The idea of a constitutionally protected realm of academic freedom is controversial and judicially unsettled. With their most protective rhetoric, courts have referred to "the robust tradition of academic freedom in our nation's post-secondary schools." The Supreme Court has proclaimed that
of transcendent value to all of us and not merely to the teachers concerned. That freedom is therefore a special concern of the First Amendment, which does not tolerate laws that cast a pall of orthodoxy over the classroom.
Beyond the strands of supportive rhetoric, however, lies much current controversy and uncertainty. One court has observed that "'[a]cademic freedom' is a term that is often used, but little explained, by federal courts." Academic freedom is largely unanalyzed, undefined,6 and unguided by principled application, leading to its inconsistent and skeptical or questioned invocation. Thus, the relationship between academic freedom and the First Amendment is typically left unclear. Could any teachers ever have special academic freedom claims that are not subsumed under general First Amendment doctrine? If university administrations and boards of trustees themselves have academic freedom claims of any sort do those claims fall equally within the logic of freedom of speech? Assuming that only public universities are bound to respect First and Fourteenth Amendment free speech rights, does the logic of academic freedom nonetheless suggest any guidance for private universities? The existence of the First Amendment itself has not yet brought clarity regarding the degree, if any, to which a college professor's or other public school teacher's classroom speech is protected explicitly, in academic freedom terms or not, under the First Amendment.
R. George Wright,
The Emergence of First Amendment Academic Freedom,
85 Neb. L. Rev.
Available at: https://digitalcommons.unl.edu/nlr/vol85/iss3/6