Geoffrey R. Stone: 'Free Expression in Peril'

Free Expression in Peril

Until recently, and for roughly half a century, American universities enjoyed an era of relatively robust academic freedom. In the past few years, though, that has changed. Ironically, the threat to academic freedom in the United States today comes not from government and not from the institutions themselves but from a new generation of students who do not understand the nature, the fragility, and the importance of this principle.

Universities must educate our students to understand that academic freedom is not a law of nature. It is not something to be taken for granted. It is, rather, a hard-won acquisition in a lengthy struggle for academic integrity.

Students today seem not to understand that, until well into the 19th century, real freedom of thought was neither practiced nor professed in American universities. Before then, any freedom of inquiry or expression in American colleges was smothered by the prevailing theory of "doctrinal moralism," which assumed that the worth of an idea must be judged by what the institution’s leaders considered its moral value. Through the first half of the 19th century, American higher education squelched any notion of free discussion or intellectual curiosity. Indeed, as the nation moved toward the Civil War, any professor or student in the North who defended slavery, or any professor or student in the South who challenged slavery, could readily be dismissed, disciplined, or expelled.

Read more at The Chronicle of Higher Education