Statement of Commitment to Academic Freedom and to Intellectual Merit

by Don Boudreaux on March 6, 2023

in Education, Philosophy of Freedom, Truth-seeking & ideology

I thank my GMU Econ colleague Dan Klein for taking the lead in drafting this Statement of Commitment to Academic Freedom and to Intellectual Merit, which is signed by 19 of my GMU Econ colleagues, current and emeritus. (Also sharing this Statement at their blogs are Bryan Caplan, Robin Hanson, and Alex Tabarrok.)

The undersigned members of the GMU Department of Economics express their commitment to academic freedom and to intellectual merit.

~~~

American universities have professed allegiance to two ideals. First, the ideal of academic freedom – the right of students and faculty to express any idea in speech or writing, without fear of university punishment, and secure in the knowledge that the university will protect dissenters from threats and violence on campus.

Second, the ideal of intellectual merit – the right and duty of academic departments to hire and promote the most brilliant, creative, and productive faculty in their fields, and admit the most intellectually promising students, without pressures from the administration.

These ideals are the cornerstones of liberal education. They protect faculty and students who hold views unpopular on university campuses.   Academic freedom protects existing students and faculty who dissent from current dominant academic opinion and ideology.  No matter how unpopular their views, they know the university will protect them. As stated in the University of Chicago Statement on freedom of expression and as quoted in GMU’s “Free Speech at Mason” Statement:

[We must hold a fundamental commitment to] the principle that debate or deliberation may not be suppressed because the ideas put forth are thought by some or even by most members of the University community to be offensive, unwise, immoral, or wrong-headed.

Intellectual merit protects prospective students and faculty who speak and write against current dominant viewpoints.  No matter how unpopular their views, they know that university administration will not obstruct or prejudice their admission, hiring, or promotion.

Recently, both of these ideals have come under attack.  Pressure for conformity has intensified and universities have increasingly interfered with departments’ personnel decisions. For example, at some universities, one of the more egregious new practices is the requiring of written “diversity” statements by prospective students, staff, or faculty, then used to discriminate among candidates, often by quarters of the university with interests other than those of the department or unit. Such methods recall arrogations of the past, such as The Levering Act of 1950, used against radicals.

We strongly believe the attacks on academic freedom and intellectual merit are deeply mistaken.  The classic rationales in favor of these ideals are sound. To protect them, viewpoint diversity must be celebrated and academic departments must maintain their ability to select, hire, and promote students and personnel based on intellectual merit. We insist that the degree of institutional autonomy that the GMU Department of Economics has traditionally enjoyed is vital to the health of viewpoint diversity not only within the university but within the academy writ large.

It is vital that every department in a university enjoys independence, so it can dare to be different and keep viewpoint diversity alive. George Mason University has excelled in supporting viewpoint diversity with a variety of diverse departments, centers and organizations. Viewpoint diversity at George Mason has benefited the university, the United States, and the wider intellectual world.

Indeed, some of the Department’s chief contributions have taught that all forms of authority can exert power to excess, and that guarding against such excess calls for the very ideals affirmed here, respect for dissent and intellectual merit.

We, the undersigned members of the GMU Department of Economics, look forward to continuing our independence to do good economics according to our judgment, guided by the ideals of academic freedom and intellectual merit.

Signed by the following GMU Department of Economics faculty (full-time & emeritus):

1.      Jonathan P. Beauchamp

2.      James T. Bennett

3.      Donald J. Boudreaux

4.      Bryan D. Caplan

5.      Vincent J. Geloso

6.      Timothy Groseclose

7.      Robin D. Hanson

8.      Garett Jones

9.      Daniel B. Klein

10.  Mark Koyama

11.  David M. Levy

12.  Cesar A. Martinelli

13.  John V.C. Nye

14.  Thomas C. Rustici

15.  Vernon L. Smith

16.  Alex T. Tabarrok

17.  Karen I. Vaughn

18.  Richard E. Wagner

19.  Lawrence H. White

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