What are your Fourth of July traditions? Do you have a picnic with family and friends? Do you have a special place where you go to watch fireworks? Growing up, my family went to the local fair ground. My grandmother LOVED to sit in the bandstand and listen to the live band until it was time for the fireworks to begin. This was our family tradition. Sometimes, my brother and I would complain about having to go to the fairground so early and sit for so long waiting for the fireworks. Today, I wish my grandmother was still here, and I could go and sit at the fairground for hours with her listening to the music in the bandstand waiting for the fireworks to begin. You see these were things I took for granted…..the time I could spend with her….my family’s tradition. We all take things for granted both in our personal and professional lives.
If you work in higher education, you have most likely heard the term academic freedom. When this term is referred to, what exactly do academics mean? Freedom, or the right to act, speak, or think as one wants without being hindered, is applied in an academic setting. This implies that academics have the right to specific freedoms as they pertain to their role as educators and in relation to the discipline in which they are experts. At a very basic level, academic freedom affords faculty the right to decide how to teach the courses they are assigned.
Academic freedom is viewed as essential to the mission of the academy – the college or university – as well as the principles of academia. It is important that faculty and students do not fear retribution for presenting information or for engaging in discussion on topics that may be viewed as controversial that pertains to their discipline. They are provided the opportunity to freely debate these topics openly sharing thoughts and opinions in a respectful and professional manner. Faculty recognize that this type of discussion is essential to promote growth – intellectual, personal, and professional. In addition, this principle also extends to research providing faculty and students the ability to select topics of interest and conduct research related to these topics. They are also permitted to share the results from research conducted freely.
On this day, as we celebrate our freedoms as Americans, please do not forget that those include the freedom to teach our classes within our disciplines, sharing ideas and engaging in debates openly. I am proud to be an American. I am equally as proud to be university professor. I don’t take these things for granted and neither should you. Happy Fourth of July!