Stanley Fish on Academic Freedom July 23, 2006

In this New York Times piece, Fish tries to nuance the debate over academic freedom, specifically over whether a professor should be allowed to espouse political positions in the classroom.  Using a Wisconsin professor who spoke in his class of 9/11 as an inside government job, he draws a productive distinction between a professor being an advocate for "extremist" or minority views, and taking these views (which often have wide cultural currency) as objects of analysis.  He declares that the former approach is not within the bounds of protected academic freedom, whereas the latter is.  Read the NYT article. 

–Suzanne Verderber 

4 thoughts on “Stanley Fish on Academic Freedom July 23, 2006

  1. suzanne

    I have two responses for the moment:

    1. If we take Academic Freedom out of the collective bargaining process, it seems to be likely that the faculty won’t have much say in it at all. They certainly won’t have a legally-binding say. Right now the faculty has a legally-binding say in what that policy says (it certainly does not always work in our favor, but we have a say). The more involved faculty are in the Union, the less divided and more informed we are, the more strength will have to make changes during the next go-around. I wish we could reach a point where would could have in-depth discussions (without accusations, suspicion, and assuming the worst about our colleagues) of all these crucial issues and be strong and well prepared for the future.

    2. Rick, you say that we completely drop article 3.5. That is not true. As I tried to explain at the meeting you weren’t able to attend, the new article 3.1 states that “Professional freedom, creativity, and constructive dissent are essential to the functioning of the Institute…” The core of 3.5 has been moved to 3.1. The term “constructive dissent” is NOT in the AAUP statement, and we fought to keep it in. It’s just in a different place. We also questioned the “without reprisal” omission, but as I remember it, the logic of being able to leave it out was that if a freedom is guaranteed, “without reprisal” is implied in the fact that that the freedom is guaranteed (“Reprisal” would be the outcome of the freedom being abridged). I still was not totally happy with that, but I grasped the logic and now am sharing that reasoning with you. I think that both 3.1 and 3.5 are strong global statements on academic freedom. covering all activities in the Institute, and that is the main reason I came to accept the new language.

    Nowhere in any of your posts do you acknowledge that the right to “constructive dissent” is still in the new contract.

    3. The Union did not propose the new Academic freedom article as an item of negotiation; the administration did. I am still surprised that you ever thought it was the other way around.


    Suzanne Verderber

  2. rick

    Old post 04/30/08 at 03:15 PM Reply #5

    As I asserted in my post on this subject last week, I see the principle and policy of Academic Freedom to be unique among academic declarations. A statement about academic freedom is nothing short of a declaration of academic rights based on fundamental principles.

    Since a declaration of academic freedom has nothing to do with academic performance, it should not be a part of the academic advancement policy or process. Accordingly, it is not a part of Pratt’s academic actions policy or process.

    Likewise, since a declaration of academic freedom has nothing to do with terms and conditions of employment, it should not be a part of the collective bargaining process, including any MOU or CBA. However, here at Pratt, that is precisely where our declaration of Academic Freedom currently resides.

    A declaration of academic freedom should not be a negotiable component of the collective bargaining agreement. Academic freedom is a matter of academic policy, and is a statement of rights and principles that must be the result of an academic process, and must therefor be completely separate from both academic advancement policy and employment policy.

    Because a declaration of academic freedom establishes core institutional principles, it should be an independent document like our institutional mission statement. No one (I hope) would suggest that our mission statement should be a part of our collective bargaining process, or part of our academic advancement policies. For the very same reasons, neither should our declaration of academic freedom.

    Furthermore, separating our declaration of academic freedom from the MOU and CBA has an immediate advantage. Some are asserting that opposition to the proposed Academic Freedom policy will mean an inability to move forward with the proposed MOU — and may create the unpleasant prospect of beginning negotiations again. I don’t know whether this is likely, or is a procedural tactic. But if the Academic Freedom policy were removed from the MOU, this would be irrelevant, and this issue would no longer be a distraction from making progress on the faculty’s terms and conditions of employment.

    Instead, the matter of Pratt’s Academic Freedom policy would be a matter for academic review by the faculty and the academic administration, as it should be.


