Academic Freedom

Academic Freedom in the Maricopa Community College District

Academic freedom is essential to the discovery and development of new knowledge and the dissemination of that knowledge by subject matter experts. The Maricopa Community Colleges are committed to protecting and preserving academic freedom in all of its forms: freedom of instruction, freedom of research and publication, freedom of intramural speech, and freedom of extramural speech.

In May of 2020, the Committee on Academic Freedom was created. According to its charter, the committee is charged with providing academic freedom education and training, serving as a source of expertise for collegial dispute resolution, and promoting a culture conducive to academic freedom and freedom of expression. The committee is composed of members of the faculty and the administration. Its membership is intentionally diverse--in faculty and administrative role, college representation, and discipline--in order to reflect the perspectives and interests of various stakeholders. Because it exists to ensure faculty academic freedom rights, it is also always composed of a faculty majority.

In service to its mission, the Committee on Academic Freedom includes three subcommittees: Education and Training, Academic Freedom Assistance, and Policy Review and Recommendation. The Education and Training subcommittee “plans, develops, and implements appropriate education and training on academic freedom and related issues necessary for all constituencies to acquire a practical understanding of academic freedom rights and responsibilities” (CAF Charter). The Academic Freedom Assistance subcommittee provides assistance to stakeholders who need guidance on an academic freedom issue or who wish to file a complaint of a violation of academic freedom within the district. The Policy Review and Recommendation subcommittee “review(s) all official policies, regulations, and procedures of the District to ensure that they properly operationalize the spirit of academic freedom as defined by the CAF” (CAF Charter).

Our understanding of academic freedom rests primarily on two foundational documents, AAUP’s 1915 Declaration of Principles and the 1940 Statement on Academic Freedom and Tenure. The 1940 Statement clarifies the purpose of academic freedom: “Institutions of higher education are conducted for the common good and not to further the interest of either the individual teacher or the institution as a whole. The common good depends upon the free search for truth and its free exposition.” These documents define four pillars of academic freedom for the professoriate:

Academic Freedoms

As experts in their fields, faculty are free to determine what should be taught, how it should be taught, and how learning should be assessed. The only people qualified to assess the quality and appropriateness of their course content in relation to the standards of the discipline are other subject matter experts. The goal of any professor should be to encourage independent critical thinking. They should seek to present students with what is generally accepted as true within their unique disciplines. They should avoid indoctrination of students. They should also avoid introducing controversy irrelevant to their subject matter--according to the AAUP, faculty should not avoid controversy: “Controversy is at the heart of the free academic inquiry which the entire statement is designed to foster. The passage serves to underscore the need for teachers to avoid persistently intruding material which has no relation to their subject” (1940 Statement, amended in 1970).

When pursuing the advancement of knowledge within their fields through research and publication, faculty should be free of institutional barriers in determining the focus of that research, the findings produced, and the dissemination of those findings.The only people qualified to judge the merits of research and publication are other experts within the discipline. 

Open discussion and free debate, cornerstones of a democratic society, are also essential to the functioning of an institution of higher education operating under a system of shared governance. Because of their role in the classroom, their close contact with students, their knowledge of the tools and resources necessary to provide instruction, and their training as experts in their fields, faculty have a unique role in the institution’s mission. As such, faculty should not be disciplined for requesting a voice in institutional policy, for criticizing trustees or administration, or for voicing an opinion pertaining to the actions or policies of their institutions.

According to the 1940 Statement, “When they speak or write as citizens, they should be free from institutional censorship or discipline, but their special position in the community imposes special obligations. As scholars and educational officers, they should remember that the public may judge their profession and their institution by their utterances. Hence they should at all times be accurate, should exercise appropriate restraint, should show respect for the opinions of others, and should make every effort to indicate that they are not speaking for the institution.”