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Academic Freedom

Key Takeaways

  1. Academic freedom provides protections to students, teachers, researchers, and institutions. 
  2. Academic freedom enables a democratic society by equipping educators, students, and the general public with access to a free exchange of ideas and information. 
  3. Academic freedom does not protect all speech in academia; it prohibits speech that harasses, threatens, intimidates, or infringes upon the rights of an individual.

What Is Academic Freedom

Academic freedom enables the rights of researchers, students and educators to freely pursue knowledge, conduct research, teach, and publically express their ideas without fear of censorship, retribution, or undue interference. It is an essential pillar of democratic societies that  protects higher education institutions and academic actors from government interference. Academic freedom rests upon the belief that the free exchange of ideas in an academic setting bolsters the educational experience and strengthens a democratic society. Core principles include freedom of research, teaching, public expression, and institutional autonomy.

Limits on Academic Freedom

Academic freedom is not without limits and constraints that preserve intellectual integrity and educational neutrality. These limits serve to enforce key values of objectivity, neutrality, and inclusion in academia. Core components include protection from retaliation, harassment, threatening, or intimidation on the basis of beliefs or views. It also preserves an open inquiry environment where different perspectives can be explored and debated by individuals without censorship from academic institutions based on institutional political, religious, or philosophical beliefs. These limits allow students to develop critical thinking skills through exposure to a broad range of topics and viewpoints.

Academic Freedom and Democracy

Academic freedom’s central principles of inclusion, reason, respect, and neutrality support healthy democratic societies. It exposes students to diverse dialogue, informed deliberation, and deeper analysis, fostering their growth as both scholars and active participants as citizens and voters. Equitable and open education empowers professors to teach publicly relevant information necessary to achieve an informed general public without fear of consequences. Overall, at its core academic freedom encourages independent thinking and deliberative discourse, which empowers individuals to become more aware and active participants in a democratic society.


  1. Bergan, Sjur, Tony Gallagher, and Ira Harkavy, eds. Academic Freedom, Institutional Autonomy and the Future of Democracy. Google Books. 24. Council of Europe Publishing, 2020.
  2. Bryden, John, and Klaus Mittenzwei. “Academic Freedom, Democracy and the Public Policy Process.” Sociologia Ruralis 53, no. 3 (2013): 311–30.
  3. Nelson, Cary. “Defining Academic Freedom.” Inside Higher Ed, December 21, 2010.
  4. OAH Committee on Academic Freedom. “Academic Freedom Guidelines and Best Practices.” Organization of American Historians.
  5. Owusu-Ansah, Collins. “Academic Freedom: Its Relevance and Challenges for Public Universities …” Journal of Education and Practice, 2015.
  6. Thomas, Nancy L “The Politics of Academic Freedom.” Chapter. In Educating for Deliberative Democracy, 83–90. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 2010.