Thursday, May 01, 2014

academic freedom vs. freedom

 “This much understood term refers to the set of practices such as tenure and faculty governance that allow academics to generate new knowledge in an unfettered manner and to disseminate that knowledge using pedagogic practices that inspire critical thinking among students. With this freedom comes responsibility: scholars must conform to the mores of their disciplines, and their behavior is monitored through a network of institutions that enforce such professional conduct.”
     -- Ashley Dawson, in “Columbia versus America” in Dangerous Professors, p. 227.

A very strange turn on academic freedom would be to consider freedom in Foucault’s sense. Freedom would be the “recalcitrance” and “intransigence” of the one to whom power is applied by various forms of governmentality. Freedom subsists in the shape of resistance to subjection, to the disciplinary regimes of social institutions/knowledges. For instance, freedom could describe the dubiousness of a person who avoids complying with a doctor’s firm advice to get a blood test, on the basis that this person is not eager to have the result, and not eager to be subjected to a regimen of treatment based on the result. Freedom could also describe the condition of incomplete or imperfect discipline of a person who has undergone schooling but resists proper performances of mandatory school tasks. Freedom is also the name of the condition of possibility of being disciplined through one or another regime of power. It is prior to discipline and power, and Foucault suggests that freedom is expressed by the choice of which regime to become subject to.

Freedom in this sense is certainly at odds with a demand of conformity to mores of a discipline — academic or otherwise. Dawson’s account suggests a freedom of means rather than ends, in as much as the “academics” will adhere to standards and practices of generating and disseminating knowledge. Obviously, the monitoring of behavior is subjection to surveillance in Foucault’s sense. So the situation Dawson calls academic freedom would be anything but. It would be academic autonomy, but not freedom.

Academic freedom, taking freedom in Foucault’s sense, might mean resistance to those very forms of discipline, responsibility, and moral normalization — not necessarily rejecting them, but treating them with recalcitrance.

I’m not sure where, if anywhere, to take this. I don't know if it makes sense to modify freedom with academic (or anything else).

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