Skip to 0 minutes and 7 secondsEarlier, we discussed efforts to draw lines between academic and not academic expressions and conduct. We also discussed the lines between expressions or conduct that are protected or not protected by academic freedom and freedom of expression.

Skip to 0 minutes and 25 secondsThis is the question: Where is the line? But there are two questions that are perhaps even more important than where is the line. Who decides where the line around academic freedom is? What happens if an academic crosses the line? Who decides where the line around academic freedom is? Who decides where the line is and not? Should there be a line at all? The question is, who should have the authority to decide if a specific conduct or expression is protected by academic freedom? The answer, according to academic freedom principles, is that the academics themselves should decide on what is or is not academic freedom based on the standards and the practises of their academic discipline.

Skip to 1 minute and 22 secondsFor those who believe some questions are too dangerous to ask, this might be an odd answer. They might prefer to have someone else decide, like a university president, a minister of education, or the national leader. Why do I think this is not a good solution? It can lead to tension between authority and those seeking to explore and share new ideas. History has shown this tension time and again. We find this tension in two different visions of what academic freedom and higher education are for. Is higher education's purpose to serve the state or other authority, or is higher education's purpose to serve society, including as a critic of the state or other authority?

Skip to 2 minutes and 19 secondsPeople who view higher education as in the service to the state or other authority may have less objection to actors outside higher education deciding the limits of academic freedom. People who view higher education as in service of society, are critical to outside actors deciding the limits. They believe that, history shows that when actors outside higher education decide the limits of academic freedom, it always leads to a narrower definition of academic freedom. Saying that, academics themselves should decide the scope of academic freedom is not the same as saying there are no limits. As we discussed earlier, there is a difference between conduct or expression that is protected by academic freedom, and general opinions or beliefs.

Skip to 3 minutes and 22 secondsRemember also that academic freedom is related to other core higher education values. So academics have to be fair and act in good faith when deciding whether a specific conduct or expression is appropriate on their academic freedom. They have to take into account the values of accountability and social responsibility. What happens if an academic crosses the line? The question of who decides where the line is has a very big impact on the scope of academic freedom. But, it may not be the most important question. Even more important is the question of consequences. What happens to an academic who crosses the line? We will discuss this in the second week.

Skip to 4 minutes and 19 secondsIn the second week, we also see examples of the types of pressures and threats institutions, scholars, and higher-education students might experience when they ask dangerous questions. For now, what do you think? Can academics be responsible for deciding whether conduct or expression of other academics is appropriate on their academic freedom? If not, then who should decide? Which questions are too dangerous to ask? Share your thoughts in the comments.

Who decides where the line is?

Earlier we discussed efforts to draw lines between “academic” and “not academic” expression and conduct. We also discussed the lines between expressions or conduct that are protected or not protected by academic freedom and freedom of expression. This is the question “where is the line?”.

But there are two questions that are perhaps even more important than “Where is the line?”:

  • Who decides where the line around academic freedom is?”

  • What happens if an academic crosses the line?”

  • Should there be a line at all?

What do you think? Can academics be responsible for deciding whether conduct or expression of other academics is appropriate under academic freedom? If not, then who should decide which questions are too dangerous to ask? Share your thoughts in the comments.

Share this video:

This video is from the free online course:

Dangerous Questions: Why Academic Freedom Matters

University of Oslo

Get a taste of this course

Find out what this course is like by previewing some of the course steps before you join: