Statement on Academic Freedom

Statement on Academic Freedom

Shortly after the College’s founding in 1866, Carleton took care to assert that the College was “under no ecclesiastical control, nor sectarian in any of its methods or influences.” This assertion and others made early and decisively by the Carleton Board of Trustees clearly indicate that among the College’s founding principles is that of academic freedom. Carleton, including its President and Board of Trustees, has long affirmed its commitment to academic freedom, as indicated by its staunch defense of members of the faculty being investigated during the McCarthy hearings of the 1950s. This tradition has continued throughout the College’s history and remains central to our aims at Carleton.

At Carleton we believe that all of us, students and faculty alike, learn best when freed from constraints upon what we read and say. Thomas Kuhn’s The Structure of Scientific Revolutions is but one sustained collection of evidence that the initially outlandish can mark and make the progress of knowledge in which all of us are invested. The chemical revolution, evolution, the notion that the earth’s continents move about on sliding plates-all these and many other advances were initially greeted with disbelief and derision. Such advances in our knowledge would have been halted swiftly and surely were it not for our conviction that academic freedom means the freedom to entertain and express ideas which others may find absurd or insulting or inappropriate.

It is doubly important today to assert firmly and frequently our adherence to the tradition of academic freedom when so many critics of the academy have claimed that this freedom has fallen victim to ideological disputes and that colleges and universities pay rhetorical tribute to academic freedom but fail to respect it. These critics are largely wrong and are most certainly wrong in the case of Carleton. The seminar and discussion characteristic of so many of our classes is itself lasting testimony to our continued conviction that the free exchange of ideas is how our learning begins and flourishes. Many collegiate traditions merit repeated testing and assessment. For no other tradition is that more true than it is of academic freedom.

Nor is Carleton alone in its vigilance in protecting academic freedom. The position of the American Association of University Professors on academic freedom is contained in its 1940 statement, which states:

Institutions of higher education are conducted for the common good and not to further the interest of either the individual teacher or the institution as a whole. The common good depends upon the free search for truth and its free exposition… Academic freedom in its teaching aspect is fundamental for the protection of the rights of the teacher in teaching and of the student to freedom in learning. It carries with it duties correlative with rights (AAUP, Policy Documents and Reports, 9th ed., 2001, 3, footnotes omitted).

Among the rights and correlative duties are the following:

… [T]eachers are entitled to freedom in the classroom in discussing their subject, but they should be careful not to introduce into their teaching controversial matter which has no relation to their subject… Teachers are citizens, members of a learned profession, and officers of an educational institution. When they speak or write as citizens, they should be free from institutional censorship or discipline, but their special position in the community imposes special obligations. As scholars and educational officers, they should remember that the public may judge their profession and their institution by their utterances. Hence they should at all times be accurate, should exercise appropriate restraint, should show respect for the opinions of others, and should make every effort to indicate that they are not speaking for the institution (AAUP, Policy Documents and Reports, 9th ed., 2001, 3-4).

The position of Carleton College regarding academic freedom originates with the Board of Trustees. On campus, the President, who is also a Trustee, has the principal responsibility for ensuring academic freedom and is assisted in this principally by the Provost. The Faculty Personnel Committee (FPC) and the Faculty Affairs Committee (FAC) serve important roles in helping to protect the rights of faculty members who may disagree with their departments, with student opinion, and with the President and Provost.

The President and the Provost consider the protection of the right of individuals to express their views freely and without risk of repercussions to be among our most important responsibilities. But this responsibility also falls on all constituencies of the College: faculty, students, staff, and trustees, and our mutual support of the right of others to speak out on issues, especially when those views may differ from our own, is perhaps the best guarantee that academic freedom will thrive at Carleton.

Last Revised: September 1, 2010

For: Faculty Staff, Students,

Last Reviewed: February 13, 2023

Maintained by: Office of the Provost