A Dilemma Regarding Academic Freedom and Public Accountability in Higher Education

Journal of Philosophy of Education 44 (4):529-549 (2010)
The aim of this article is to establish that current thought about the point of a publicly funded university faces a dilemma. On the one hand, influential and attractive ‘macro’-level principles about how state resources ought to be accountably used entail that academic freedom should be utilised solely for the sake of social justice or some other concrete public good. Standard theories of public morality entail that an academic’s responsibility is entirely to be ‘responsive’ or ‘relevant’ to her social context in the way she teaches and researches. On the other hand, ‘micro’-level self-conceptions of teachers and researchers include the idea that it can be proper to use academic freedom in order to discover and impart knowledge that is unlikely to foster social justice, however construed. Probably most academics accept the idea that ‘knowledge for its own sake’ can often merit pursuit and transmission. In this article, I use the most space to defend the second horn of the dilemma, the micro-level perspective, by indicating just how counterintuitive the macro one is. As a foil I critically discuss a recent report by the South African Council on Higher Education, which occasions awareness of the position that the right to academic freedom is exhausted by a duty to benefit society. However, I conclude by noting prima facie defences of the first horn, pointing out that dominant accounts of institutional ethics forbid scholars from seeking knowledge for its own sake, and hence indicating the need to resolve an antinomy about the proper final ends of a state university.
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DOI 10.1111/j.1467-9752.2010.00776.x
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