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This content is taken from the University of Oslo & Scholars at Risk's online course, Dangerous Questions: Why Academic Freedom Matters. Join the course to learn more.

Skip to 0 minutes and 7 seconds In the first week, we discuss two important questions. We ask, where is the line on academic freedom? This is a question of the scope of academic freedom. In the contemporary view, the scope of academic freedom is broader than in the traditional view, but it is not unlimited. We also ask, what is perhaps, a more important question. We ask, who decides where that line is? The contemporary view is that the decision must be with academic experts according to their professional standards. In other words, academics decide on what is, or is not, academic freedom. 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.

Skip to 1 minute and 8 seconds Even more important is the question, what happens to an academic who crosses the line? This is a question of consequences. This week, we will explore this question. We will also discuss examples of the types of consequences, pressures, and threats, that higher education institutions, scholars, and students might experience when they ask dangerous questions. Another way to think of this question is to ask if an academic ask a question that is too dangerous, what happens to them? Consequences might vary, depending on the question and the context. In some cases, academics might harm their reputation. They might lose a grant or a future contract. They might lose permission to travel, or their position. But what about their liberty, their lives, their families?

Skip to 2 minutes and 10 seconds These are the types of severe pressures and threats that some scholars face for asking sensitive questions. They say up front that consequences involving violence or threats against institutions, scholars, or students are never justified. The course will present different sources of threats to academic freedom and different consequences. Then in the examples, think about whether the consequences in the examples are appropriate. Take into account not only academic freedom, but all five core higher education values. For example, you may be presented with an example of a professor who loses his job for racially insensitive remarks during a television interview, unrelated to his work. Could you defend the consequences– losing his job– as a recognition of the values of equitable access or social responsibility?

Skip to 3 minutes and 12 seconds Could you condemn the consequences as violations of academic freedom and institutional autonomy? Or could you suggest other, more appropriate consequences that respect all five core values? As we work toward the different examples, be sure to share your thoughts and questions in the comments section.

What happens if you cross the line?

In the first week, we discussed two important questions: “Where is the line around academic freedom and who decides? In this video, Olga asks what happens if you cross the line?

After watching the video, could you suggest other, more appropriate consequences that respect all five core values?

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This video is from the free online course:

Dangerous Questions: Why Academic Freedom Matters

University of Oslo

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