Alt-Acs, the Great Google Revolt and the Value of Academic Freedom

In an age of adjunctification, is it even possible to discuss extending the protections of academic freedom to alternative academics?

February 20, 2020

The common good depends upon the free search for truth and its free exposition. Academic freedom is essential to these purposes and applies to both teaching and research. Freedom in research is fundamental to the advancement of truth.

--From the 1940 AAUP Statement of Principles on Academic Freedom

One way that we recognize the value of academic freedom is to witness what happens to those who have none.

The idea of academic freedom -- who has it and who does not -- was much on my mind as I read the New York Times article "The Great Google Revolt."

The article details the firing of Google employees for their efforts to speak out against various Google business practices, including contracts with the Department of Defense and Customs and Border Protection. The Google employees discussed in the New York Times piece lost their jobs because they tried to take a principled stand against the actions of the company at which they worked. (Others seem to have lost their jobs for pushing for union representation).

When it comes scholarship, most of us who work in higher education have no more protections than those who work at Google.

Today, some of the most critical issues facing higher education center around the growing role of university/company partnerships. Many alternative academics are deeply involved in this work, helping to negotiate and run university collaborations with online program management companies and others.

It would not be a surprise if alt-acs were to create the scholarship (if there is to be any) on the growth of university/company partnerships. After all, alternative academics are close to this work and have been trained to prioritize research as “fundamental to the advancement of truth.”

Nor would it come as a surprise if the scholarship that alt-acs produce on university/company partnerships runs counter to the messaging of the leadership of the institutions in which they are employed.

Alt-acs, like the Google employees profiled in the New York Times piece, may have strong opinions about how their organizations are run. And they may be likely to share those opinions with colleagues and in public settings. These same alt-acs, lacking the protections of academic freedom, may find themselves suffering a similar fate as those former Google employees.

Do we think that it would be beneficial for our colleges and universities to encourage critical evidence-based scholarship on the big issues facing higher education?

Is it right that those situated to carry out scholarship on higher education might be not only professors, but also their alt-ac colleagues?

In an age of adjunctification, is it even possible to discuss extending the protections of academic freedom to alternative academics?


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