Reimagining academic freedom: a companion piece

Anne Pirrie, Kari Manum

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Abstract

We consider academic freedom in the context of broader developments in higher education. We suggest that the tenor of contemporary debates on the subject is a manifestation of pervasive forms of authoritarianism that undermine the university as a home of adventure, a place and space that is conducive to the conduct of free inquiry.

It is evident that some champions of academic freedom engage in dangerously polarized forms of spectacle, engendered by a management culture that embraces showmanship and routinely favours talking over listening. As such, they represent a force for conformity rather than dissent; division rather than collective action. These forms of spectacle jeopardize rather than promote the principles of academic freedom by polarizing the terms of the debate for maximum ‘impact’. We explore the implications of conceptualizations of academic freedom that focus on the rights of everyone in the university. We also suggest that the notion might usefully be extended to those on precarious contracts, and to students facing normative expectations about what constitutes ‘progress’ in academic practice. Drawing upon Timothy Snyder’s On Tyranny: Twenty Lessons from the Twentieth Century and an essay by Vaclav Havel, we reassess the notion of the ‘pursuit of truth’ that underlies conventional definitions of academic freedom.

We conclude with a brief vignette, a rousing endorsement of the ineffable and irreducible qualities of friendship. This entails slaying a fictitious, three-headed dragon and embracing a form of spectacle that transcends attempts to capture why it moves us. We leave the reader with warm-blooded traces of energy, curiosity, liveliness, and quiet determination.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1-15
Number of pages15
JournalJournal of Philosophy of Education
Early online date6 Mar 2024
DOIs
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 6 Mar 2024

Keywords

  • academic freedom
  • authoritarianism
  • free inquiry
  • aesthetics of academic writing
  • Timothy Snyder

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