Understanding Academic Freedom

Introduction

Academic freedom entails two substantive and two supportive elements. In this regard, the substantive elements include freedom to teach and undertaking of a research. On the other hand, the supportive elements include governance, and tenure. Notably, academic freedom purposes to create the impression that university members have the freedom to enquire, which is essential in a bid to achieving a particular faculty’s mission as well as the academic principles. Nonetheless, professors have a freedom of imparting and delivering research facts and information without any form intimidation, fear, or imprisonment. This is however, not limited to ideas or views that attach political groups and authorities (Winetrout 1952, p. 5). The following are the aspects that are commonly associated with academic freedom: teaching, research, tenure, and governance.

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Academic freedom for teaching

To start with, the selection of course contents and teaching can be viewed as the ability of exercising academic freedom. Through academic freedom, individual academic staff are able to determine the subject curriculum, and the manner in which it is taught. As such, they are obligated to ensure that the content of the subject and the teaching method are appropriate for, and also relevant to a given subject and level (i.e. undergraduate, masters and PhD.) Secondly,

Glicksman (1986) makes it clear that individual academic staff can accurately and impartially purpose to reflect of the current thinking, research, as well as balanced opinion regarding subject disciples, which are taught in an appropriate mode to their related discipline. Thirdly, through academic freedom, individual academic staff is not able to introduce any element of either positive or negative bias, forms of distortion, deliberate omission, or any form of misinterpretation that falls within the content, delivery mode, derogatory, irrelevance, written statements, or stigmatizations, with regards to age, economic status, physical/mental disability, sexual orientation, race, religion, amongst other factors.

A study by Tanash (1994) found out that most of the teaching staff in universities should ensure that through academic freedom, they are appointed via an open, transparent and also a well-documented process, solely based on their teaching, as well as research excellence, and expertise and the process should not be subjected to any form of discrimination. Moreover, the teaching staff are required by the state legislation, to secure employment from the under-represented groups in the teaching positions in the university. However, this needs to be strictly undertaken whilst adhering to the relevant legislation. Notably, such kind of temporary measures need to be discontinued whenever there is the achievement of objectives of opportunity, and treatment equality.

Based on the findings by Keith (1997), he noted that in exercising academic freedom, the achievement of students are assessed and graded individually and collectively, and as such, academic staff has to ensure that the method of assessment, and that used in calculating the grades are most appropriate for a given subject, and level (either undergraduate, master, or doctoral), in which the course has bene set, and thus, comparable with others used for same qualifications in other institutions. Notably, through academic freedom, students are made aware of their grades when they commence their course. On the same note, the assessment marks, as well as grades, which are awarded often relate to the student’s academic ability, and this is demonstrated through their performance of the task assessments without reference to any form of criteria. In order to avoid any form of implicit or explicit bias, in the grading, as well as assessment, the institution should be obligated to anonymise the processes of the grading and assessment. Furthermore, with the adherence to academic freedom students are provides with timely and precise feedback, based on their performance in the assessment, and this enables them to have a full understanding of the rationale for their awarded grade (Gerber, 2001). In addition, academic freedom allows a national/institutional quality assurance system, whereby, the external examiners that are qualified in a given subject are allowed to evaluate the grading, and even the assessment systems, in order to ensure that they are in accordance with the subject norms (Nelson, 2011).

Further, Keith (1997), notes that academic freedom is just like a freedom of speech that it given, in an instance of expert utterance in a University whilst pursuing teaching, as well as research excellence. In this regard, the faculty staff should engage in extra-mural utterances that are not even protected by academic freedom. However, they should enjoy other forms of constitutional, as well as legal freedoms. A research was carried out by Al- Zaidy (2000) made it clear that in making utterance, the faculty staff should purpose to make it explicit, to an extent that they are neither acting nor speaking for their institutions. Furthermore, the utterances made in the University or those made outside the university (outside the formal university setting) should be protected by the generic rights, which govern a free speech, and not only by academic freedom (Batchelor, 1999).

Academic freedom for research

The affiliates of the academic fraternity should have the freedom to select research subjects as well as the publications. Academic freedom further allows the members of the university guild to shape their work without interference. Academic freedom is granted to the academic staff, in order to determine the subject areas, where they can focus their research efforts, as well as the research methods that they need to adopt. In exercising this freedom that have to ensure that their research does not contradict the international, as well as national laws, ethical principles and practices, regulations, as well as working conditions. According to Teichler et al. (2013) they note that through academic freedom the individuals employed for research are appointed through open, transparent and well-documented selection process, based on their research excellence, experience, as well as expertise. Moreover, the national, as well as institutional systems should have a quality assurance system, which ensures that all the research applications are thoroughly scrutinized, and complaints are investigated, and expressed, prior to ethical approval, in order for the appropriate actions to be undertaken if need be.

According to Watson (2011), depending on the partners who conduct the research, or the purpose for conducting the research, no university member should be required to participate in any artistic/academic work that conflicts the individual’s conscience Moreover, Barrow (2009) argues that the methods, and even the avenues that they use in disseminating, making accessible, exploiting, and also commercialising their research findings should be looked into deeply. Through exercising the academic freedom, the academic staff should be obligated to ensure that their research outputs accurately report the reports of the research, and should not be subject to plagiarism, misleading manipulation, or forgery. Secondly, the research outputs should fully acknowledge the direct and indirect contributions of all the parties involved in the research. Finally, the outputs should not compromise the research participants’ anonymity, confidentiality, or infringe the rights agreements of the intellectual property. Zhan et al. (2005) makes it clear that the variations in the national, as well as institutional pronouncements, based on academic freedom pays verbal tribute. However, they just constitute the bare bones of the academic freedom.

