How does academic freedom change society for good?

Even the most controversial research conducted by scholars can impact cultures and drive progress.

RYAN STOWERS: The concerns that we have regarding academic freedom is first of all I think it's underappreciated and maybe taken for granted how unique it is, and how absolutely critical it is. Universities historically have been places where people have the freedom to pursue courses of study that maybe weren't as popular at the time or maybe controversial. And to prevent academics from being able to do that is dangerous. It's dangerous for the future of our culture, of society. You think about all the ideas that have come out of universities over the centuries. It's really been a driver of innovation and progress. And it was because people were in a position to pursue those things that they felt they wanted to pursue without any outside or inside infringement or prevention. And that is critical, and I do think we take it for granted.

The research that scholars are producing can have an incredible impact on culture and society and has really been a driver of innovation and progress for decades and decades. We at the Charles Koch Foundation are supporting numerous scholars who are doing this kind of impactful research and I can come up with just a couple of examples. One that stands out is Carrie Pettus-Davis at Florida State University. She's so focused on aspects of the criminal justice system and specifically on the problem of recidivism. There are 13 million people in the United States that are constantly being released from prison and then they end up back in prison. This is a huge problem and a huge barrier preventing people from improving their lives. Carrie's also frustrated that on average a lot of the clinical research in this area takes on average 17 years to actually be implemented to drive change.

And so what she's doing with 75 additional researchers she's focused on ten states with the goal of making sure that the research they do and the changes that that research could drive are implemented in real time. And so this is kind of a paradigm shift. Again, none of this would be possible – Carrie's work wouldn't be possible if she wasn't able to be creative, to innovate within a researcher's context and to come up with ways in which she can help solve this huge problem in society, recidivism.

  • Academic freedom is, at the same time, absolutely critical and underappreciated.
  • This protection drives innovation and progress, but do we take it for granted? Scholars' ability to conduct controversial research impacts culture and society in a positive way.
  • The opinions expressed in this video do not necessarily reflect the views of the Charles Koch Foundation, which encourages the expression of diverse viewpoints within a culture of civil discourse and mutual respect.


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