The Department of Political Science is committed to academic freedom as a foundational value of higher education and research. As Debra Satz, Dean of Humanities and Sciences, writes “academic freedom is, in the first instance, the freedom of the scholarly community to pursue, disseminate, and openly discuss their work.”
Academic freedom is a prerequisite for the duties associated with the role of a scholar. These duties include the creation, preservation, and dissemination of knowledge in the spirit of truth-seeking.
Academic freedom is intended to protect the rights of faculty. It includes both individual and collective rights. Individual faculty members have the right to pursue research and teaching within their areas of expertise without coercive external interference or pressure (e.g. from the state, donors, university trustees, corporations, interest groups, or online communities).
As researchers, faculty members have the right to use their best scholarly judgment about the research questions they pursue and what they publish. Academic freedom includes the right of faculty members to have their work assessed according to the internal standards of the discipline and not, for instance, on the basis of their personal or political views, or on the basis of the political implications of their results.
As teachers, faculty members have the right to use their best scholarly and pedagogical judgment about which topics to cover, which readings to assign or omit, and which arguments to foreground in their classes.
Academic freedom is more limited than the freedom of speech protected by the First Amendment of the United States Constitution. To adapt an example from the legal scholar Robert post: “Although the First Amendment would prohibit government sanctioning an editorialist for the New York Times is he were inclined to write that [the astrological signs of world leaders explain the incidence of inter-state wars], no [political science] department could survive if it were unable to deny tenure to a young scholar similarly convinced.” Of course, scholars have constitutional rights to express outlandish views as private citizens or in public discourse. They do not have the same protections if they propagate such views in their position as scholars.
Collectively, faculty members have the right to adjudicate the work of both colleagues and students on the basis of the internal standards of their discipline, without coercive external interference or pressure (e.g. from the state, donors, university trustees, corporations, interest groups, or online communities). This includes, but is not limited to, departmental decisions on hiring and promotion, as well as decisions within the broader discipline (e.g. by faculty acting as journal editors and reviewers or evaluators of grant applications).
As Dean Satz has stated, students also possess a set of rights as members of the Stanford academic community. They have the right to provide feedback on teaching and to disagree with their professors without fear of reprisal. They have the right to have their work judged by the internal standards of the relevant discipline and not, for instance, on the basis of their personal or political views, or on the basis of the political implications of their results.
RESOURCES ON ACADEMIC FREEDOM AT STANFORD
American Association of University Professors (AAUP), Resources on Academic Freedom.
Debra Satz, Dean’s Message on Academic Freedom and Free Speech (March 2021).