July 27, 2023 – Free Speech & Peace

In case you missed it: Ryan Stowers outlines bottom-up solution for securing academic freedom


In a recent op-ed in Inside Higher Ed, Charles Koch Foundation Executive Director Ryan Stowers argues open inquiry on college campuses faces significant challenges, but sweeping, top-down legislative solutions risk making them worse. While public leaders play a role in protecting the rights of students and scholars at public colleges and universities, recent legislative trends telling faculty and students what they can and cannot study work against the very principles of academic freedom. 

Stowers writes:

“The process of knowledge building cannot be legislated for the simple reason that it is, by its nature, emergent, bottom-up. It is a goal pursued by a community with shared norms, not an end point that can be prescribed by legislatures.

“Policymakers should proceed with caution. They should think through how they can incentivize open campus environments. But legislative intervention comes with real risk of turning the pursuit of truth into a partisan issue and encourages future policymakers to use the lever of the state to enact their view of what is true.” 

Threats to academic freedom are growing, Stowers acknowledges, and faculty and postsecondary education leaders have the chance to offer bottom-up solutions to solve them. Stowers lays out a three-part approach:

  • Administrators should examine their own policies to ensure academic freedom and free speech are enshrined in them.
  • Through campus programming and class discussion, campus leadership should ensure students have ample opportunities to encounter free inquiry in action. 
  • Faculty and researchers should commit themselves to a republic of science and engage in processes that help facilitate the pursuit of truth, as opposed to producing more publications that simply confirm their prior beliefs. 

Read Stowers’ full op-edLearn more about CKF’s work to protect academic freedom and foster open environments on campus.