Defense Date


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy


Public Policy & Administration

First Advisor

Joseph A. Marolla


This research study examines how faculty perceive academic freedom at a metropolitan university. Thirty structured interviews were conducted with social science faculty, who have been tenured for 10 years or more, at Virginia Commonwealth University (VCU). These faculty came from the departments of Sociology, Psychology, Anthropology, Political Science, Urban Studies, Criminal Justice, Women’s Studies, and African-American Studies. The following five questions were the central research questions: (a) how do core faculty in the social sciences at VCU define academic freedom; (b) do these same faculty perceive academic freedom to be a significant feature of a career in higher education; (c) do these same faculty perceive any existing threats to their academic freedom; (d) how do these faculty define academic tenure; and (e) how did these faculty learn about academic freedom and tenure. Where previous research has often focused on comparing and contrasting faculty perceptions of academic freedom from different institutions, ranks and disciplines, this research targeted a fairly homogenous population of faculty in order to identify any common socialization experiences, both formal and informal, which may have contributed to common perceptions. The findings suggest that these faculty do not share a common perception of academic freedom. Where most of the respondents did agree that academic freedom protected both research and teaching, approximately half of the respondents did not associate any institutional limitations or professional responsibilities with academic freedom. Most of the respondents considered academic freedom to be a significant feature of an academic career. They perceived the current threats to academic freedom to be largely stemmed from within the institution. In particular, they believed that a top- down business model of leadership coupled with a weak academic culture to be the most significant threats to academic freedom. They defined tenure primarily as a means of protecting their own academic freedom through job security. Lastly, most of them learned about academic freedom very vicariously and informally, which helps explain the varied perceptions of what academic freedom means to them and how it should be exercised.


Scanned, with permission from the author, from the original print version, which resides in University Archives.


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