Department of History

Statement on Freedom of Speech and Academic Freedom

 

The Department of History holds to the right of free speech, guaranteed by the First Amendment to the United States Constitution, the American Association of University Professors’ 1940 Statement on Principles on Academic Freedom and Tenure, and the American Historical Association’s statement of support for Academic Freedom (2016). We state unequivocally that freedom of expression is essential to good citizenship, academic pursuit, and the practice of historical inquiry.

The First Amendment and the principle of Academic Freedom protect the right of both faculty members and students to express ideas and engage in debate – in writing, in the classroom, on campus, and beyond the university – without fear of censorship, sanction, or retaliation. Academic freedom, in particular, provides students and faculty both with the right to express their views and the right to challenge one another’s views, without penalty. It gives both students and faculty the right to study and do research on the topics they choose and to draw what conclusions they find consistent with their research, though it does not prevent others from judging whether their work is valuable and their conclusions sound. Academic freedom thus preserves intellectual integrity and serves the public good by allowing all arguments and all viewpoints to be considered before coming to a conclusion.

The discipline of history is concerned with hearing all sides, whether in the study of the past or in the application of the lessons of history to the present. As historians, we ask questions. To answer them we examine historical evidence. We also engage with other scholars. We challenge ourselves and others to examine problems from all sides, to follow lines of reasoning—including some we may not share—as we seek to understand the complexity of the past. We have a professional responsibility to come to our conclusions honestly and to the best of our ability. Teaching critical thinking skills, it is our responsibility in the classroom to challenge our students to engage in the same process of questioning, examination, and developing conclusions that reflect their evidence. Sometimes the conclusions we come to are difficult and uncomfortable, even as they are supported by verifiable evidence. Academic freedom protects our ability to be open and honest about what we learn.

As historians we speak not only to ourselves but to the public. We recognize that some arguments might be uncomfortable for some. Sometimes a viewpoint or opinion may be posed in a way that some find vulgar or indelicate.  We do not, however, believe in limiting people’s individual choice of how to express themselves—in censuring the emotions any more than we believe in censoring the rationality and reason that people muster in public debate. In the case of faculty, the only exception we see is if the views expressed demonstrate professional ignorance, incompetence, or dishonesty. We believe in academic democracy: in such cases, charges against a faculty member will be heard before a committee of peers, with the right to due process.

Last Updated: October 30, 2020