CPEVC remarks on academic freedom at Fall Academic Senate Meeting

To: UC Santa Cruz Senate Faculty

From: Lori Kletzer, Campus Provost and Executive Vice Chancellor

I write today to convey a portion of my remarks at the Fall Academic Senate meeting held on November 29, 2023. I devoted some time to sharing my perspective on academic freedom and thought it would be useful to distribute more widely. My full remarks will be reported in the minutes of the Fall meeting.
I’d like to share some thoughts about academic freedom. I’ll start with an appreciation, drawn from the October 30 message from me and Chancellor Larive. We wrote that day, “Academic freedom is a foundational value of the university, one to be defended. Freedom of expression is also part of our bedrock, backed by constitutional rights. With academic freedom and free speech, universities are ideally situated to foster deeper understanding of complex issues and to support constructive debate.” Further, we noted, “the high regard we have for the right to free speech of our community members, and the foundational commitment to sustain an educational environment in which people disagree while maintaining an ethic of care.”

I have been inspired by the many ways this community has advanced understanding and compassion in difficult times.

Please allow me the patience of quoting APM 010.

“The University of California is committed to upholding and preserving principles of academic freedom. These principles reflect the University’s fundamental mission, which is to discover knowledge and to disseminate it to its students and to society at large. The principles of academic freedom protect freedom of inquiry and research, freedom of teaching, and freedom of expression and publication. These freedoms enable the University to advance knowledge and to transmit it effectively to its students and to the public. The University also seeks to foster in its students a mature independence of mind, and this purpose cannot be achieved unless students and faculty are free within the classroom to express the widest range of viewpoints in accord with the standards of scholarly inquiry and professional ethics. The exercise of academic freedom entails correlative duties of professional care when teaching, conducting research, or otherwise acting as a member of the faculty. These duties are set forth in the Faculty Code of Conduct (APM - 015).”

I note here that this expression of academic freedom directly addresses the relationship between academic freedom and teaching. That one essential aspect of faculty teaching is to foster independence of mind in our students. And that the exercise of academic freedom implies professional responsibilities–here defined specifically as “duties of professional care”–as well. 

APM 010’s second paragraph states, “Academic freedom requires that teaching and scholarship be assessed by reference to the professional standards that sustain the University’s pursuit and achievement of knowledge. The substance and nature of these standards properly lie within the expertise and authority of the faculty as a body. The competence of the faculty to apply these standards of assessment is recognized in the Standing Orders of The Regents, which establish a system of shared governance between the Administration and the Academic Senate. Academic freedom requires that the Academic Senate be given primary responsibility for applying academic standards, subject to appropriate review by the Administration, and that the Academic Senate exercise its responsibility in full compliance with applicable standards of professional care.”

These two paragraphs articulate the relationship between academic freedom, the professional autonomy of the professoriate, and standards of professional care. What counts as knowledge, scholarship and teaching turns on the application of professional standards of judgment that lie within the expertise and authority of the faculty as a body, and of the Academic Senate specifically. The quality of faculty work is to be judged only by reference to professional standards of academic judgment. This is to insulate faculty from inappropriate bases of judgment, and I stand wholeheartedly behind that and behind our campus’ history of putting academic freedom in the service of social justice.  

APM 010 articulates what faculty must undertake to comply with professional standards in performance of their duties. In teaching, professional standards require that faculty provide students with an environment to think freely and exercise independent judgment; that faculty evaluate students solely on the merits of their work and that they not penalize students because of their political or religious beliefs.
Academic freedom implies professional autonomy and professional responsibility. 

A note about what I value. As an academic community, our commitment is to inclusivity and academic excellence. I’ll borrow from our UC Middle Eastern history and Jewish Studies colleagues, in their public response to President Drake’s comments at the Regents’ meeting, which I suspect many of you have seen or will soon see:  “we have amongst us scholars who contribute to a democratic society and a more peaceful world by teaching students the skills to evaluate different points of view based on evidence, rigorous inquiry, best pedagogical practices, and peer-reviewed scholarship free from external interference and political pressure. These skills are particularly necessary in the current political climate, when intellectual debate and critical engagement are coming under attack.” 

By engaging together in writing such a letter to President Drake, while also vigorously engaging with each other when their analysis of this moment differs, these colleagues offer us a model of what academic freedom at a great research university is and should be.