Freedom of Expression

Subject: Education
Pages: 5
Words: 1444
Reading time:
6 min
Study level: PhD


Freedom of expression is a useful provision to any member of the academic community. The First Amendment provides that the academic community is entitled to academic freedom in learning, freedom to criticize institutional ideologies, and freedom from censorship. Academic freedom requires the academic community to utilize that liberty in a way that conforms with the scholarly obligation to learn on a reasonable search for knowledge. However, this article seeks to evaluate a hypothetical case on academic freedom based on the Supreme Court Justice’s ruling in the 1969 case “Tinker v. Des Moines Independent Community School District”. In this case, several students were suspended following the protests against the Vietnam War. The court ruled in favor of the students that the First Amendment provided the students with the opportunity to express views symbolically, orally, or in writing provided it did not obstruct other institutions’ activities. This case served as a springboard upon which the free speech of students was established. In this light, this paper will support the claim that students should be allowed to express their opinions provided they respect their obligations to the institution and the state. Academic freedom is fundamental since it is hard to foresee which knowledge will be useful, thus it is essential to safeguard all new knowledge.

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As a legal matter, it has been hard to determine how institutional members’ rights under First Amendment and academic freedom interplay. Besides, it is challenging to factor in the difference between academic freedom and free speech under the First Amendment. These two concepts are relatively consistent but analytically different in application. In this case, providing students with freedom of expression might be harmful sometimes. Both genuine and false information might be harmful depending on how and where it is communicated. Even though some topics might pose threats to human welfare, it is more dangerous to let some individuals regulate what should be studied, what opinions should be shared, and what should be withheld (Demirbilek, 2010).

In essence, for the sake of ensuring academic progress, it is worth supporting the notion of unlimited expression as opposed to the related risk of predicted harmful effects. Thus, it is essential to acknowledge the principle of academic expression. In this case, American schools are viewed as having a strong affiliation with political parties and prospective donors (Post, 2012). Therefore, the administrators tend to restrict anything that might compromise public support for preferred parties or individuals. This article examines a hypothetical case whereby a student seeks to present views that differ from the communists’ views advanced by the school community.

Application of academic freedom

Learning institutions are the principal providers of academic resources. Thus, the protection of academic expression is viewed to be an obligation of the learning institutions. According to Justice Frankfurter Sweezy v. New Hampshire in 1957 ruling, it is the mandate of the university to create an environment that is conducive to speculation, experiment, and progress (Essex, 2012). However, institutions should not use this claim to suppress learners from self-expression. Besides, academic freedom should help learners to explore important and controversial topics in a bid to fulfill the scholarly mission of unearthing new knowledge. In this case, the teacher might be compelled by the school regulations to prevent students from airing views that contrast the communists’ ideas. Nonetheless, the teacher should devote substantial time to train students how to analyze and present evidence as long as it expands knowledge.

Academic responsibility

Despite the risks and threats that may arise from a controversial topic such as political patronage, religion, or ethnicity, teachers should work together with students to ensure academic growth. The conflict of competing views is an essential catalyst for the growth of new ideas and in the establishment of independent critical thinking (Tooley, 2014). In a bid to realize this dynamic, it is essential to allow students to share their opinion regardless of what might be true or false. Besides, teachers should assist students to learn to engage and appreciate competing viewpoints, examine the evidence, and make independent conclusions. Consequently, it becomes easy for both the faculty and the students to understand and appreciate the relative value of the contrasting opinion. This perspective is an important part of an institution’s role in developing knowledge and ensuring a community that is secure, diverse, and democratic.

Intellectual diversity

Just like in this case, in any learning of quality, learners face a lot of intellectual diversity such as new ideas, contrasting standpoints, and alternate claims of truth. Some students perceive this intellectual diversity as a platform for development while others are deluged by the complexity. However, it is the role of the teacher to guide the students to develop the skills of evaluation and inquiry of competing ideas. In this case, the opportunity to present the assignment on the class bulletin board for the planned parent night provides a chance for the community to listen to diverse ideas, share, and criticize controversial topics. Through such engagements, new ideas are explored, diverse cultures and religions get a chance to appreciate others through dialogue.

