In July 2021, the California Senate passed an important resolution: Senate Resolution 45 (“Relative to Academic Freedom”). In the supporting bill analysis, the senate affirmed that “academic freedom is an essential requisite for teaching and learning in California Community Colleges” (Senate Judiciary Committee, 2022). The Faculty Association for California Community Colleges (FACCC) and the Academic Senate for California Community Colleges (ASCCC) both supported SR 45, which was passed in the senate with no opposed votes. Since then, FACCC has led the effort to procure a state legislature to author a bill to define academic freedom. The ASCCC and the Intersegmental Committee of Academic Senates (ICAS) recently joined this effort as well. However, as of the writing of this article (March 5, 2023), efforts of FACCC, ICAS, and the ASCCC have not resulted in legislative action.
In the absence of legislative action, the ASCCC should pursue another avenue: regulatory language.
SHOULD REGULATORY LANGUAGE TO DEFINE ACADEMIC FREEDOM BE PURSUED?
Currently, California law and regulation are nearly silent regarding academic freedom. In fact, Title 5 § 51023 provides a single sentence inclusive of academic freedom. As FACCC stated in its support research on SR 45, defining academic freedom will “set a standard so that the California Community Colleges can point to this, enforce it, and utilize it in their curriculum and classrooms” (Senate Judiciary Committee, 2022). Therefore, the ASCCC should utilize the regulation route to provide colleges with a definition of academic freedom.
The landscape that California community colleges operate in demands such an approach. Since 2015, a plethora of legislative mandates—such as guided pathways, the Vision for Success, and Roadmap for the Future—has centered on inclusion, diversity, equity, anti-racism, and accessibility (IDEAA) in the requirements that local and state institutions must meet. This new IDEAA landscape and the objectives that these legal mandates seek to achieve necessitate changes to regulatory language. Additionally, some of the following situations make changes to regulatory language necessary:
- Changing circumstances: Regulatory language may need to be updated to reflect changes in the market, technology, or societal norms that affect the regulated activity.
- Ambiguity: If regulatory language is unclear or ambiguous, clarification of its meaning may be necessary to ensure compliance and enforcement.
- Inconsistency: When different regulatory frameworks or standards conflict with each other, changes may be needed to ensure consistency and avoid confusion.
- In general, the California Community Colleges Chancellor’s Office (CCCCO), the ASCCC, and FACCC have pursued changes to regulatory language through a transparent and inclusive process. This practice has helped to ensure that the changes are based on sound science, are supported by a broad range of stakeholders, and are effective in achieving their intended objectives.
WHY SHOULD FACULTY SUPPORT MODIFICATION OF REGULATORY LANGUAGE TO DEFINE ACADEMIC FREEDOM?
Defining academic freedom in regulatory language is important because it can help to protect and promote the fundamental values of academic inquiry, intellectual curiosity, and free expression in educational institutions.
Academic freedom refers to the principle that scholars, researchers, and teachers should have the right to pursue and disseminate knowledge without fear of censorship, retaliation, or interference from outside forces. This principle includes the ability to research and teach controversial or unpopular subjects, express ideas that may challenge established beliefs, and engage in open and honest debate. If a clear definition of academic freedom is incorporated into regulatory language, educational institutions can establish a formal framework for protecting the academic freedom of their faculty and students. This framework can help to ensure that academic freedom is respected and upheld even in the face of external pressures or political influence.
Additionally, in the current context, California community colleges find themselves grappling with diversity, equity, inclusion, and accessibility initiatives from the CCCCO and the IDEAA-centered professional development or learning that the ASCCC and FACCC offer to faculty. In 2020, the ASCCC, in a paper titled Protecting the Future of Academic Freedom During a Time of Significant Change, asserted that academic freedom does not run counter to the IDEAA work that faculty are engaging in; instead. it is necessary to protect and support students from historically marginalized communities in several ways (ASCCC, 2020):
- Access to diverse perspectives: Academic freedom allows for a wide range of perspectives to be expressed and explored in the classroom and in research, including perspectives from historically marginalized communities. This process can help to broaden students’ understanding of different cultures, perspectives, and experiences and can foster greater empathy and understanding across different communities.
- Freedom to express and explore their own ideas: Students from historically marginalized communities may face particular challenges in expressing their ideas and viewpoints in academic settings due to factors such as cultural biases or stereotypes. Academic freedom can provide a safe and supportive space for these students to express their ideas and engage in open and honest debate without fear of censorship or reprisal.
- Access to critical thinking skills: Academic freedom promotes critical thinking skills and encourages students to challenge assumptions and explore new ideas. This process can be particularly valuable for students from historically marginalized communities who may have experienced marginalization and discrimination in their lives. By developing critical thinking skills, these students can better analyze and navigate complex social and political issues and advocate for themselves and their communities.
In short, academic freedom can help to promote a more diverse, equitable, and inclusive learning environment where all students feel empowered to express their ideas and perspectives without fear of censorship or discrimination. This freedom can be particularly beneficial for students from historically marginalized communities who continue to face unique challenges in an academic and educational setting that was not designed for them.
Academic Senate for California Community Colleges. (2020). Protecting the Future of Academic Freedom During a Time of Significant Change. https://www.asccc.org/papers/protecting-future-
Senate Judiciary Committee. (2022, March 16). SR45 Analysis. https://sjud.senate.ca.gov/sites/sjud.senate.ca.gov/files/sr_45_min_sjud_analysis.pdf
1. The text of SR 45 (Min, 2022) can be found at https://leginfo.legislature.ca.gov/faces/billNavClient.xhtml?bill_id=202120220SR45