Free Inquiry and the American College

The best thing I read today is a piece of the “Proposal for the Fulfillment of Catholic Liberal Education” (1969), the founding document of Thomas Aquinas College in California.


…[S]chools whose academic policies are based on religious doctrine limit academic freedom and thereby depress the intellectual life of the scholarly community. Such a view, for example, has been expressed by the American Association of University Professors:

Freedom of conscience in teaching and research is essential to maintain academic integrity and fulfill the basic purposes of higher education; consequently, any restriction on academic freedom raises grave issues of professional concern.

(Statement on Academic Freedom in Church-Related Colleges and Universities; A.A.U.P. Bulletin, Winter, 67)

It is clear that they hold religious doctrine to be a restriction on academic freedom, for later in the same statement, the conditions upon which a religious school insists when it appoints a teacher are described as “institutional limitations on his academic freedom.”

Now inasmuch as this conception of intellectual and academic freedom is based on the principle of free inquiry i.e. the position that every doctrine is subject to critical examination and possible rejection it is suitable (and hardly unfair) to examine critically the general principle itself. If it claims to be a dogma, the only dogma immune to criticism, by what right does it claim its exemption from the general principle? Or, on the other hand, if it too is open to question, by what principle are we to justify our examination of it? Not by the principle of free inquiry, for it is presently under judgment and therefore in suspense.


It goes on, but I have to stop here in accord with the governing spirit of this exercise. Thanks, dear reader, should you ever find me, for being the gadfly of my discipline.


About philokalos

Philologist, historian, and lover of great books, I started this blog to keep myself alert to the beauty of what I see amid the demands of my work.
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