Academic freedom assists create a sense of responsibility to one’s culture, political affiliation religion as well as others (Minerva, 2013). Liberally schooled individuals are open to new intellectual challenges; open to alternative means of handling an issue, and willing to receive criticism from others. Giving students the opportunity to express their views makes them learn and acknowledge the value of academic honesty.

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Anchoring such intellectual and independent judgments is the ideal means to caution learners of the inappropriateness and risks of indoctrination, assist them to avoid propaganda, and assist them to tolerate powerful and emotional appeals of others (Demirbilek, 2010). Instead of stopping the student in question from presenting his/her assignment, the teacher should help the student to understand why unwelcome views need to be expressed. In a bid to ensure community empowerment, diverse views need to be expressed rather than suppressed. Similarly, Levin v Harleston 966 F. 2d 85 (2d Cir. 1992) ruling stressed the courts’ devotion to academic freedom but only when it is not misused or disruptive to the academic progress (Essex, 2012).

Nonetheless, there are various delusions regarding academic freedom and intellectual diversity. In a liberal learning institution, freedom of expression does not warrant anybody the opportunity to utter anything that one wishes. For instance, if one’s view has the potential to cause tension or harm others, it is deemed unacceptable by law. Even though democracy is primary in any learning context, one must ensure a desirable degree of civility and respect for those who disagree. Anything less triggers a fragile environment that undermines intellectual diversity leading to poor quality of education. However, in this case, the teacher has to ensure that the details of the assignment adhere to preferred standards that sieve potential conflicts but not necessarily silence the speaker. Moreover, the law does not cushion students from facing inconvenient ideas. For example, students who believe in the doctrine of creation do not have the right to object to a topic of evolution in a science discipline. Therefore, the teacher should allow the student in question to air his/her views since the scholarly community reviews diverse opinions through a rigorous evaluation (Demirbilek, 2010).

Development of judgment

Any learning institution is a devoted social place where various divergent ideas to truth are evaluated and tested. Even though administrators and policymakers play important roles, the teachers and students occupy the core of the institution. Students create awareness of intellectual diversity from their teachers who are professionally trained (Tooley, 2014). Students must learn to query beyond the arbitrary choice and identify the relative value of the divergent opinion. Thus, it is vital to allow students to post their ideas in light of the evident community pressures. Some people may take it as offensive because it is inconsistent with the school’s view about the communists. Regardless of the outcome, the teacher should stand firm and give the student an opportunity to progress to a more mature state in which s/he can make a judgment. The school community should be enlightened that a proper analysis must not ignore competing views rather it tolerates them thoughtfully.


Attaining educational freedom in a politically inclined institution is not an easy task and students need guidance to decide on what direction to follow. There must be faculty freedom and an enabling institutional environment to help students nurture their critical judgments. Further, this kind of intellectual growth has a massive influence on learners when they are given the chance to demonstrate their knowledge and inquiry techniques to the community. Engagement with the communities helps students meet new forms of intellectual difference hence strengthening their critical judgment.


Demirbilek, K. (2010). Speaking Up: The Unintended Consequences of Free Speech in Public Schools. The International Journal of Children’s Rights, 18(2), 309-311.

Essex, N. (2012). School Law and the Public Schools: A Practical Guide for Educational Leaders. New York, NY: Allyn & Bacon.

Minerva, F. (2013).New Threats to Academic Freedom. Journal of Bioethics, 28(4), 157-162.

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Post, R. (2012). Democracy, expertise, and academic freedom: A First Amendment jurisprudence for the modern state. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press.

Tooley, M. (2014). Solutions to the New Threats to Academic Freedom. Journal of Bioethics, 28(4), 163-165.