities. These shifted the constraints and conditions under which students and faculty could take up the project of free inquiry. Appreciating the impact of these transformations is also basic to projects of renewing the university and free inquiry today.


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