The Disemboweled University: Online Knowledge and Academic Freedom

By Philo Hutcheson

Over the past several decades a number of scholars have examined academic freedom. By and large, and understandably, many of those examinations have been situated in social or political frameworks. Notable examples include Paul Lazarsfeld and Wagner Thielens, The Academic Mind, Ellen Schrecker’s No Ivory Tower, and two early examples, Jane Sanders, Cold War on the Campus, and George Stewart’s compelling first-person account, The Year of the Oath. Many of these works examine events at a single institution (as did Sanders), such as Lionel Lewis’s account of the Lattimore case at the Johns Hopkins University and Charles McCormick’s This Nest of Vipers. Other examinations offer a more sweeping discussion, as is the case with Sheila Slaughter’s essay, “Academic Freedom at the End of the Century: Professional Labor, Gender, and Professionalism.” These works are invaluable for understanding the complexities of academic freedom in practice, as individuals—particularly, of course, professors—struggle to assert the importance of freedom of inquiry and freedom of teaching while institutions— particularly, of course, administrators and trustees—see themselves as guardians of institutional reputation and public trust. As Laurence Veysey adroitly pointed out about the late 1800s and early 1900s, deeply reflected in events over a century later, “Nothing angered a university president so deeply as the appearance of publicity unfavorable to the reputation of his institution.”Nor are these events so easily circumscribed; even in the cautious response to McCarthyism in the 1956 AAUP report, “Academic Freedom and Tenure in the Quest for National Security,” the special committee noted what appeared to be a violation of academic freedom by faculty members at one institution.

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