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Questions to ask about when academic expression or conduct is challenged

Recap: Questions to ask when expression or conduct is challenged

As a quick recap, we have discussed three important questions relating to academic freedom that should be asked whenever an academic is threatened for his or her opinion or conduct. To more easily remember these, you might think of them as the good question, the better question, and the best or most important question to ask.

The good question to ask is “Is the opinion or conduct protected by academic freedom?” This is the question of scope. Another way to ask this is “Where is the line, if any, around academic freedom?” This course suggests that the scope of academic freedom is more broad than the traditional, narrow view, but it is not unlimited.

The better question to ask is “Who decides where the line is?” This is a question of agency. This course suggests that the decision must be with academic experts operating in a professional capacity and according to the standards and practices of their academic discipline. In other words, academics decide on what is or is not academic freedom.

The best question to ask is “What happens to an academic who crosses the line?” This is a question of consequences. It seeks to understand what types of pressures and threats higher education institutions, scholars and students might experience when they ask “dangerous” questions. Consequences might vary, depending on the question and the context. But this course suggests that violent or coercive sanctions against institutions, scholars or students are never justified.

What do you think about these three questions? Which one do you think is most important? Can you think of other questions we should ask? Share your thoughts in the comments.

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This article is from the free online course:

Dangerous Questions: Why Academic Freedom Matters

University of Oslo

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