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Academic Freedom
Rights and Responsibilities for Faculty and Students at Ohio University

(Adapted from the Association of American Colleges and Universities statement on Academic Freedom and Educational Responsibilities, December 21, 2005)

A university is a dedicated social place where a variety of competing claims to truth can be explored and tested, free from political interference. The persons who drive the production of knowledge and the process of education are highly trained professors, and they, through an elaborate process of review by professional peers, take responsibility as a community for the quality of their scholarship, teaching, and student learning. Trustees, administrators, policy makers, and other stakeholders also have important roles to play, but the faculty and their students stand at the center of the enterprise.

Academic freedom to explore significant and controversial questions is an essential precondition to fulfill the university's mission of educating students and advancing knowledge. In order to contribute to knowledge, scholars require the freedom to pursue their ideas wherever they lead, unconstrained by political, religious, or other dictums. And scholars need the informed criticism of peers who represent a broad spectrum of insight and experience in order to build a body of knowledge. Students benefit enormously when their learning is guided by thoughtful and knowledgeable scholars who come from diverse backgrounds and experience in order to build a body of knowledge.

Academic freedom is necessary not just so faculty members can conduct their individual research and teach their own courses, but so they can enable students to acquire the learning they need to contribute to society. Academic responsibility requires professors to submit their knowledge and claims to rigorous and public review by peers who are experts in the subject matter under consideration; to ground their arguments in the best available evidence; and to work together to foster the education of students. Faculty are responsible for establishing goals for student learning, for designing and implementing programs of general education and specialized study that intentionally cultivate the intended learning, and for assessing students' achievement.

As faculty carry out this mission, it is inevitable that students will encounter ideas, books, and people that challenge their preconceived ideas and beliefs. The resulting tension between the faculty's freedom to teach and the students' freedom to form independent judgments opens an additional dimension of academic freedom and educational responsibility. This clash of competing ideas is an important catalyst, not only for the expansion of knowledge but also in students' development of independent critical judgment. It is thus essential that faculty help students to learn to engage differences of opinion, evaluate evidence, and form their own grounded judgments about the relative value of competing perspectives.

Liberally educated students are curious about new intellectual questions, open to alternative ways of viewing a situation or a problem, disciplined to follow intellectual methods to conclusions, capable of accepting criticism from others, tolerant of ambiguity, and respectful of others with different views. They understand and accept the imperative of academic honesty. Building such intellectual and personal capacities is the right way to warn students of the inappropriateness and dangers of indoctrination, help them see through the distortions of propaganda, and enable them to assess judiciously the persuasiveness of powerful emotional appeals. Emphasizing the quality of analysis helps students see why unwelcome views need to be heard rather than silenced. There must be curricular space, capable guides and models, and a supportive institutional culture to encourage students as they learn to develop their own critical judgments. Freedom to learn is indispensable for both students and professors as they examine and assess disparate points of view within and across disciplinary boundaries.

To develop their own critical judgment, students also need the freedom to express their ideas publicly as well as repeated opportunities to explore a wide range of insights and perspectives. Students are more likely to develop cognitive complexity when they frequently interact with people, views, and experiences that are different from their own. In a learning context, everyone must respect those who disagree with themselves and also maintain an atmosphere of civility. Anything less creates a hostile environment that limits intellectual diversity and, therefore, the quality of learning. Students require a safe environment in order to feel free to express their own views. They must have confidence that they will not be subjected to ridicule by either students or professors. They have a right to be graded on the intellectual merit of their arguments, uninfluenced by the personal views of professors. They must also have a right to appeal if they are not able to reach a satisfactory resolution of differences with a professor.

However, students do not have a right to remain free from encountering unwelcome or inconvenient questions. Learning to form independent judgments requires that students demonstrate openness to the challenges their ideas may elicit and the willingness to alter their original views in light of new knowledge, evidence, and perspectives. Students do have a right to hear and examine diverse opinions, but within the frameworks that knowledgeable scholars - themselves subject to rigorous standards of peer review - have determined to be reliable and accurate. All competing ideas on a subject do not deserve to be included in a course or program, or to be regarded as equally valid simply because they have been asserted.
Academic Grievances
A student may grieve academic matters not involving grade changes. These issues may include course content and instructor behavior. Before pursuing such a grievance, students should familiarize themselves with the importance of academic freedom to the educational environment of the university. Ohio University supports the idea that protecting academic freedom at the institution is the responsibility of students and faculty alike. Ohio University takes the position that academic freedom protects faculty and students’ research and scholarship activities as well as material introduced in the classroom and must be assured during the academic appeal process. However, instructors are expected to show proper judgment in the classroom and should avoid persistently intruding material which has no relation to their subject.

A statement defining academic freedom which is based on language supported by the Association of American Colleges and Universities can be found above. Students should familiarize themselves with this statement before deciding whether to pursue a grievance related to an academic matter.

If a student wishes to grieve an academic matter that is not protected by academic freedom as defined above, the student should first seek resolution of the matter with the instructor. If resolution is not reached, the student should take his or her grievance to the department chair or school director. If resolution cannot be reached at that level, the student should consult the dean of his or her college.

The student should be aware that they may contact the Ombuds Office, Baker University Center Room 501, 740-593-2627, for advice and counsel at anytime during the academic grievance processes described above.

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