WASHINGTON, DC—ACTA president Anne Neal has called “outside input—in the form of criticism and even legislative attention—essential if academic freedom is to be preserved in any meaningful way.” In a speech entitled, “Why Outside Input is Important: Academic Freedom in the 21st Century,” Neal focused on threats to academic freedom within the academy and called for institutions to take concrete steps to ensure the robust exchange of ideas. She stated that the classroom “has become a place for advocacy, [with] professors who argue openly that students should be molded into ‘change agents’ to promote a partisan political agenda.”
Neal’s address was delivered at a conference on academic freedom sponsored by the Burton K. Wheeler Center of Montana State University.
Challenging those who claim outside input violates institutional autonomy and academic freedom, Neal argued that “institutional autonomy exists so that decisions within the university can be made on academic grounds. … But when universities fail to abide by professional standards, when faculty members put personal, social, and political agendas ahead of a fundamental commitment to the objective search for truth, then outside input is salutary. Outside input in such instances offers not interference but a means of protecting and defending the freedom to seek the truth,” Neal said.
“Rather than fighting and condemning outside input, the academy should embrace it,” she said. Citing existing policy of the American Association of University Professors and agreeing that faculty should bear the “initial responsibility” for maintaining professional standards, Neal predicted that “so long as the academy does not take concrete steps to ensure academic freedom and intellectual pluralism, it will regrettably, but deservedly, call upon itself the very outside interference it so vigorously deplores.”
The 1915 AAUP Statement of Principles provides that “if the profession should prove itself unwilling to purge its ranks of the incompetent and the unworthy, or to prevent the freedom which it claims from being used as a shelter … for uncritical and intemperate partisanship, it is certain that the task will be performed by others.”
“It is time for institutions—trustees, presidents, and faculty working hand in hand—to take action that guarantees intellectual pluralism on campus,” Neal said.
As part of its national initiative to restore intellectual diversity, ACTA has issued a report, Intellectual Diversity: Time for Action, that suggests a number of concrete steps institutions can take to ensure intellectual diversity, including review and modification of grievance policies, a self-study on intellectual diversity; and incorporation of intellectual diversity in student evaluation forms.
ACTA is a nonprofit educational organization of trustees and alumni dedicated to academic freedom, academic excellence, and accountability.