Arkansas Law Review
The role of academic freedom in American collegiate education preserves the foundation of a democratic society. The utility of education continues to be criticized. One view considers education as an opportunity to challenge the entrenched dogmas of traditional knowledge and social beliefs. Another dominant criticism considers education as the source of conformity. An educational system serves the contemporary values of its time. Some teachers challenge the prevailing ideas that often leads to their termination. During the Civil War, the birth of land grant public universities enlarged the role of the college professor from an academic instructor to a researcher encouraged to follow academic pursuits on the fringes of social, political, and scientific ideas. However, an oppressive element of conformity remained, often at the professor’s expense. The Association of American University Professors was formed to advocate for the collegiate professor’s freedom to teach and study. The Scopes Trial planted the nascent seed that education should be taught by its standards rather than through legislated standards, while world events brought many new ideas and faculty to American universities challenging contemporary ideas.
Initially, the courts were reluctant to recognize a privilege greater than others to challenge the public consensus of prevailing morality. The United States Supreme Court recognized the freedom to teach and study slowly through a widening First Amendment and the due process clause’s protection of the parent’s and student’s property right. The Supreme Court understood education as a foundational tool in preserving democracy. The parameters of academic freedom are still being formed and courts have held conflicting views of academic freedom. Some controversies are the differences in political and public beliefs. Robert Post argues that academic freedom should garner more First Amendment speech protection from government interference, as long as the academic pursuit remains within the professor’s specific expertise.
Stephen M. Sheppard, Academic Freedom: A Prologue, 65 Ark. L. Rev. 177 (2012)