Academic Freedom and Electronic Communications

Academic Freedom Applies Equally to Electronic Communications, Says AAUP Report

December 3, 2013 

For more information, please contact: Henry Reichman,
AAUP First Vice President
and Chair, Committee on Academic Freedom and Tenure  
 

“Academic freedom, free inquiry, and freedom of expression within the academic community may be limited to no greater extent in electronic format than they are in print, save for the most unusual situation where the very nature of the medium itself might warrant unusual restrictions,” says a report issued today by the American Association of University Professors. The newly revised report, Academic Freedom and Electronic Communications, brings up to date and expands upon the Association’s 2004 report on the same topic, while affirming the earlier report’s basic principles. The report is issued for comment and may be modified in light of comments received by a January 10 deadline.

The revised report addresses a higher education landscape that has been significantly changed in recent years by:

  • the emergence of social media as vehicles for electronic communication,
  • increased outsourcing of information technology resources,
  • cloud computing,
  • expanded security concerns, and
  • new communications devices.

The boundaries of the classroom have expanded. Now a classroom is not simply a physical space, but any location, real or virtual, in which instruction occurs. The revised report concludes that in classrooms of all types the protections of academic freedom and of the faculty’s rights to intellectual property in lectures, syllabi, exams, and similar materials are as applicable as they have been in the physical classroom.

The revised report reaffirms the 2004 report’s conclusion that “full freedom in research and in the publication of the results applies with no less force to the use of electronic media for the conduct of research and the dissemination of findings and results than it applies to the use of more traditional media.” The report includes an expanded discussion of access to research materials, including a discussion of the open-access movement and of the role of college and university libraries and librarians.

The report also discusses access to electronic communications technologies, outsourcing of noninstructional information technology resources, the implications for academic freedom of social media and their use, Freedom of Information Act requests for electronic records, and threats to academic freedom associated with defamation claims against statements made through electronic media such as blogs.  A section of the report is devoted to privacy concerns, affirming that "[p]rivacy in electronic communications is an important instrument for ensuring professional autonomy and breathing space for freedom in the classroom and for freedom of inquiry." 

In conclusion, the report declares that electronic communications are too important for the maintenance of academic freedom to be left entirely to institutional technology offices: “Faculty must participate, preferably through representative institutions of shared governance, in the formulation and implementation of policies governing electronic communications technologies.” The report offers six specific recommendations for facilitating such participation.

The mission of the American Association of University Professors (AAUP) is to advance academic freedom and shared governance, to define fundamental professional values and standards for higher education, and to ensure higher education’s contribution to the common good. Founded in 1915, the AAUP has helped to shape American higher education by developing the standards and procedures that maintain quality in education and academic freedom in this country’s colleges and universities. The AAUP is a nonprofit professional association headquartered in Washington, DC.

Media Contact: 
Henry Reichman
Publication Date: 
Wednesday, December 4, 2013