Academic Freedom?

What is academic freedom?  It is often used as a cudgel by those who want to teach leftist propaganda, but then used against those who would teach rightist propaganda because what they would teach would go beyond so-called academic freedom.  So what is it?

Today, too often, it is simply a means to teach whatever leftist propaganda one wishes, and get away with it.  Anyone who attempts to silence you on any grounds is then guilty of stifling your academic freedom.  So, a plagiarist who inflates his academic credentials and is then removed after he makes comments comparing American causalities of terror attacks to the Nazi high command is not being given his academic freedom.  (In his defense, the removal was rather clearly related to his comments, not his resume.  The question is, why did no one actually check his resume before he was given tenure?)

Academic freedom is not license to say whatever you want.  “With great freedom comes great responsibility.”  (To paraphrase Ben Parker in the Sam Rami blockbuster  Spiderman).

As a pastor, I have what could be called true academic freedom.  Each year I am given a certain amount by my congregation to spend on continuing education. (Thank you, Trinity, Wheatland) I may spend it on any area of academic inquiry I wish.  Last year I spent almost all of it on materials relating to evolution.  This year will be the early church.  Next year may be psychology (not likely), or mathematics, or history, or art, or whatever.  No matter what I learn, it manages to find its way into the intellectual pantheon from which I draw when teaching/preaching. (Though I’m not exactly sure how math would fit, and I really don’t care to find out, I’m sure it would be useful in some way.)

When it comes to teaching and preaching, I have freedom only as to form.  I can instruct in whatever style I see fit.  I can preach with whatever style best suits me (scripted, delivered dramatically – that means LOUD).

But I have no freedom as to content.  I can preach on Isaiah, or Ecclesiastes, or Revelation, or Romans, or the Gospels.  But the message will be the same.  I have no freedom to alter the Gospel, no freedom to soften the law, to ignore the law, to mix the law with the Gospel, etc.  Nor do I have freedom to preach about world events, or political affiliations (for the record, I am a registered Independent).  I must preach – always and only – the Law and Gospel.  Full strength, never mixed, never watered down.

How does my job relate to the academic?  The Academic should have total freedom regarding inquiry – that is, they should be able to learn anything they want.  The method of teaching may be left open.  Even the materials may be left to their discretion.  But it stifles no freedom to expect that they will teach in accord with certain norms.  It is certainly NOT against the principles of academic freedom for a Lutheran University (to take a random example) to expect that ALL teaching will be in accord with Holy Scripture and the Lutheran Confessions.  (Sorry, evolution is OUT.)

The idea that members of the faculty at a Lutheran University can sign a petition supporting a communist worldview is just hogwash.  That’s not academic freedom, it is licentious malfeasance.


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