Friday, July 23, 2010

Research Briefs 7-23-10: Psychology and academic freedom

Gottfredson, L. S. (2010). Lessons in academic freedom as lived experience. Personality and Individual Differences, 49(4), 272-280.

What is academic freedom, what guarantees it, and what would you do if your university violated yours? Few of us academics entertain these questions or ponder possible answers. This leaves us individually and collectively vulnerable to encroachments on our right to free and open inquiry. I use a case study from 1989–1994 to illustrate how violations of academic freedom develop, the typical pretexts used to justify them, and what is required to halt and reverse them. My aim is to help scholars recognize when academic freedom is at risk and how better to safeguard it in daily academic life. To this end, I describe the general social mechanisms that operate both inside and outside academe to selectively burden and suppress unpopular research. The case study provides concrete examples to illustrate six specific lessons. Like free speech in general, academic freedom (1) has maintenance costs, (2) is not self-enforcing, (3) is invoked today to stifle unwelcome speech, (4) is often violated by academic institutions, (5) is not often defended by academics themselves, and (6) yet, requires no heroic efforts for collective enjoyment if scholars consistently contribute small acts of support to prevent incursions.

Article Outline

1. Introduction
2. Preview of the six lessons and five sets of violations
3. Lesson 1. Academic freedom, like constitutionally-protected free speech, has maintenance costs
4. Lesson 2. Academic freedom is not self-enforcing
5. Lesson 3. Opposite to its intent, academic freedom is often invoked to restrict inquiry to “safe” ideas
6. Lesson 4. Academic freedom is often violated by academic institutions
7. Lesson 5. Academic freedom is often not defended by academic professionals themselves
8. Lesson 6. It does not take heroic efforts, just consistent ones, to sustain academic freedom

Hunt, E. (2010). The rights and responsibilities implied by academic freedom. Personality and Individual
Differences, 49(4)
, 264-271.

Academics enjoy freedom from retaliation for their statements that goes beyond the freedom accorded to other members of society. Academics are also often called upon to act as advisors, either to society as a whole or to public and private sector clients. This sets up a tension between freedom to speak and an obligation to speak responsibly. The problem can be acute in the field of individual differences, for findings related to individual differences touch upon the relations among different racial/ethnic groups, between genders, and have implications for educational and personnel policies. Examples are given of situations in which, in the author’s opinion, academics have abused their roles as expert advisors by speaking irresponsibly. At issue is not whether or not the person speaking reached a correct conclusion, but whether or not the evidence and reasoning about the evidence met reasonable standards for careful inquiry and analysis. Formal actions by governments or by university administration are seldom the answer. Standards enforced by professional societies are less problematical, but are far from complete solutions. The best way to handle the problem is to encourage open discussion of the issues involved, both between established academics and between faculty and students.

Article Outline

1. Introduction
2. The case of research on intelligence
3. Free speech protections and restrictions
4. The source of restrictions on free speech
5. The protection afforded by academic freedom
6. Illustrations
7. What to do about it

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