What Are Academics Free to Do?

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stanley fishMax Weber Lecture


Stanley Fish, Florida International University

Wednesday 21 May 2014, 17:00-18:30

Refettorio, Badia Fiesolana


The paper begins by observing that very different notions of academic freedom emerge depending on whether the word “academic” is understood strongly. If it is, the freedom academics can claim is limited to the core duties they preform in accordance with a contractual or quasi-contractual understanding of the academic task. In most cases this will mean teaching and/or research activities. So limited, academic freedom is a professional privilege that follows from the unique nature of the academic job– the advancement of truth by means of disinterested techniques of investigation and inquiry. Academics do not enjoy that privilege if they are engaged in other activities even if they take place in a university setting. A more expansive notion of academic freedom will follow from an emphasis on the word “freedom.” If academic freedom is thought to be either a subset of the doctrine of freedom of speech or of the general imperative to advance the cause of freedom, academics will conceive themselves as free to use their positions in an effort to further the causes–using political–they are committed to. It is this expansive notion of academic freedom that leads, for example, to the academic boycott of Israeli universities. Those who favor the boycott resist the accusation that it violates academic freedom and argue instead that a proper understanding of academic freedom requires the boycott. I contend that one moves from a severely professional definition of academic freedom to a more global definition in five stages, which I call the five schools of academic freedom. A description and assessment of those schools is at the heart of the lecture.

The Speaker will be introduced by Prof. Dennis Patterson from the LAW Department and the session chaired by Max Weber Fellow Annika Wolf 

All are welcome to attend the lecture, for organizational purposes please register.