Academic Freedom in an Age of Conformity: Confronting the by Joanna Williams

By Joanna Williams

Universities, as soon as on the leading edge of campaigns for highbrow liberty, are actually bastions of conformity. This provocative publication strains the dying of educational freedom in the context of fixing rules in regards to the function of the college and the character of information and is a passionate name to palms for the ability of educational inspiration today.

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The clergyman, as a representative of the state, is not free to argue with the tenets of the church when he addresses his 32 Academic Freedom in an Age of Conformity congregation: here obedience, not argument, is called for. But the same man, as a scholar, has complete freedom to argue, to communicate to the learned public of the world the use of his own reason in religious matters. In his sermons he speaks in the name of the church and at its dictation: in his scholarly writings he speaks freely in his own name.

In 1533, during the English Reformation, Protestant scholars at New College Oxford were expelled and others fled the country or were killed for not renouncing their religious convictions. Peter Quinby, a Lutheran, was locked in the college tower and left to die of starvation (Prickard, 2010, p. 70). For medieval universities, the principle of ‘liberty’ emerged to defend a realm of society into which the state could not enter. However, the relationship between universities and the state could at best be described as ambiguous.

Knowledge was considered to encapsulate an inherent truth derived from the objectivity of independent reasoning. Kant declared, ‘Reason is by its nature free and admits of no command to hold something as true’ (1979, p. 29). He considered truth to be dependent upon individual freedom to reason; knowledge and understanding could advance only if people were free to allow their own inner reason to develop. As Kant argued, ‘Truth gains more even by the errors of one who, with due study and preparation, thinks for himself, than by the true opinions of those who only hold them because they do not suffer themselves to think’ (2009, p.

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