Statement on Academic Freedom & The Pillars of a University (What a University should be)

Preamble on Academic Freedom & The Pillars of a University
(What a University should be)

Following consultation with Representatives from 39 Australian Universities

Approved by AAUP Council On 29 February 2020

©AAUP Inc.

The AAUP exists to ensure that academic principles including academic freedom are upheld across Australian universities, and to support individuals and groups in efforts to ensure that the Australian university system maintains the highest standards in research and teaching. The AAUP exists, also, to ensure that the ethos and culture of the University – being the pursuit and transmission of knowledge, in the service of society, led by academics and as refined and adapted over 1,000 years – are core to Australian universities.

Preamble on Academic Freedom

Academic Freedom is the freedom to conduct research, publish research outcomes and teach without improper interference or restriction from governments, corporations, managerial interventions, from institutional regulation, or from public or institutional pressure. The core activities to which it applies are research, publication, teaching and public commentary. It should be exercised in accordance with relevant scientific and scholarly standards, which require the provision of reasons or evidence.

Academic freedom is essential for the pursuit and dissemination of knowledge, which is itself a public good. It is also a means for the promotion of a healthy democracy, and well-functioning civil society through the cultivation of informed, engaged and democratically competent citizens. Universities must support academic freedom with explicit academic freedom policies, by publicly and legally defending academics when they are unfairly attacked over their research, by amending contracts with funders so that they do not violate academic freedom, and by respecting academic freedom in internal matters.

Academic freedom demands academic sovereignty over academic decisions as the inalienable right and duty of the University’s professoriate. They should not be transferred to other parties including government.

Tenure forms a key pillar of academic freedom while systematic casualization and fixed-term appointments of academic staff have a corrosive effect on the exercise of academic freedom that is to be avoided.

Furthermore, like the American AUP, the Australian AUP endorses the following statements:

The academic freedom of faculty members consists of four interrelated elements:

  • Freedom to discuss all relevant matters in the classroom;
  • Freedom to explore all avenues of scholarship, research, and creative expression and to publish the results of such work;
  • Freedom from institutional censorship or discipline when speaking or writing as participants in the governance of an educational institution; and
  • Freedom from institutional censorship or discipline when speaking or writing as citizens.

The Pillars of a University

  1. Universities are communities of scholars and researchers whose aim is to seek and create knowledge by pursuing free and open enquiry, scholarship, research and learning, and to assist and encourage students to do the same.
  2. Universities should provide a nurturing environment that supports students, teachers, researchers and other staff to achieve their best as creative, inquiring and free-thinking people.
  3. The inherent relationship between teaching and research- based inquiry in our universities needs to be nurtured, respected and celebrated.
  4. Research conducted in Universities is a public good that contributes to society academically, culturally, socially, and economically. To achieve these goals, academic inquiry must be free and open. Teaching, research and publication must be governed by disciplinary standards and not the political or social agendas of external parties.
  5. Universities should be led by distinguished and respected scholars who regularly consult with the professoriate on issues concerning the operation of the university.
  6. Academics should be effectively engaged in university governance, with the professoriate providing leadership of disciplines, acting as mentors, and promoting academic principles.
  7. Universities should receive sufficient public financial support to ensure their autonomy. Financial governance of Universities should be subject to public scrutiny.
  8. Any evaluation of teaching and research activity should be carried out by discipline peers and take into account contributions across all aspects of university work, including teaching, research and the wider community. This evaluation should be qualitative wherever possible and take into account the norms of the discipline in terms of qualitative vs. quantitative assessment and the level of institutional support and resources available for these core activities.
  9. The articulation of dissenting views, and free discussion between individuals who hold conflicting views, are key attributes of a healthy University and democracy – the provision of an open intellectual space for such discussions is a fundamental obligation of the University.
  10. Universities must be free to act as a critic of society, maintaining an independent, free and open space of enquiry that responds responsibly to relevant environmental, social, cultural and economic contexts. 

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