How does contingent employment threaten academic freedom?

Academic freedom represents a pillar of western universities. The primary defense for free speech and unfettered scientific research is tenure. For decades, tenure has been under a sustained attack from covert business groups that recognize academic freedom as a threat to their economic agenda. The question of free speech has also attracted considerable attention with the increasing polarization of western electorates. However, there has been little investigation of the extent to which ‘casualization’ of the professoriate endangers academic freedom. Supplanting tenure stream positions with contract positions diminishes the number of tenured faculty that enjoy the full scope of academic freedom, but the consequences of this structure go deeper.

  • To what extent does the precarity of employment prevent contract faculty from challenging the conventional wisdom of university decision makers and their proposed reforms?
  • How does the promotion of higher education as a commodity discourage contingent faculty from broaching controversial perspectives inside the classroom?
  • Does the lack of access to research grants shape the scope of research among contract faculty, or does it paradoxically liberate them to explore topics that might harm the promotion prospects for tenured faculty?
  • How does increasing reliance upon private donors, condition research at public universities?
  • To what extent do student evaluations, both official and online variants, lead scholars to self-censor in the classroom and avoid provocative assignments that might stimulate education but also stimulate backlash?