Academic freedom is vital to everyone who works in the field of history—full-time and part-time faculty at both public and private community colleges, research universities, and comprehensive or liberal-arts colleges; middle and secondary school teachers; graduate assistants; museum professionals and public historians. Shared governance may not always lead to the desired outcome, but it is a core component of academic freedom. Program redesign undertaken within a robust system of shared governance does not endanger academic freedom. However, program redesign undertaken outside of, or in disregard of, meaningful shared governance poses a significant threat to academic freedom. If those who present history—in whatever role, form, or venue—cannot exercise a real voice in how their institutions make decisions about curriculum, pedagogy, and research, academic freedom is at risk.
In this era of financial limits, technological change, and degradation of shared governance, three drivers of program redesign are of particular concern:
- Financial Hardship: program redesign motivated by financial considerations or emergencies
- Institutional Mission: program redesign directed at non-financial, academic objectives
- Intellectual Property: program redesign grounded in institutional claims to employee-created course materials
The pandemic of 2020 has accelerated these drivers and increased the urgency. Many institutions have responded to the crisis by cutting staff, eliminating programs, and shifting to online or hybrid teaching, where instructors may not retain creative control of course materials. Now, more than ever, shared governance matters greatly if historians of all types are to remain free to use their expertise and training to promote broader knowledge of the past.