Office of the Vice President for Global Communications

Friday, November 2, 2012

Faculty needs unlimited freedom to conduct research, scholar says

Universities must give faculty unlimited freedom to conduct and publish research, which "is the breath in the nostrils of all scientific activity," the dean of the Yale Law School said Thursday.

Citing the 1940 Statement of Principles on Academic Freedom and Tenure, constitutional law and First Amendment expert Robert Post said academic freedom allows scholars to fulfill the university's mission of creating new knowledge.

  Law School Dean Evan Caminker (left) talks with Yale Law School Dean Robert Post after Post delivered the Davis, Markert, Nickerson Lecture on Academic and Intellectual Freedom. (Photo by Jared Wadley)

Post, the Sol & Lillian Goldman Professor of Law, gave the University Senate's 22nd annual Davis, Markert, Nickerson Lecture on Academic and Intellectual Freedom in the Honigman Auditorium at the Law School.

The lecture is named for three U-M faculty members — Chandler Davis, Clement Markert and Mark Nickerson — who in 1954 were called to testify before a House Un-American Activities Committee. All invoked constitutional rights and refused to answer questions about their political associations.

All three were suspended from the university. Markert subsequently was reinstated, and Davis and Nickerson were dismissed.

During his lecture, "The Constitutional Meaning of Academic Freedom," Post discussed freedom of research and publication.

Academic freedom, he noted, depends on two factors: knowledge can't be advanced without free inquiry and teachers must be competent, which is defined by scholarly or disciplinary standards.

In addition, he said academic freedom insulates scholars from the political pressure of public opinion so they can pursue disciplinary practices by which expert knowledge is created and certified.

Post also talked about the "marketplace of ideas," which celebrates an individual's freedom to speak about the world. The concept, he said, is based on the principle that people cannot be regulated based upon the content of their ideas.

"We have interpreted the First Amendment to mean that every person has an equal right to speak as he or she thinks right," Post said. "The state is therefore constitutionally prohibited from disciplining our communication on the basis of an official view about what is proper or correct."

Academic freedom triggers First Amendment coverage not because of the value of democratic legitimation, but because of the value of democratic competence, he stated.

"First Amendment coverage should be extended whenever the freedom of the scholarly profession to engage in research and publication is potentially compromised," he said.

The 2012 Davis, Markert, Nickerson Lecture on Academic and Intellectual Freedom is sponsored by the Academic Freedom Lecture Fund, American Association of University Professors University of Michigan-Ann Arbor Chapter and Michigan Conference; and at U-M: the Office of the President, Office of the Provost, Office of the Vice President for Global Communications, Law School, the Senate Advisory Committee on University Affairs and an anonymous donor.