Academic Freedom

Higher education has been committed to academic freedom as the cornerstone of academic inquiry since at least 1915 as evidenced in the Declaration of Principles endorsed by the American Association of University Professors. The definitions and boundaries of academic freedom have changed over the years with another key statement of principles in 1940, which clearly addresses research, teaching and service.

The University of Arizona has a longstanding commitment to freedom of expression, academic freedom, and collaborative inquiry with key statements adopted in 2009 and 2018. Guided by our institutional purpose, mission and values, we provide comprehensive academic freedom resources that are relevant for faculty across all tracks, including tenure track, continuing track, career track, and adjunct faculty. These resources encompass all areas of faculty activity: research/scholarship/creative activity, teaching, service/outreach, clinical service, and administrative service. We recognize that academic freedom is fundamental to the open inquiry of research that can be conducted without influence from outside factors, teaching that can be done in an environment of open dialogue and discussion from all possible viewpoints, and service on a wide variety of activities to further the discipline and implement findings from academic research.

We are sharing our University of Arizona statements and resources on academic freedom, freedom of expression and free speech, in order to establish a common understanding of our institutional commitment to these fundamental principles of higher education. 

Our mission is to work together to expand human potential, explore new horizons and enrich life for all. We do this work through continuous improvement on how we educate and innovate so that we can lead the way in developing adaptive problem-solvers who are capable of tackling our greatest challenges. We encourage engaging in critical discussion within our disciplinary standards in an open manner that utilizes evidence and research, and yet allows for critique and unpopular viewpoints free from censure. In order to facilitate our mission, we must be able to participate in all aspects of our work with the freedom to seek knowledge and truth without being bound by partisan or ideological pressures from outside of the university. Academic freedom provides certain rights and privileges to faculty (all tracks), instructors and students to engage in open dialogue and inquiry while also carrying certain responsibilities such as duties to our disciplines and respect for our colleagues and students. As a university community, we have agreed upon language and principles as evidenced here:

University Handbook of Appointed Personnel Policy

Below are extracts from the University Handbook of Appointed Personnel relevant to Academic Freedom and Freedom of Speech. The full policies can be found at the conclusion of each excerpt, with links provided for easy access.

UHAP 7.01.02 Academic Freedom and Freedom of Speech

“Learning requires concentrated attention and happens best in environments where a wide range of perspectives are welcome and encouraged. Allowing space for opposing views is central to academic inquiry, and that responsibility rests with all of us. Academic freedom, which is essential to the advancement of knowledge, is rooted in and regulated by the norms of the disciplinary communities within which the faculty are credentialed. In research, this means we are free to pursue areas of inquiry, wherever they may lead. In education, it means the freedom to teach from our disciplines, and the freedom of our students to engage within the parameters of the discipline openly and fully. Academic freedom also allows us to comment on University or unit governance without fear of retribution. ARS §15-1601(B) and our Guidelines for Shared Governance: Memorandum of Understanding entered into by the Faculty and the Administration of the University of Arizona describe the statutory and mutually agreed upon role of faculty in the governance of the University.

While academic freedom governs the pursuit of knowledge in the classroom and in our individual fields of study, freedom of speech applies elsewhere on campus and throughout the public sphere, as guaranteed by the First Amendment to the Constitution. As private citizens, faculty, students, and staff may invoke their freedom of speech, subject to UHAP 2.10 Political Activity and Lobbying Policy, ABOR-PM 6-905 Political Activity, and ARS §15-1633. On December 3, 2018, the Faculty Senate endorsed the Chicago Statement of Freedom of Expression to underscore our commitment to freedom of expression at the University of Arizona.

As faculty and academic professionals, we bear special responsibilities to contribute to informed deliberations on academic issues. Our primary responsibility to our academic discipline and to our society is to seek and state the truth based on available evidence. Guided by recognition of the value of evidence-based inquiry to our community and an informed citizenry, we recognize our shared obligation to exercise critical judgment and self-discipline in using, extending, and transmitting knowledge. To this end, we devote our energies to developing and improving critical thinking and scholarly rigor through teaching, research, and engagement with the University’s broader constituencies.”

Read the full policy with details on research, teaching and service at: University Handbook of Appointed Personnel 7.01.01 Statement on Professional Conduct Policy. Chapter 7.01.01 is referenced in UHAP chapters on faculty annual review and promotion and tenure with a particular emphasis on the expectation that faculty will uphold scholarly standards, maintain intellectual honesty, and respect the dignity of others, including their right to express differing opinions.

University Employee Policy on Political Activity and Lobbying Policy

“The University recognizes the right of every individual to engage in Political Activity. Under Arizona law and Arizona Board of Regents policy, University employees and Designated Campus Colleagues (“DCCs”) who engage in Political Activity:

  • must do so on their own personal time,
  • must not use University Resources, and
  • must act and speak as private citizens without implying that the University is attempting to influence the outcome of an election, endorsing any particular candidate, taking a position on any pending or proposed legislation, or taking a position on any ongoing public policy controversy.”

For more details read the full policy at: University Handbook of Appointed Personnel Political Activity and Lobbying Policy.