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TENURE

Tenure in academic literature is defined as an indefinite academic appointment which can be terminated only for a specific cause or under certain extraordinary circumstances. These circumstances can be financial exigency or discontinuation of a program (Neave, 2002). Tenure is a principle of Academic freedom which is considered to be beneficial for the society in the long run in the case when the scholars have right to hold and examine various reviews. The concept of tenure in higher education in the US originated from AAUP’s 1940 principle statement on Academic freedom and tenure. Since 1915, the American Association of University Professor developed a standard to guide the higher education in service of the common good (Sadler, 2011). Tenure jointly endorsed and formulated by AAUP and AAC&U with the endorsement of more than 250 scholars and higher education organizations. Now, it is widely adopted faculty handbook and a collective bargaining agreement among high education institutions all over the US. This statement suggests the common good significantly depends on the free search for the truth and free exposition of it. This statement also indicates that the report is essential in teaching and research field (Sadler, 2011pp.85).

According to the provisiosn of Sadler (2011), academic freedom ensures that any university system should have terms and conditions, based on every appointment supplied in form of writing to all the staff members, based on appointment. In this regard any limitation of the academic freedom that results from the distinct nature of the university institution needs to be stated clearly (Wright, 2006). Secondly, there should be a statutory probationary employment period, in which every staff should be protected by the academic freedom, and it should have a finite length of time, excluding the individuals who cannot meet the professional standards of the requisite, in respecting their teaching, as well as research responsibilities. Thirdly, according to Sall, (2000), before the beginning of the probationary period, the tenure procedures should be stated clearly in writing, and this includes the required full explanation. For instance, the minimum requirements of lecture provisions, and even tutorials and the production of published output research.

Fourthly, academic freedom ensures that there is a rigorous system of peer review that aids in assessing whether the academic staff should be granted tenure, when their probation period ends (Cole, 2005). Fifthly, Sall, (2000) makes it evident that there should be a rigorous system that assesses whether tenure should be terminated, owing to the institutional financial exigency, which is part of the institutional committee, and where the tenure post is eliminated and all the positive alternatives are not filled within the agreed time period, without offering it to the initial post holder (Joyce, 2002). Sixthly, the academic freedom ensures that there is a rigorous system that assesses whether tenure should be revoked, and as such, employment is also terminated, owing to a just cause, and the seventh point is that academic freedom has the appeals system under which, unsuccessful candidates are allowed to appeal on various cases (Gerstmann, and Streb, 2006).

Shared governance

Shared governance is one of the institutional foundations for academic freedom. University governance has attracted a high criticism in the undertakings of the students in learning activities (Salter, 2002). This is because most researches have not dwelled in student participation when it comes to academic and shared governance. There is further observation that the representation of students is minimally highlighted in shared governance related debate. With reference to the OECD (2004), the report has recommended shared governance when it comes to the participation of students. This report has also provided a rationale that creates a broader inclusion strategy of the university’s lay members. Additionally, since there is no major debate, the representation of university students in shared governance needs to have a bigger consideration that is critical in terms of practice and values. Shattock (2001), has outlined a number of characteristics in university shared governance under the preserve of the high ranking academics.

Nonetheless, Shattock (2001) notes that in order to guarantee academic freedom, the academic staff should be obligated to have a right to voice their opinions, regarding the policies, as well as priorities within the educational institution, without imposing threat, or any form of punitive action. Moreover, Legon (2014) also notes that they should fulfil their collegial obligations manner that is professional. Notably, having a determinant voice, and also a prominent role in an institution’s decision-making processes is vital and how it is achieved often differs with the national, as well as institutional variations in terms of decision-making structures of an institution. In addition, in order to be able to appoint, from a large number, an individual into a position of managerial authority, and also to hold them to a periodic account by the instituted democratic processes, the academic staff should be in a position to use the guideline of the state legislations, and those of the institution, in order to secure such entries into managerial positions. Moreover, they should ensure that the administrative burden does not repeat on a particular individual (s) or department (s) by purposing to limit the consecutive terms that an individual can spend in a given post.

A study by Minor (2005) asserts that academic staff should be in a position to determine the individual to serve as a rector. In this regard, the rector needs to be appointed within the University, by use of a democratic process, with the support of most of the academic staff. According to Bahls (2014), there ought to be a limit in the number of conservation terms, in which an individual can serve. In which case, if the appointment is external because of the death of an internal candidate, or even a national or state legislation, then the academic staff should purpose to have a major role in the appointment determination. Furthermore, Gasman and Hilton (2010), also assert that the form of this kind of role would vary between the countries and institutions. However, they would all purpose to determine the shortlist of the candidates who vote, in choosing a specific candidate externally. Based on other governance procedures, it is evident that the primary aim of this is to encourage the idea of active participation while preventing capriciousness, as well as professional obstinacy.

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