by Mitch Kokai
Senior Political Analyst, John Locke Foundation
Joshua Silverstein and Robert Steinbuch write for the Martin Center about campus free-speech issues and academic freedom in Arkansas.
In March 2018, the University of Arkansas Board of Trustees adopted new rules that fatally undermine academic freedom. We authored [a] piece for the Martin Center explaining the damage the amendments would inflict on higher education in the state.
Unfortunately, the Board of Trustees ignored our warning, a warning reiterated by numerous other faculty and academic organizations. So earlier this month, three of our colleagues filed a lawsuit that seeks to bar application of the revisions to faculty with tenure or who were on the tenure track at the time the changes were adopted. Should the lawsuit succeed, some of the harm caused by the new rules will be forestalled.
The purpose of academic freedom is to protect freedom of speech, thought, and expression in the university setting so that learning and knowledge can flourish. Tenure is the primary mechanism by which academic freedom is ensured. It prohibits the termination or punishment of faculty for any reason that could plausibly be used to stifle academic speech and inquiry. Tenured faculty members may be fired or disciplined only for “cause.”
Tenure and academic freedom have been bedrock principles in higher education for a century.
Unfortunately, in recent decades some university administrators have engaged in an all-out assault on both by seeking to 1) replace outspoken full-time faculty with part-time adjuncts who lack tenure protection and 2) gut the rules governing academic freedom and tenure. The changes adopted by the University of Arkansas fall into the second category.