Academic freedom and campus censorship

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Academic freedom and campus censorship addresses the ability of faculty, students and staff to explore ideas and expose viewpoints without regulation by the educational institution. While the K through 12 education system has few such rights, academic freedom in higher education is an important and long-standing tradition.

Granting tenure to college faculty is the most widely used measure to protect academic freedom.

There is an inherent tension between protecting the academic freedom on campus and making merit-based hiring, compensation and promotion decisions. In addition, tensions arise between the view of a college as an isolated ivy tower instead of a dynamic institution answerable to society.

Examples of academic freedom conflicts

  • In 1967, Catholic University of America fired tenured professor Reverend Charles E. Curran for his views on birth control, but was reinstated after a five-day faculty-led strike.[1] In 1986, the Vatican declared that Curran could no longer teach theology at Catholic University because "clashes with church authorities finally culminated in a decision by the Sacred Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, headed by then-Cardinal (and future Pope) Josef Ratzinger, that Curran was neither suitable nor eligible to be a professor of Catholic theology."[2] The areas of dispute included publishing articles that debated theological and ethical views regarding divorce, artificial contraception, masturbation, pre-marital intercourse, and homosexual acts.[3] As noted in the American Association of University Professors report, "Had it not been for the intervention of the Sacred Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Professor Curran would undoubtedly still be active in the university's Department of Theology, a popular teacher, honored theologian, and respected colleague."[3] Curran's attorneys argued that CUA did not follow proper procedures or its own policy statements in handling the case. In response, the school claimed that the Vatican's actions against Curran trumped any campus-based policy or tenure rules. In 1989, he filed suit against Catholic University, and the court determined that the university had the right to fire him for teaching views in contradiction to the school's religion.[4]
  • In May 2017, a white biology professor was asked to stay away from the campus of Evergreen State College as a demonstration of the role that minorities play on the campus. He refused and took his objections to the media, resulting in death threats and demands that he be fired. The University President refused to fire him.
  • In May 2017, a Stanford University Law professor organized a conference entitled, "The Way Forward: Title IX Advocacy in the Trump Era" and wanted to use screen-captures from the "Access Hollywood" video on the website and poster promoting the event. The law school administration prohibited this as too partisan, but Stanford's General Counsel authorized it.[5]
  • In June 2017, Harvard University rescinded the admission of ten incoming freshmen students because they posted offensive content in a Facebook group.[6][7]


  1. "An Urge to Retire", Time Magazine, July 21, 1967. Retrieved on November 8, 2014. 
  2. Loyal Dissent Memoir of a Catholic Theologian. Georgetown University Press. Retrieved on July 1, 2017.
  3. 3.0 3.1 Academic Freedom and Tenure. American Association of University Professors. Retrieved on July 1, 2017.
  4. Hyer, Marjorie. "Curran Loses Suit Against Catholic U.; Theology Professor's Dismissal Upheld", The Washington Post, March 1, 1989. Retrieved on July 1, 2017. 
  5. Knowles, Hannah. "Title IX conference to use Trump photo after Law School’s refusal", April 19, 2017. Retrieved on July 1, 2017. 
  6. "Harvard Rescinds Admission – Was it Right? Lessons Learned?", June 30, 2017. Retrieved on July 3, 2017. 
  7. "Harvard Rescinds Acceptances for At Least Ten Students for Obscene Memes", Harvard Crimson, June 5, 2017.