Academic Freedom in an Age of Conformity

© SpringerConfronting the Fear of Knowledge
Joanna Williams
6th January
£19.99 | $30 | Paperback | 9781137514783


An alarming trend is seeing US and UK higher education spaces increasing self-censorship for fear of causing offense or crossing social or political lines – putting at risk their reputations for being champions of intellectual liberty. This book is a passionate defence for the power of academic free speech in an age of increasing conformity and censorship on campus, written by one of today's most provocative commentators on higher education.

In Academic Freedom in an Age of Conformity, Spiked education editor Joanna Williams lays out a controversial argument: that academic freedom is increasingly being threatened by a stifling culture of conformity in higher education that is restricting individual academics, the freedom of academic thought and the progress of knowledge – the very foundations upon which academia and universities are built.

Williams argues that academic freedom is increasingly criticised as an outdated and elitist concept by students and lecturers alike and called into question by a number of political and intellectual trends such as feminism, critical theory, and identity politics. Speech codes and anti-harassment policies, designed to promote the university campus as an inclusive and emotionally safe environment, dictate the acceptable language of academic discourse and enforce a culture of conformity.

Williams speaks out against ‘trigger warnings’ in higher education settings, arguing that this attempt to protect students from material that is controversial or potentially offensive blatantly undermines the element of free academic speech which is crucial to the expansion of knowledge.

Williams compellingly argues that freedom to propose the outrageous and challenge the ordinary is as essential for individual liberty as it is for society’s collective knowledge and understanding of the world to advance. This book is a passionate call to arms for the power of academic thought today.

‘At a time when campuses both in the United States and Britain increasingly see academic freedom under threat both from within and without, we need scholars to provide lucid, clearly written, and scholarly explanations of both where our traditions of academic freedom came from and why they matter so much. Joanna Williams has done precisely that in her new book. It is essential reading for anyone who cares about academic freedom, wants to better understand the threats to it, and how to fight back.’

– Greg Lukianoff, author of Freedom From Speech and Unlearning Liberty

‘This is a must read for anyone concerned about the future of freedom inside and outside the university. Joanna Williams provides a compelling account of why academic freedom is in trouble. A powerful but nuanced study of the conformist campus.’

– Frank Furedi, author, commentator and Emeritus Professor of Sociology, University of Kent, UK



About the Author

Joanna Williams has worked in and written about schools, colleges and higher education for more than 20 years. She is the Education Editor for Spiked Online. She has previously published Consuming Higher Education: Why Learning Can't be Bought.

For more information or to get in touch with the author please contact:
Rebecca Krahenbuhl, rebecca.krahenbuhl@palgrave.com, +44 0207 014 6634