Academic Freedom in a Plural World: Global Critical Perspectives


Online event.

Academic freedom seems like it has never been as much under threat at a time when its meaning has never been more open to contestation. Three phenomena, in particular, have contributed to shape its fortunes over the last few years.

First, a continued pattern of interference by states, both traditional authoritarian and new populists, along with monitoring of universities, requirements of advance notification of events including international participants, discriminatory denials of visas and invasive radicalization prevention programs.

Second, challenges to the professorate have begun to manifest themselves within the classroom as a result of demands by students for content and pedagogy more reflective of society’s diversity.

Third, a range of more diffuse forces have arguably constrained academic freedom. These include the continued effects of corporatization of universities, the influences of private funding, academic employment precarity, austerity measures amidst budget crises, and global rankings competition.

In that fraught context, the very meaning of academic freedom has become less clear. It can be invoked in coded ways and at counter-purpose to justify greater control of universities; it can sometimes appear as little more than a reflex invocation disconnected from its origin; and it suffers from ambiguities long associated with the notion of freedom.

This two half-day seminar will gather a group of scholars from a variety of disciplines with a view to discussing some of the aforementioned questions and others, with an emphasis on a variety of domestic and transnational developments. Participants are encouraged to draw on specific incidents to focus the discussion.

Four panels will be organized along the following themes:

Panel 1. Imagining, Defending, Critiquing Academic Freedom will endeavor to get the conference discussions launched by articulating different visions and conceptualizations of academic freedom.

Panel 2. Between Authoritarianism and Populism: State Interference with Academic Freedom will discuss threats to academic freedom by states, both traditional authoritarian and new populists.

Panel 3. Diversity, Decolonization and the Democratization of Academic Freedom will explore the need to increase diversity and to decolonize higher education, and to what extent academic freedom can belong to certain groups or communities.

Panel 4. Emerging Threats and Responses will discuss challenges to academic freedom stemming from the corporatization of universities, private funding, ideological monitoring, as well as other emerging threats. It will also explore possible avenues to address these issues.

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