The Personal Ethics of Academic Freedom: Problems of Knowledge and Democratic Competence

By Patrick Colm Hogan


The following essay takes up Robert Post’s influential account of academic freedom in order to consider the role of personal ethics in practices surrounding academic freedom. Personal ethics refers to the principles that guide our decisions independent of self-interest and independent of attention to legal constraint, including legal constraint regarding professional ethics. The essay begins by outlining and proposing some revisions of Post’s account. It then considers three topics that are connected with academic freedom: the responsibilities of academics in extramural speech; in professional evaluation of research; and, finally, in tenure decisions. Drawing on the modified version of Post’s account, as well as relevant empirical research, the essay argues that difficulties arise in each of these areas with respect to the nature and purposes of academic freedom. It goes on to contend that we may formulate concrete, personal ethical guidelines that would help academics resolve these difficulties.

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