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Academic Freedom

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Academic Freedom describes the right to intellectual inquiry, autonomous of elite or mass popular approval.

Populist rage about the opinions of faculty members critical of established institutions is a recurring problem in many societies, including the United States. Among the reasons for their rage is the conviction that exposure to ideas in the classroom is the same as the imposition of ideas in the classroom. For example, consider the complaint of the anonymous and perhaps fictional Ralphie the Buffalo, who may or may not be a student at the University of Colorado, Boulder: What I'm Learning in my Political Science Class. Poor unmanly little Ralphie whines that the professor's asides are not subject to an 'equal time' rule. Conservatives normally oppose those. But then when have conservatives ever felt the need to be consistent?

Here is none other than future U.S. President Ronald Wilson Reagan speaking about the importance of academic freedom, in 1957:

We have a vast system of public education in this country, a network of great state universities and colleges and none of us would have it otherwise. But there are those among us who urge expansion of this system until all education is by way of tax-supported institutions. Today we enjoy academic freedom in America as it is enjoyed nowhere else in the world. But this pattern was established by the independent secular and church colleges of our land, schools like Eureka. Down through the years these colleges and universities have maintained intellectual freedom because they were beholden to no political group, for when politics control the purse strings, they also control the policy. No one advocates the elimination of our tax-supported universities, but we should never forget that their academic freedom is assured only so long as we have the leavening influence of hundreds of privately endowed colleges and universities throughout the land.

The efforts to silence faculty are so long standing that it has earned a place in American popular culture. The value of unrestricted intellectual inquiry is defended by mild mannered English professor Tommie Turner, played by Henry Fonda, in the 1940 play by James Thurber and Elliott Nughent in their 1940 play The Male Animal, which was adapted in the 1942 film The Male Animal. Seems that the philistine trustees of Midwestern University, led by Trustee Ed Keller, have forced three teachers out of their jobs for being suspected Reds. See Red bcare. Keller also threatens Professor Turner because he plans to read jailhouse letter written by Bartolemeo Vanzetti. See also the Speeches by Sacco and Vanzetti to the Court at the Time of Sentencing (April 9, 1927 at the Dedham Court House)

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