Re: [asa] Expelled Explained (firing those you don't agree with)

From: David Opderbeck <>
Date: Mon Apr 14 2008 - 17:26:46 EDT

Dick, I think your conflating a couple of different issues concerning
academic freedom.

You're quite correct that academic freedom doesn't mean a professor is free
to teach just anything. A university can and should have curricular
standards to which teachers must adhere. When I teach Torts in the first
semester of law school, I have to cover the rules of torts.

However, academic freedom does mean that I can't critique the existing rules
of torts in class as I teach them, even if the university administration
doesn't agree with my critique. Now, there's a fuzzy line here -- if my
critique is so stupid that it detracts from teaching the core concepts, I
might not be fulfilling my obligation to teach the basic curriculum.

When it comes to publishing and public speaking in fulfillment of my
professional obligations, academic freedom means I have even more latitude
to offer opinions that are contrary to the received consensus. The
administration has essentially no right at all to censor my professional
writing or speaking. That role is supposed to be played by my peers,
through professional societies, peer review, etc.

Finally, when it comes to extra-curricular writing and speaking -- work that
isn't directly related to my professional obligations -- academic freedom
means I ought to be free to think and say whatever I want, however stupid it
might be. If I choose to offer an unpopular opinion on a blog, or email
list, or in the trade press, that is my right. Of course, if I spend all my
time on that sort of thing and don't publish "ordinary" work in
peer-approved outlets, the school might dismiss me for not meeting my
professional obligations. (One bit of fuzziness here -- if I'm speaking on
my own behalf and am engaged in something particularly controversial, I
might have a duty to make clear that my school is not necessarily endorsing
my views).

On Mon, Apr 14, 2008 at 4:39 PM, Dick Fischer <>

> Academic freedom doesn't allow English teachers to teach bad English, or
> math teachers to teach bad math, so why shouldn't a science teacher be
> required to teach good science? And if such a teacher wishes to publish
> papers or conduct seminars promoting views that are contrary to acceptable
> scientific standards, he/she should accept the fact that his/her job may be
> in jeopardy because as a faculty member he/she represents his/her school.
> Dick Fischer. author, lecturer
> Historical Genesis from Adam to Abraham
> -----Original Message-----
> *From:* [] *On
> Behalf Of *David Opderbeck
> *Sent:* Monday, April 14, 2008 2:52 PM
> *To:* Dehler, Bernie
> *Cc:*
> *Subject:* Re: [asa] Expelled Explained (firing those you don't agree
> with)
> Bernie, the DI isn't a publicly funded university. I can't stress enough
> how important the principle of academic freedom is in higher education and
> how central it is to the role of the university in society. There is no
> analog to it in private enterprise, churches, think tanks, government, or
> anywhere else.
> I understand your comments about working in the corporate world and
> teaching. I was a corporate litigator most of my career. Believe me, I
> know about the law of the jungle. My path to working in higher education
> has been a curving one to say the least, and financially the opportunity
> cost has been enormous.
> I also understand "branding" in higher education. This is one of the
> perennial tensions between faculty and administration. It's one reason
> faculty need to zealously guard academic freedom.

David W. Opderbeck
Associate Professor of Law
Seton Hall University Law School
Gibbons Institute of Law, Science & Technology
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Received on Mon Apr 14 17:27:42 2008

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