Academic Freedom and Constitutionalism

Following Jeff, let me highlight the important work Keith Whittington has done in spearheading the Academic Freedom Alliance to protect and preserve academic freedom. I am also honored to be among the founding members

But let me also highlight the link between education and constitutionalism. The modern American university and the American liberal arts college are, in many ways, outgrowths of American constitutionalism. These “learned institutions” are also a complement to American constitutionalism. Academic freedom is essential to the development of knowledge and truth, which help shape our political culture. This includes university education of a wide-ranging sort that includes things we do not usually associate with government: science, commerce, literature, and the arts, for example. 

As President George Washington insisted, nothing deserved Congress’s patronage more than “the promotion of science and literature,” as knowledge itself contributed to a “free constitution.” Congress agreed, with both the Senate and House passing resolutions of support that echoed Washington’s thought: “literature and science are essential to the preservation of a free constitution.” Successful political institutions depended on culture and ideas, which depend on education.

At its best, liberal arts education is also training for democratic citizenship. The virtues of liberal education mirror the characteristics required of democratic citizens: the ability to grasp and evaluate arguments and evidence and to articulate and defend ideas in a reasoned manner. 

All of this depends on academic freedom. 

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