An Academic Freedom Quiz

As a profession we’ve spent lots of time debating academic freedom and tenure for academic librarians. Do academic librarians need the protections of academic freedom? If not, why do they need tenure? If yes, why are some on the tenure track and not others? These are questions for which there are no easy answers. But academic librarians should know the answers to basic questions about academic freedom and tenure that demonstrate their knowledge of these cornerstones of higher education. If we don’t have a firm grasp of academic freedom, its origins and function then how can we understand how it impacts our profession.

If you already have a deep understanding of academic freedom and intellectual freedom that’s outstanding, but if not or you want to test your knowledge, take this quiz. It’s based on information found in an article titled “Academic Freedom Issues for Academic Librarians” authored by Richard A. Danner and Barbara Bintliff in Legal Reference Services Quarterly, V. 25 (4) 2006, pp. 13-35. As Danner and Bintliff write:

Whether or not a university has chosen to extend the protections of academic freedom to librarians and professional staff, it is important for librarians to understand the implications of current and ongoing challenges to academic freedom, and be able to respond to them…It is essential for academic librarians to understand the differences between the concepts and the importance of academic freedom and tenure to faculty, students, and others involved in teaching and research.

1. Academic freedom is:
a) an inherent right granted to faculty
b) a protection guaranteed to those who have a faculty contract
c) a privilege granted to faculty by individual institutions
d) all of the above

2. A tenured professor directs a member of your library staff not to remove from the stacks several “library use only” books that need bibliographic maintenance work because she may need to refer to them at any time for her studies. Academic freedom gives the faculty member the right to do so. True or False?

3. Academic freedom is not a guarantee of freedom of speech. True or false?

4. Both tenured and tenure-track faculty enjoy the full benefits of academic freedom? True or false?

5. For academic librarians, having traditional intellectual freedom typically means:

a) a guaranteed right of free speech
b) a commitment to ensuring users’ access to information
c) a right to enjoy the protections of academic freedom even if not tenured
d) a form of academic freedom that applies only to collection development work

6. Which of the following organizations was the first to issue an official statement on the right of intellectual freedom:

a) american association of university professors
b) american library association
c) american civil liberties union
d) united nations

Now, to see how you did on the quiz go to the answers page. Whether you are an academic freedom expert or novice, get a hold of Danner and Bintliff’s article to refresh or boost your academic freedom awareness. I agree with the authors. Whether you have it or not, understanding academic freedom and tenure is an essential component of academic librarianship.

NOTE: the answers are based on information found in the article, and I’m aware that academic freedom, tenure and intellectual freedom issues can involve gray areas. So if you have a different interpretation of an answer or have additional insights to share, please add them with a comment.

5 thoughts on “An Academic Freedom Quiz”

  1. Thanks for posting this, Steven. It’s always good to get a refresher on something as important as academic and intellectual freedom. I’m happy to report I scored a 4. The one question that surprised me was #3 – for some reason, I had it in my head that being tenured meant you could say or write anything you wanted, regardless of the controversial nature. It’s interesting to note the use of the word “privilege;” it really highlights the distinction between academic freedom and freedom of speech.

  2. Fascinating. I also scored a four, though (like any student who wants an A+) I’d argue about some of the ones I bombed. For example, “intellectual freedom” is much broader than librarians enabling access; to me, it’s what PEN is about, it’s academic freedom is about, it’s a whole mindset about the freedom to think and discuss ideas. So not just access to information, but developing a climate in which it’s not only safe to access it but to act on it. Academic freedom, while locally negotiated, is a concept far broader than any one campus. And it really needs to be so culturally embedded that it protects tenure-track and adjunct faculty, and even staff, not just those who have passed the six year test. Kind of the difference between the broader value of “free speech” and the narrower legal meaning of “first amendment rights” which only refer to what the state can and cannot do.

    But quibbles aside, great post, and thanks for calling attention to an interesting article.

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