The Canadian Philosophical Association (CPA) has written a letter to Turkey’s Council of Higher Education, stating concerns about academic repression in that country. (For more on the situation in Turkey, see previous posts here and here, for example.) The letter contains some eloquent and important remarks on academic freedom.
We recognize that the concept of academic freedom is neither simple nor univocal; it may manifest differently in distinct national or cultural contexts. However, two key observations will be consistent with any meaningful understanding of the concept. First, academic freedom is not something independent of a rich and productive university system. It is not a special right that academics demand in return for performing the research and teaching so critical to sustaining and transforming a modern polity. Rather, academic freedom is a precondition for achieving those results. To attack or dismantle that freedom is to dismantle the system of instruction, of inquiry, and of open, conscientious discourse that characterizes both universities and intellectual rigor more generally.
The second point to note is that academic freedom is made vacuous by efforts to criminalize academic expressions of informed judgement by people within the university community. The precise boundaries of academic freedom are less important here than the fact that genuine inquiry requires a basic level of trust between researchers and educators on one hand, and university administrations and the State on the other hand. This trust transcends differences of partisanship; it consists in the reasonable confidence of professors, staff, and students that they need not guard their thoughts constantly in order to avoid loss of employment or loss of freedom. The breakdown of this trust is lethal to the atmosphere and practices that enable an academy to function.
The whole letter is here.
(Thanks to Tim Kenyon, professor of philosophy at the University of Waterloo, and president of the CPA, for informing me about the letter.)