Kuehn, Joy's Article in Academe Examines Interference in Clinics, Academic Freedom

Students in various disciplines throughout universities receive hands-on training through service-learning programs such as law school clinics. But that type of academic training is under attack from both big business and legislative bodies, say law professors Robert Kuehn and Peter Joy.

“Recent legislative and corporate efforts to interfere in the operations of law clinics indicate that academic freedom is at risk when hands-on student learning bumps up against ‘real-world’ disputes,” write Kuehn and Joy in “ ‘Kneecapping’ Academic Freedom,” the recent lead article for “The Conflicted University,” a special edition of Academe, which is published by the American Association of University Professors. Kuehn is a professor of law, president of the Clinical Legal Education Association (CLEA), and co-director of the law school's Interdisciplinary Environmental Clinic. Joy is vice dean, the Henry Hitchcock Professor of Law, co-director of the law school's Criminal Justice Clinic, and former president of CLEA .

Kuehn and Joy note that the University of Maryland recently came under fire when a law clinic lawsuit against a $4 billion poultry company sparked an effort to withhold state funds from the university unless its law school provided the legislature with sensitive information about clinic clients and case activities. The state legislature eventually withdrew its threats. During the dispute between the law clinic and the legislature, as well as similar circumstances involving clinics in Louisiana, both Kuehn and Joy advocated for the importance of law school clinical programs being free from interference in client and case activities. [view related article]

Outside law school

Many professional programs offer course opportunities with real-life experiences, and Kuehn and Joy note that a growing number of universities have begun to require service learning and other experiential educational opportunities for undergraduates.

“Yet, each time teaching leaves the confines of the classroom, the potential exists for conflicts with the interests of others,” Kuehn and Joy write. “This is particularly true when the activities outside the classroom involve assisting individuals and groups whose interests put them at odds with the interests of those with strong ties to the university or elected officials, especially corporate interests.”

Kuehn and Joy question whether academic freedom in teaching will transcend the classroom. “If academic freedom as a constitutional right imposes some limits on the regulation of public higher education, the scope of this protection when applied to service learning has yet to be defined,” they write.

“Although courts generally have upheld a university’s power to decide and control its curriculum when students, taxpayers, or individual faculty members have challenged that power, the legality of efforts by legislatures or other government officials to restrict directly the method or content of university courses is less clear, especially when those courses move outside the classroom.”

[View] Kuehn and Joy’s article, “ ‘Kneecapping’ Academic Freedom”

[view] Coverage in Times Higher Education (UK)

By Jessica Martin