On Free Speech and Academic Freedom

By Joan W. Scott


In reply to the current right-wing assault on the academy in the name of free speech, this essay insists on the difference between academic freedom—a protection of faculty rights based on disciplinary competence—and freedom of speech—the right to express one’s ideas, however true or false they may be. Academic freedom defends the pursuit of knowledge, wherever it leads. The pursuit of knowledge is not an elitist activity but a practice vital for the exercise of democracy and the promotion of the common good. Those values—knowledge, democracy, and the common good—must be reasserted in defense of the university and against the anti-intellectualism of the Trump administration.

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