New task force to develop Johns Hopkins principles of academic freedom

A select group of Johns Hopkins University faculty members and students has been tasked with developing language that articulates the university's philosophy and principles on academic freedom, President Ronald J. Daniels and Provost Robert C. Lieberman recently announced in a message to faculty, staff, and students.

The 14-member Task Force on Academic Freedom will examine freedom of expression and freedom of inquiry, and the roles they should play in the classroom and throughout university life.

"Over the years, as is true of so many colleges and universities, we have wrestled with difficult questions that touch on matters of freedom of expression and inquiry," Daniels and Lieberman wrote. "And we doubtless will do so many times again in the years to come. But we lack an official set of principles that would give expression to our core values in this area and serve as a beacon for our community on these often challenging questions for generations to come. We are convening this task force to remedy this void."

The task force will be led by Joel Grossman, a professor emeritus in the Department of Political Science, a member of The Academy at Johns Hopkins, and an expert in American politics and constitutional law. The group has been asked to make recommendations by May 9.

"Academic freedom has long been recognized as an essential component of a university," Grossman says. "It is the lifeblood of research and teaching. Johns Hopkins University has long been in the forefront of institutions committed to academic freedom. But there is also continuing debate about what it actually means in practice, how it should be enforced, and how attempts to misuse it should be resisted. This task force will address these issues, and attempt to develop a set of principles and guidelines for Johns Hopkins in the 21st century."

In announcing the formation of the task force, Daniels and Lieberman recalled the words of the university's first president, Daniel Coit Gilman, who in his 1876 inaugural address said that Johns Hopkins University would distinguish itself through the "great freedom" it would afford faculty and students, who would remain "free, competent, and willing to make original researches in the library and the laboratory."

Daniels and Lieberman also noted the university's 1910 hiring of Arthur Lovejoy, a philosophy professor who had resigned from Stanford University in protest over the termination of a faculty member who had had a disagreement with a trustee about economic theory. From 1910 until 1938, Lovejoy taught at Johns Hopkins, founding the university's History of Ideas Club and co-founding the American Association of University Professors. He personally launched AAUP's first investigation of an alleged violation of academic freedom; the AAUP is now the leading guardian of academic freedom in the United States.

"Freedom of expression is the heartbeat of our university, the precondition for the bracing scholarship, experimentation, and discovery that are the signature of Johns Hopkins," Daniels and Lieberman wrote. "We very much look forward to the work of the task force and the conversations to come on this important issue."

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