    Rick Barry
    Professor of Digital Arts
    Pratt Institute

  3. rick

    Registered: 09/05/03
    Posts: 36

    Old post 04/28/08 at 08:34 PM Reply #4
    On Apr 27, 2008, at 9:05 AM, Ric Brown wrote:

    (I am resending since my first one encountered an error.)

    It is nice that some members of the Senate leadership have the time to prepare websites such as this one (, but the comparison should be not just between the old and new contract language, but also should include the language of the AAUP document. Also the comparison does not note where there are changes to the wording and where the changes are simply that the numbering of the sections have changed.

    The AAUP statement is here.

    I would suggest that it be read in its entirety and its language compared to the contract language.

    That is precisely what I did in my posted email remarks. Anyone who wishes to may compare these sources for themselves and determine whether any of the comparisons I made in that email were inaccurate.

    It might also be noted that the Union did not “put forth” changes, as one writer here stated, but the administration demanded them. So perhaps it should be asked _why the administration_ desired changes and elaborations to the policy language.

    Sorry Ric, but that assertion cannot be permitted to stand unchallenged. Regardless of its source of origin, Union President Kye Carbone did indeed put this proposal forth for consideration by the faculty. The administration has “demanded” (as you put it) many things over many years. But the union traditionally puts forth to the faculty only those things it wishes the faculty to support. So this is not a question of what the administration is demanding. It is a matter of what the union is asking the faculty to support. Do you now assert that the union is not asking the faculty to support this proposal?

    Of course, the place to discuss these things is at the Union meeting, and not on a listserv owned by the Senate, an advisory body of the administration itself, and one whose democratic rhetoric has itself been called into question by the faculty it claims to “represent”.

    B. Ricardo Brown

    It’s regrettable that communications of interest to all the faculty have to be directed to separate channels (Forum and Union). I have no problem posting my email on the Union site, and I’ve done that today.

    It’s also regrettable that partisan rhetoric like your closing paragraph appears to be characteristic of some recent responses. In my view, anti-Senate or anti-Union rhetoric betrays an inherent bias, and thereby marginalizes the integrity of what’s being written or said.


    Rick Barry
    Professor of Digital Arts
    Pratt Institute

  4. rick

    The following is a copy if the message I posted to the academic forum last week:

    From: Rick Barry <>
    Date: Thu, Apr 24, 2008 at 12:45 AM
    Subject: [forum] Pratt’s Academic Freedom Policy



    It’s come to my attention that the union has put forth proposed changes to Pratt’s existing policy on academic freedom. I haven’t been subscribed to this listserv for a while, so I don’t know if the subject has been discussed here yet.

    On Tuesday, I saw a copy of the proposed changes together with the existing policy. The changes are both significant and profound, in my view. Today, I saw a copy of an email sent out by union president Kye Carbone, referring to this matter:


    Dear Citizens, Officers [of an educational institution] and UFCT member:

    I have gotten a few responses regarding the MOU.

    The issue [as of now] that appears to be of most concern is: Academic Freedom. True, the article was re-written; yet alas, I assure you, the Pratt faculty member has the full protection of this essential freedom.

    In the next few days, I’ll be sending out a post to UFCT members [w/email] that will give some background on each of the MOU items, as context is everything. For now though, please do some “research” of your own and read [if you are unfamiliar with…] the: AAUP: 1940 Statement of Principles on Academic Freedom and Tenure, still, the ‘constitution’ on such matters:




    I respectfully disagree with Kye’s assertion that the proposed policy grants the Pratt faculty “the full protection of this essential freedom.”

    I have read the AAUP’s 1940 Statement of Principles on Academic Freedom and Tenure, and I believe Pratt’s existing policy is fully in keeping with the spirit and objectives of the AAUP Principles. Where Pratt’s policy differs with the AAUP Statement is in the absence of the restrictions upon academic freedom included in the AAUP’s 1940 Statement. These restrictions include references to “controversial matter which has no relation to their subject,” to the imposition of “special obligations,” to a series of requirements that “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.”

    In my view, Pratt’s existing policy is entirely appropriate to the history, mission, and character of Pratt Institute, which is first and foremost an institution of art, design, and architecture. In other words, it is a distinctly art-based institution; it is not a university. Furthermore, it is not any art-based institution. It is one of the oldest, most distinct, and most respected art-based institutions in the world, and has been so for over 120 years. Rather than attempt to conform to generic practices and generic policies intended for generic universities, Pratt should be careful to avoid academic correctness for its own sake, and should embrace change when it is constructive and respectful of its distinct institutional character.

