The Looking Glass

The Looking Glass

The Department of Psychology

Academic Freedom

William W. Brickman and Sidney Hook
Microsoft (R) Encarta.

Copyright (c) 1994 Microsoft Corporation.

Copyright (c) 1994 Funk & Wagnall's Corporation.

Academic Freedom, right of teachers and research workers, particularly in colleges and
universities, to investigate their respective fields of knowledge and express their views without
fear of restraint or dismissal from office. The right rests on the assumption that open and free
inquiry within a teacher's or researcher's field of study is essential to the pursuit of knowledge and
to the performance of his or her proper educational function. At present this right is observed
generally in countries in which education is regarded as a means not only of inculcating
established views but also of enlarging the existing body of knowledge. The concept of academic
freedom implies also that tenure of office depends primarily on the competence of teachers in
their fields and on their acceptance of certain standards of professional integrity rather than on
extraneous considerations such as political or religious beliefs or affiliations.


The concept and practice of academic freedom, as recognized presently in Western
civilization, date roughly from the 17th century. Although academic freedom existed in universities
during the Middle Ages, it signified at that time certain juristic rights, for example, the right of
autonomy and of civil or ecclesiastical protection enjoyed by the several guilds that constituted a
studium generale, or universitas (COLLEGES AND UNIVERSITIES). Before the 17th century,
intellectual activities at universities were circumscribed largely by theological considerations, and
opinions or conclusions that conflicted with religious doctrines were likely to be condemned as
heretical. In the late 17th century the work of such men as the English philosophers John Locke
and Thomas Hobbes helped pave the way for academic freedom in the modern sense. Their
writings demonstrated the need for unlimited inquiry in the sciences and for a general approach to
learning unimpeded by preconceptions of any kind. Neither Locke nor Hobbes, however,
defended unlimited academic freedom. The German universities of Halle and Göttingen, founded
in 1694 and 1737, respectively, were the first European universities to offer broad academic
freedom, with few lapses, from their inception. The University of Berlin, founded in 1810,
introduced the doctrine of Lehr- und Lernfreiheit ("freedom to teach and study") and helped to
strengthen Germany's position as the leader of academic freedom in the 19th century. In the 18th
and 19th centuries, universities in Western Europe, Great Britain, and the United States enjoyed
increasing academic freedom as acceptance of the experimental methods of the sciences
became more widespread and as control of institutions by religious denominations became less
rigorous. In Great Britain, however, religious tests for graduation, fellowships, and teaching
positions were not abolished until late in the 19th century.
To be continued in the next issue...


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