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How a Stanford Speech Scandal Led to the Invention of Academic Freedom: The Case of Edward A. Ross

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University speech is front page news. But academic freedom didn’t always exist. Its roots lie in 19th century Germany. And the American version originated at Stanford in 1900, when the founding president, David Starr Jordan, forced the resignation of Edward A. Ross, one of the university’s most popular professors.

Ross was a eugenicist and racist, but that’s not why he was fired. He was an outspoken populist whose politics ran counter to those of the Stanfords. In protest, another Stanford professor, Arthur Lovejoy, resigned. In 1915, Lovejoy helped establish the American Association of University Professors, which laid out a set of formal guidelines for academic freedom that protected tenured faculty from removal for controversial speech or inquiry. However, the American version came with a significant downside: While the document outlined what the freedom is from, it never spelled out what the freedom is for. 

In her presentation, Prof. Emily J. Levine will tell the story of how a scandal at Stanford led to the invention of the term academic freedom that then took on a life of its own. Rather than debate its boundaries she argues that we should focus on the norms and values that foster a shared intellectual community.

Prof. Emily J. Levine (MA ’05 and PhD ’08)  is Associate Professor of Education and (by courtesy) History at Stanford University. She is the author of Allies and Rivals: German-American Exchange and the Rise of the Modern Research University (University of Chicago Press,  2021), and Dreamland of Humanists: Warburg, Cassirer, Panofsky, and the Hamburg School (University of Chicago Press, 2013), and her writing has appeared in The New York Times, The Washington Post, and The LA Times.

Copies of Prof. Levine's book, Allies and Rivals: German-American Exchange and the Rise of the Modern Research University, will be available for purchase at the event venue.