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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