    In my Digital Arts Graduate Seminar class on this very day, we discussed “controversial matters” which, technically speaking, “have no direct relation to the subject” of the digital arts. This is, of course, quite common in an art school. Controversial matters are among the most common means of challenging students both creatively and critically. These matters may or may not have a direct relation to the subject of the course in question, depending on one’s interpretation. This begs the question: whose interpretation will determine what may or may not “have a direct relation to the subject”?

    Likewise, who among us will assert that they will “all times be accurate”? Will this standard apply to our administrative colleagues, as well? And if they or we fail to be accurate at all times, what will be the penalty? And who will determine what is, and is not “accurate”? Who will determine what constitutes the exercise of “appropriate restraint”? Who will determine what constitutes a show of “respect for the opinions of others”? And when exactly, should faculty “indicate that they are not speaking for the institution”? When they are participating a public forum of any kind? Of a certain kind? Should they watch what they say when they are participating in a show? What if they are interviewed about their art, or their publications, or their research? Would this apply only to off-campus speech, or to on-campus speech as well? How about emails? Public email? Private email? Should I be stating that I am not speaking for the institution in _this_ email? Perhaps all of these restrictions and more should be clearly enumerated in our policy on “academic freedom”? Of course not.

    If we believe that certain actions, behavior, and practices on the part of faculty should be restricted, a more appropriate method might be a separate code of conduct. But this is not what a policy on academic freedom should be about. Academic freedom should be absolute, in my view. It is about unfettered freedom of expression; it is not about one’s professional duties. That is a separate matter. Pratt’s procedures for peer review and academic actions adequately address the matter of faculty performance. In the rare event that a faculty member might exercise their academic freedom in a manner that fails to properly teach the subject matter, then the existing procedures for peer review and academic actions are perfectly suited to address this. Such matters have no place in a policy on Academic freedom at Pratt Institute.

    Furthermore, the proposed policy is not simply a repetition of the AAUP’s 1940 Statement of Principles on Academic Freedom and Tenure
    .htm>. Where the proposal does incorporate that Statement, it incorporates the most restrictive language, and it adds yet more restrictive language. For example, the AAUP Statement notes that faculty “should make every effort to indicate that they are not speaking for the institution,” which to my mind, is quite restrictive and intrusive. But the proposed Pratt clause goes much further, noting that faculty should show respect for “the established policies of their institution, and when properly identifying themselves to outside audiences as associated with the Institute should clearly indicate that they are not institutional spokespeople unless specifically commissioned to serve in such capacity.”

    This is quite an extraordinary statement, and in my view, it has no place in a policy on academic freedom for the reasons I’ve previously offered. In fact it is so restrictive that it would appear to be in response to one or more specific situations, and perhaps, specific faculty members. I don’t know if this is the case, but it is always a terrible mistake to adopt rules designed to address the _exceptions_ to the rule. That’s why Pratt’s existing policy on academic freedom should remain unchanged. Which brings me to my final observation:

    Clause #3.5 of Pratt’s existing policy asserts:
    “To encourage creativity and constructive dissent, a faculty member is entitled to full freedom of discussion in all all established Institute bodies without reprisal.” Note that this clause includes an explicit wish to “encourage creativity and constructive dissent.” Note that “full freedom of discussion” is asserted as an entitlement, not a privilege. And note that this entitlement is assured “without reprisal.”

    Now note that the Proposed policy on “academic freedom” completely omits this clause and any of its component assertions. Why is this? What purpose does it serve not simply to restrict our existing policy on academic freedom, but to be literally strip it of its distinctive wish to “encourage creativity and constructive dissent,” and full freedom of discussion” “without reprisal”?

    The only purpose this serves is to grant unnecessary additional power to the Institute at the expense of diminished academic freedom. For these reasons, I am opposed to the proposed new policy on academic freedom, and I am in favor of maintaining the existing policy.

    Rick Barry

    Rick Barry
    Professor of Digital Arts
    Pratt Institute

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