Faculty Senate

Committee on Academic Freedom and Tenure

Visit the Academic Freedom and Freedom of Expression Faculty Governance Website for full information about the work, process and composition of the Committee for Academic Freedom and Tenure (CAFT): 

“The Committee on Academic Freedom and Tenure (CAFT) shall have jurisdiction to make inquiry and to conduct hearings in two general areas contained in ABOR 6-201, 6-301 and 6-302 namely: in regard to those matters contained in the Conditions of Service dealing with the contractual employment relationship between the General Faculty member and the University/Board of Regents; and in regard to any internal matters relating to grievances against or by any member of the General Faculty. The committee shall consider the protection of academic freedom and tenure as a principal obligation. (Certain preliminary steps for dismissal situations are described in Chapters 3 and 4 of the University Handbook for Appointed Personnel and Sections 6-201, 6-301 and 6-302 of the Arizona Board of Regents Policy Manual.)”

CAFT describes academic freedom as:

“September 14, 2009, Academic freedom is one of the primary ideals upon which The University of Arizona was founded and continues to be a core value. The major premise of academic freedom is that open inquiry and expression by faculty and students is essential to the University’s mission. Academic freedom shall be understood to include, but not be limited to, the following:

  • Academic freedom protects faculty from any and all arbitrary interferences with their ability to carry out their missions in research, creative activities, teaching, service and outreach.
  • Academic freedom is essential to the fundamental mission of discovering and advancing knowledge and disseminating it to students and the society at large.
  • Academic freedom enables faculty members to foster in their students a mature independence of mind, and this purpose cannot be achieved unless students and faculty are free within the laboratory, classroom, and elsewhere to express the widest range of viewpoints in accord with standards of scholarly inquiry.
  • Academic freedom extends to expressing opinions concerning matters of shared governance, leadership, or the functioning of the University and the units within.
  • An essential component of academic freedom is the right of faculty members to be free from any adverse action resulting in whole or in part from the exercise of freedom of speech, belief, or conscience in any venue, to the maximum extent consistent with the fulfillment of clearly defined teaching, creative activity, research, service or clinical obligations.
  • A core aspect of academic freedom is the right to due process sufficient to minimize the risk that adverse actions are taken, even in part, as a result of the faculty member’s exercise of academic freedom.
  • Academic freedom includes the right to criticize existing institutions (including leadership, professions, paradigms and orthodoxies).”

Chicago Statement of Freedom of Expression

After a comprehensive faculty governance process, the University of Arizona formally adopted the core principles of the Chicago Statement of Freedom of Expression, approved by Faculty Senate, on December 3, 2018.

“In the context of academic freedom, two fundamental facets emerge: 1) the right of faculty to create and disseminate knowledge within disciplinary standards, and 2) their responsibilities to maintain exemplary standards of evidence.” An extract of the Adoption of Chicago Statement of Freedom of Expression document is below with more information:

“…the ideas of different members of the University community will often and quite naturally conflict. But it is not the proper role of the University to attempt to shield individuals from ideas and opinions they find unwelcome, disagreeable, or even deeply offensive. Although the University greatly values civility, and although all members of the University community share in the responsibility for maintaining a climate of mutual respect, concerns about civility and mutual respect can never be used as a justification for closing off discussion of ideas, however offensive or disagreeable those ideas may be to some members of our community.

The freedom to debate and discuss the merits of competing ideas does not, of course, mean that individuals may say whatever they wish, wherever they wish. The University may restrict expression that violates the law, that falsely defames a specific individual, that constitutes a genuine threat or harassment, that unjustifiably invades substantial privacy or confidentiality interests, or that is otherwise directly incompatible with the functioning of the University. In addition, the University may reasonably regulate the time, place, and manner of expression to ensure that it does not disrupt the ordinary activities of the University. But these are narrow exceptions to the general principle of freedom of expression, and it is vitally important that these exceptions never be used in a manner that is inconsistent with the University’s commitment to a completely free and open discussion of ideas.

In a word, the University’s fundamental commitment is to the principle that debate or deliberation may not be suppressed because the ideas put forth are thought by some or even by most members of the University community to be offensive, unwise, immoral, or wrong-headed. It is for the individual members of the University community, not for the University as an institution, to make those judgments for themselves, and to act on those judgments not by seeking to suppress speech, but by openly and vigorously contesting the ideas that they oppose. Indeed, fostering the ability of members of the University community to engage in such debate and deliberation in an effective and responsible manner is an essential part of the University’s educational mission.”

Dean of Students Office & First Amendment Resources

The Dean of Students Office provides comprehensive student resources regarding free speech, best practices to consider while attending a rally/demonstration, first amendment rally toolkit, first amendment policies, and other resources to help promote healthy and civil political discussion. 

National Institute for Civil Discourse

The National Institute for Civil Discourse was created by the University of Arizona in 2011 as a non-partisan organization based at the University of Arizona to promote healthy and civil political debate. The NICD has listed resources to facilitate these discussions, such as Engaging Differences and How to Work Together to Address Our Challenges

Resources from Peer Institutions and National Organizations