Oren R. Griffin


Academic freedom, a coveted feature of higher education, is the concept that faculty should be free to perform their essential functions as professors and scholars without the threat of retaliation or undue administrative influence. The central mission of an academic institution, teach-ing and research, is well served by academic freedom that allows the faculty to conduct its work in the absence of censorship or coercion. In support of this proposition, courts have long held that academic freedom is a special concern of the First Amendment, granting professors and faculty members cherished protections regarding academic speech. In Garcetti v. Ceballos, the Supreme Court held that when public employees make statements in the course of performing their official duties, they are not insulated by the Constitution from employer discipline. Pursuant to Garcetti, it becomes plausible that a faculty member’s expression or speech, at least at a public college or university, would not be entitled to constitutional protection under the First Amendment and may be the basis for disciplinary action. The ramifications could be significant for academics who speak and write in the course of performing their official job duties. This article recounts the Garcetti majority opinion and the accompanying opinions offered by the dissenters. Secondly, the article explores the meaning of academic freedom for individual academics and faculty as expressed through various judicial decisions, including the post-Garcetti case law, as well as other higher education advocates. Next, the article delves into the complexity of academic speech and some intriguing contemporary examples. Finally, the article discusses the challenges confronting academic-freedom protections going forward and the opportunity created by the Supreme Court’s decision in Garcetti. In sum, this article seeks to address the current state of individual academic freedom at America’s colleges and universities.