The days of the ivory tower are a distant memory. We may hear about them from our ancestors — our teachers’ teachers’ predecessors who lived in the days when social philosophers wrote voluminous comparative works and most teaching was done in small groups in the Socratic tradition. But my mentors also taught me to be wary of idealizing the past. Discrimination, sexism and exclusivity characterized those times. And the theories of human nature that social philosophers and historians expounded back then were biased as a result. No, the ivory tower is not some golden era to which academics are striving to return.
But one concept from those days of yore — the principle of academic freedom — remains hallowed in the minds of most scholars. Without academic freedom, it is likely that the spirit of inquiry and intellectual development would wither away under the ever-looming “bottom line.” Academic freedom is what keeps Homo academicans stomachs full and mental juices hot. Without academic freedom, higher education faculty would have all the drudgery without the satisfaction of discovery. We love what we do, and if we don’t, we get out.