Censorship, Academic Freedom and Private Schools

Do you recall this story here at the Horace Mann School? If not, visit this post I wrote a while back. A friend and great colleague who teaches at an elite independent school in North Carolina sent this article to me. It relates to the Horace Mann issue. Read more about the comment below here. Because I associate myself with a national academic audience, usually while traveling to a historians meeting or working on a paper, I get a chance to talk politics and academic life on a regular base; it usually relates to the teaching or writing of history.

What prompted prominent historians across the country — including some at Columbia University and the University of Virginia — to come to the defense of Andrew S. Trees, a history teacher at the Horace Mann School?

“Because Horace Mann is a private school, it’s really not limited by the First Amendment in what it can do,” said Mark Goodman, an executive director of the Student Press Law Center, a national advocacy organization for student journalists. “The only legal limitation would be if the school had its own policies protecting student free expression and press freedom. At good private schools, such policies are quite common.”


14 thoughts on “Censorship, Academic Freedom and Private Schools

  1. I have trouble with this argument. The first amendment is not applicable when certain people want it to be. It applies to everyone, period.

    If HCHS or any school that I attend later on in life adopts “policies protecting student free expression and press freedom,” then I will be the first one out the door.

  2. Dillon,

    It would seem that you would want your thoughts and ideas protected. Did I misunderstand your comments?

    Here is what I found. Though he has no tenure, looks like there is a due process matter here.

    Tom Kelly, Horace Mann’s Head of School, said, according to the complaint, that Trees was terminated because of the book, not because of job performance—although he had previously told Trees that he “personally enjoyed” the book and that its publication would not interfere with his employment there.

    In the filing, Trees claims that Horace Mann didn’t obey its own due process policies involved in the firing of an employee.

    The document says:

    In an unfortunate example of life imitating art, Defendant Horace Mann embarked on a smear campaign against Plaintiff Trees as punishment for writing Academy X (before firing him), just as the fictional protagonist of Academy X was a teacher persecuted by a corrupt school administration because of his refusal to play along with the school’s kowtowing to wealthy parents and their “by any means necessary” attitude toward college admissions for their progeny.

  3. academic freedom and the expression of ideas only exist if all believe it. we talk about diversity but most places really do not believe it.

  4. “Academic Freedom” is becoming a huge umbrella. It’s getting to the point now where you can all but murder someone and claim “Academic Freedom” or “Tenure” and get away with it.

  5. If a business or private school wants to do that, that’s fine. I may not agree with it but it’s their business/school. I just think being able to say anything and keep your job is a bit much.

  6. As a student, I wholeheartedly believe in academic freedom. Not only should I have the right to say whatever I want (within reason, of course) in class, a teacher should have the right to say whatever they want. Academic freedom encourages students to develop and support their own opinions, and in my opinion, that is what learning is all about.

    From what I understand about tenure, it seems like a good idea. However, I do not not know a whole lot about it…what exactly does it mean in the context of educational institutions?

  7. “within reason”. That is the catch though Dillon. That is all relative. If I advocate violence against the United States, is that still academic freedom?

    Here is a good question: A white supremist is a college professor and he makes no bones about putting blacks back in chains and advocates desegregation. Is that protected by academic freedom and if not why not?

  8. Roland – ah, I see your point….this is a sticky situation.

    I guess this professor would be protected by academic freedom….but I just do not know. Some would freak out if this professor claimed to protected by academic freedom…yet some would freak out if he lost his job over those comments.

  9. I would think more would be freaked out by him keeping his job than if he lost it. “Academic Freedom”, too often, is NOT a two way street. It’s only academic freedom if those in power agree with you and your stance.

    It’s similar to many groups out there who claim that people need to be more open minded…but only to THEIR point of view.

  10. Yeah, I get your point Roland…

    What if a professor at Bob Jones University (pre-2000) openly criticized the school’s policy against interracial dating? He would certainly lose his job. Yet, to me, it would seem as if what he did was not wrong.


  11. So what is the line between too much and not enough? I support academic freedom, and I support the freedom of professors to say what I dislike (I once had a British professor who constantly complained about how miserable America was and how stupid the people and laws are and I kept thinking, “Then go back to England, bitch,” but I still think she should be allowed to say it.), but there does need to be a line. It seems obvious to me that situations like the one Roland described would be unacceptable–but who gets to decide what is acceptable?

    This is an issue about which I never have been able to form a firm opinion.

  12. My view is that you know what the thought of the school is when you accept the job. If you don’t agree with it, don’t teach there.

    The basic fact is that a school, like it or not, is a business. If they don’t make money, they close. If a teacher is going to bring negative press/reactions to the school because of what they say and that, in turn, could bring in less money, heck yeah – fire the idiot.

    If what I say is going to cost my company money, they should fire me and the same should apply to a school.

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