I suppose most people who teach in one of America's Colleges and Universities™think about academic freedom once in a while. I've been thinking about it lately in relation to the stuff I've done on faculty ethical responsibilities and what they could mean for faculty who work in precarious employment situations. At times, I have asserted that academic freedom does not exist for a lot of us, but that something similar applies for some of us, because of institutional neglect and ignorance of our roles and even existence. I call this similar thing academic license, to distinguish it from an ethically and politically bounded concept like academic freedom. Academic license would be the condition of one's work, opinions, research conclusions, and public statements not mattering enough to be subject to surveillance or limitation. It would be, undoubtedly, totally precarious. Under academic license, what I do and say would not matter at all up until the very instant that, for whatever reason, or for no reason, it leads to my dismissal. Since this is the condition of precarious academic employment in general, the idea of academic license merely provides a way to emphasize that, institutionally, the content of what precarious faculty do never matters.
I'm starting some deeper research on academic freedom. My early feeling is that most of what's discussed as academic freedom is missing a major point. A great deal of the discussion of academic freedom concerns political ideology, faction, public statements by professors met by official responses, and efforts by what we call neoconservatives to target academics and academic programs that they find offensive.
Here's the thing: when I read about Horowitz and Campus Watch and all those people trying to stop academics from criticizing US imperialism or the symbolic violence of compulsory heteronormativity, I think about my own ideas about such issues. They make up the idea of campus radicals in order to rile their mobs to attack socially critical academics. But I'm at least as radical as most of their prominent targets. Why don't they target me?
(I suppose this reveals that I'm a little envious of the Certified Academic Big Shots who are famous enough to matter to crazy people. Most of them make a lot more money than me.)
They don't target me because I don't exist. They don't target me because my stupid university barely exists. (As I've said before, I love my stupid university.) It's not the ideas that matter to them, it's the publicity, obviously, because they operate the same way terrorist groups do. The vast number of America's Colleges and Universities™are like my stupid university, in that we're like the water supply. If they wanted to kill the ideas, they'd attack the water supply. But they want to scare, so they attack the big buildings, which here is metaphorical for Certified Academic Big Shots.
Much much more on this to follow, I expect. For now, here's another idea about my own condition of academic license.
I am not starting this as a "research project." I have no "research projects," because my research does not exist: it has no meaning at my stupid university, and I have no place of prominence in my academic field, largely because of my non-ranking employment status. I have no measure for tenure or promotion to meet, because I am ineligible for either. Publishing an article or book on this research is not a goal. I don't have a goal, other than to scramble my ideas of academic freedom a bit, think strange thoughts, and write strange sentences. That's not a "research project," because, as people who know me can testify, that's pretty much just my way of life.
I'm working on academic freedom basically for the same reason I started reading Hegel again (heavens help me), which is the same reason I start anything at all: to flirt.