Does the standing of your college or university have anything to do with the state of academic freedom on your campus? The global ascendance of the metrics industry — which is primarily based on the collection and aggregation of data to create rankings — has increasingly led to conditions where select performance indicators drive college and university administrators’ decisions and actions. Yet those indicators are systematically disengaged from the question of academic freedom, the foundational cornerstone of college life.
Consider a recent prominent example. In late summer 2014, the University of Illinois retracted a job contract from American studies professor Steven Salaita — one both he and the institution had already signed — after tweets that he posted critiquing the atrocities perpetuated by Israel in Gaza generated considerable donor pressure on the institution. As Salaita fought the university’s decision, academics throughout higher education institutions in the United States and abroad mounted a massive campaign to support him and the principle of academic freedom. Petitions circulated. The university’s decision to unhire Salaita became the cornerstone of this campaign.