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More cautionary positions are represented in the editorial comments of L.L. Thurstone and W.W. Charters. In 1930, Thurstone wrote in the Journal of Higher Education that academic freedom needed to be guarded. He broadly referred to cases when he argued for a defense of academic freedom by involving the “Association of University Professors” and having the organization effectively censure colleges and universities that encroached on academic freedom. Within his article, however, he noted that his “plan involves no violence in speech or action, and it does not challenge the legal right of the trustees of a university to decide matters of public policy.” In 1936, W.W. Charters distinguished between freedom of speech and academic freedom by claiming that academic freedom entails the right to present the truth. His point was that a professor cannot champion one position over another and expect the right of academic freedom to hold. Free speech rights might protect such “espousals,” but free speech, he warned, should not be confused with academic freedom. Importantly, however, Charters admitted that in the social sciences, controversies over the “truth” were more common and more problematic. Still, in his view, it was the responsibility of the professor to present a “balanced case” where enthusiasm for one position over another is not revealed. In the person of Joseph Hart and in the context of Vanderbilt, there is no question but that there was a struggle over academic freedom. This essay focuses on the specific case of Hart and Vanderbilt in order to more fully investigate the competing interpretations of academic freedom and to contribute to a more complete history of the topic. While much has been written about academic freedom, a detailed account and interpretation of one case is valuable insofar as it provides a deeper understanding of academic freedom by contextualizing the theoretical understandings of academic freedom.


Published in History of Education Quarterly, vol. 34 no.2 (2003), pp. 1-57.