MLA Statement on Academic Freedom (2009)

Pursuant to a motion approved by the 2007 Delegate Assembly, the Executive Council asked the Committee on Academic Freedom and Professional Rights and Responsibilities to prepare a draft statement on academic freedom for the council’s consideration. At its February 2009 meeting, the council received the committee’s draft, revised it, and approved the revised draft as an MLA statement. The council further revised the statement in September 2014.

Despite a long history of the defense of academic freedom, each generation of scholars faces new challenges to its protection. The increasing number of contingent faculty members without the protection of tenure; political pressure on curriculum, faculty appointments, and policy; intrusive processes of standardization and accreditation; erosion of traditional faculty governance structures; the impact of economic challenges on our institutions; and legislative efforts to restrict faculty members from taking positions on issues in the public sphere are among the new concerns that threaten academic freedom.

The central statement of academic freedom is the “1940 Statement of Principles on Academic Freedom and Tenure” created by the American Association of University Professors (AAUP) and the Association of American Colleges and Universities. This statement has been revisited and reaffirmed over the years. Between 1941 and 2006 more than two hundred organizations in higher education signed the 1940 statement. The Modern Language Association endorsed it in 1962 and has a long activist record of supporting the principles of the 1940 statement. The MLA reaffirms its 1962 signature of this document.

When academic freedom is curtailed, higher education is compromised. The MLA works with the AAUP, the American Federation of Teachers, and other professional organizations to ensure academic freedom of adjunct, temporary, part-time, non-tenure-track, probationary, and tenured faculty members. The MLA encourages accrediting bodies to guarantee academic freedom at their reporting institutions and to reinforce its importance. The MLA also calls on college and university administrators and faculty members to support a culture of academic freedom for all teachers, regardless of rank and status.