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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 earlier steps, we discussed different types of academic freedom, we discussed different types of threats to academic freedom and the sources of those threats. In this step, we explore why it matters. Why does academic freedom matter not just to scholars, but to society? We’ll explore how threats to academic freedom impact everyone in society. So, first and most important, remember that all of the core values of higher education that we’ve been talking about in this course, are designed to help promote quality– quality education, quality research, quality instruction, quality discourse. Threats to academic freedom impair quality. When researchers and professors, students can’t explore certain issues, society doesn’t get the benefit of their skills and talents looking into important questions.

Skip to 1 minute and 1 second Think about research on gun violence, tobacco, or other health issues. When that can’t happen, the public’s health is endangered. Think about research into global warming, pollution, and air quality. When that research doesn’t happen, all of society suffers. Think about research into violence against women and children, or human sexuality, or discrimination. When that research doesn’t happen, all of society, especially marginalised groups, suffer. So academic freedom helps to promote the quality that we need to be able to look at difficult questions. Threats to academic freedom also matter because they impair the ability of the university sector to exercise the other core values.

Skip to 1 minute and 46 seconds This is because, if you remember, we discussed all five core values are interrelated, and a threat to one limits the ability to exercise the others. This matters, for example, when threats to academic freedom undermine equitable access– one of our other core values. Equitable access is what allows a diverse community to be part of higher education. And when we have a diverse community on our campus, this helps quality because it brings in different viewpoints and it guards against hidden biases in research, and training, and education. Limits on academic freedom can undermine this benefit that all of society gets. Similarly, limits on academic freedom can undermine institutional autonomy and accountability.

Skip to 2 minutes and 32 seconds Now remember, those values are designed to help ensure proper administration and governance of the higher education sector. This benefits all of society because it helps to make sure that the public’s investment in higher education is well used. And of course, social responsibility– that core value, which encourages the higher education sector to use academic freedom and institutional autonomy for the public good. Threats against academic freedom make this harder, especially when scholars, and students, university leaders fear severe consequences for engaging in sensitive research or discourse. What do you think? Do you agree that threats to academic freedom harm everyone in society? We want to know. Share your comments.

Why does it matter?

Earlier this week we discussed the types threats to academic freedom, and saw several examples. We also discussed the sources of threats to academic freedom, and saw examples of these. Why do these threats matter? In this video, we will consider the impact of threats to academic freedom and other core higher education values on everyone in society.

What do you think? Do you think threats to academic freedom have negative impacts on society? Can you think of any examples? Share your thoughts and questions in the comments.

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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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