Many Faces of Academic Freedom

Peter, Carl. “The Many Faces of Academic Freedom,” Origins 20, no. 32 (January 17, 1991): 520–524.

Carl Peter considers different ways of thinking about academic freedom in the United States. Commenting on the history of various interpretations of such freedom accepted by academics as opposed to legal authorities, Peter notes that two definitions of academic freedom discussed by Walter Metzger in his works on the history of this notion are still operative in some form today. The first of these, a professional model, is borrowed from Germany and used by the American Association of University Professors; the second, a legal model, is based on a Supreme Court ruling just after the Second World War. Peter reminds the reader that in medieval universities there were disagreements in theological thought, and so some sense of academic freedom was already in place to ensure the development of a variety of ideas. In a similar manner, Peter concludes “grace must work with a very complex academic freedom if a university is to be both American and Catholic today.”
Peter writes that academic freedom could not be analogous to the Statue of Liberty because, according to Metzger, it has at least two faces. American academic freedom, Peter suggests, is more like Mount Rushmore in that it has several faces. Borrowing from Mark Yudof’s writings, Peter identifies these faces as (1) the personal autonomy given to university faculty, (2) the governmental expression that deals with the academic freedom of teachers in primary and secondary schools, and (3) the institutional dimension that protects private schools from government interference. American academic freedom is obviously complex, and because of that complexity, Peter believes that there are ways for American higher education to be both American and Catholic and accommodating to what Pope John Paul II wrote in his Ex Corde Ecclesiae. (LT)