Harvard Professors Create Council on Academic Freedom to Combat Stifling of Free Speech in Higher Education

In an opinion piece for The Boston Globe, Steven Pinker, a professor in the Department of Psychology at Harvard, and Bertha Madras, a professor of Psychobiology at Harvard Medical School, announced the creation of the Council on Academic Freedom at Harvard.

The council has been formed in response to growing concerns about the repression of differences of opinion and the stifling of academic freedom in higher education institutions, leading to a decline in confidence in American higher education.

Pinker and Madras argue that academic freedom is crucial for universities to fulfill their mission of seeking and sharing the truth.

They write, “The only way that our species has managed to learn and progress is by a process of conjecture and refutation: Some people venture ideas, others probe whether they are sound, and in the long run the better ideas prevail.”

They further explain that any community that represses disagreement “is doomed to chain itself to error” and that an academic establishment that stifles debate “is bound to provide erroneous guidance on vital issues.”

The newly formed Council on Academic Freedom at Harvard, comprised of 50 faculty members, aims to defend academic freedom, promote free inquiry, intellectual diversity, and civil discourse.

Pinker and Madras emphasize that the council is “a faculty-led organization that is devoted to free inquiry, intellectual diversity, and civil discourse.”

The council plans to sponsor workshops, lectures, and courses on the topic of academic freedom and to inform new faculty about Harvard’s commitments to free speech and the resources available to them when it is threatened.

They will also encourage the adoption and enforcement of policies that protect academic freedom and lend personal and professional support to individuals threatened or slandered for scholarly opinions.

Pinker and Madras conclude their piece by expressing hope that the formation of the Council on Academic Freedom at Harvard will inspire similar efforts at other institutions: “Harvard is just one university, but it is the nation’s oldest and most famous, and for better or worse, the outside world takes note of what happens here. We hope the effects will spread outside our formerly ivy-covered walls and encourage faculty and students elsewhere to rise up.”