Academic Freedom Complaint Policy and Procedures

Academic Freedom Policy

Recommended ByThe Academic Senate
ApprovedRuben Armiñana, President
Issue DateThursday, May 22, 2008
Current Issue DateThursday, July 17, 2008
Effective DateWednesday, July 2, 2008
Contact OfficeAcademic Affairs
Policy number2008-6

I. Policy

It is the policy of Sonoma State University to support an academic climate that protects academic freedom, academic responsibility, and the pursuit of excellence in teaching, research, and learning through the free exchange and critique of ideas among all members of this community.

II. Concepts

Quality education requires a climate of academic freedom and academic responsibility. Sonoma State acknowledges and encourages the practice of academic freedom while recognizing that the concept of academic freedom is accompanied by a corresponding concept of responsibility to the University and its students.

A.  Academic Freedom

Academic freedom is the unrestricted search for knowledge and truth and its free exposition in the scholarly community. This is a special freedom necessary to the mission of the university. Academic freedom is vital to ensure the acquisition and dissemination of knowledge for the benefit of the faculty, educational officers, students, administrators, the institution, the academic community, and the public. All members of this community must be able, under the principles of academic freedom, to pursue knowledge and to express and defend their viewpoints in an atmosphere of mutual respect, as outlined in the SSU Statement on Collegiality.

Persons engaged in research, dissemination of knowledge, and student advisement and advocacy are entitled to full freedom in research and in the publication of the results. Any academic related and creative activity shall take place within the guidelines of SSU policies.

Faculty and Students are entitled to freedom in the classroom in discussing their subject, maintaining awareness of the relevance of their contribution to the course or to the mission of the university. Controversy is at the heart of the free academic inquiry and requires good faith openness in assessment of a teacher’s or student’s intent to introduce controversial material in relation to their subject.

B. Responsibility

Professional responsibility is the logical correlative of academic freedom. As members of a profession possessing the right of self-government, the academic community has an obligation to define the rights and responsibilities necessary for research and teaching. All members of the academic community are responsible for conducting themselves in ways that will promote the achievement of the purposes for which academic freedom exists.

All members of this community shall be free from institutional censorship and retributive measures in response to exercising academic freedom. Scholars and educational officers shall attempt at all times and in good faith to be accurate, exercise appropriate restraint, show respect for the opinions of others, and clarify that they are not speaking for the institution.

III. Implementation

The exercise of academic freedom is judged by the standards established by and in accordance with the expertise and authority of the faculty, in consultation with relevant university bodies, and consistent with established criteria.


ACADEMIC FREEDOM COMPLAINT PROCEDURES - All aspects of these procedures are confidential.


Academic Freedom springs from the centrality of free inquiry in higher education and is thus essential in colleges and universities, but it is also contentious because of its imprecise boundaries.  The procedures that follow reflect an awareness of academic freedom’s essential role in higher education and of the need to remain vigilant in its defense.  They also recognize that academic freedom’s imprecise boundaries may lead to unintentional violations of greater or lesser severity and greater or lesser degrees of unintentionally; therefore a range of remedies is called for.  The following procedures are intended to apply to situations which cannot be corrected by more informal means.


The Statement of Professional Responsibility (SPR) and the Faculty Bill of Rights (FBR) enumerate rights and responsibilities that are essential for the protection of academic freedom.  Those documents empower the Academic Freedom Subcommittee (AFS) of the Faculty Standards and Affairs Committee (FSAC), formerly known as the Committee on Academic Freedom (CAF) and renamed in 1998, to review “any question of interpretation either of rights or responsibilities.”


Written complaints of violations of any provision of SPR or FBR shall be directed to the Chair of the Academic Freedom Subcommittee.  Any person responsible for teaching or support of instruction whose rights may have been violated or any member of the campus community who witnesses a possible violation may file a complaint.

The complaint shall indicate the specific provision of the SPR or FBR that may have been abrogated; it should include a description of the alleged violation, the available evidence and, if desired, a proposed remedy.  Individuals who may have been responsible for the alleged violation should be identified.  The address, or other contact information, for the person making the complaint should be listed.

The Chair of AFS shall make copies of the written complaint available to all alleged violating parties.  After the complaint is received it should be considered at the next regularly scheduled meeting of AFS unless there is a compelling need for more timely action.  The complaint shall proceed to a hearing conducted by a three-person committee, selected by lot from a list of the tenured members of the faculty, unless four members of AFS conclude that it is without merit.

In the event that the complaint is not considered to be of sufficient merit to warrant a hearing, the Chair of AFS shall inform the complainant and alleged violators of the committee’s decision in a timely fashion.  The complainant shall have the right to appeal this decision to the Executive Committee of the Academic Senate and shall be informed of this right by the Chair of AFS.

If, after receiving an appeal, a majority of the voting members of the Executive committee decide that the complaint should be heard, they shall, through their Chair, appoint a three-person committee, drawn at random from the tenured members of the faculty, to conduct a hearing.

In the event that a hearing is conducted, either through the auspices of the AFS or the Executive Committee, it is incumbent upon those who are alleged to have violated SPR or FBR to participate in the hearing.

The committee will attempt to bring about a settlement of the matter that is satisfactory to all parties concerned.  If, in the opinion of the committee, no settlement is possible, the committee shall report its findings and recommendations to the complainant, the alleged violator(s), the chair of the appointing committee (AFS or Executive Committee), and the Provost of the University.

Thirty days after these reports have been made, the chair of the appointing committee will contact the Provost in order to inquire about any action that may have been taken.  The chair of the appointing committee shall report the results of this inquiry on the floor of the Senate.

Each year, at the close of the spring semester, the Chair of AFS will report, without including the names of individuals, all complaints that have been settled, left unsettled, or remain pending, to the FSAC representative to AFS; a summary report of all settlements will be made to any newly elected chair of AFS.  Files will be kept for 8 years.

Written by the Academic Freedom Subcommittee and approved by unanimous vote of FSAC at its May 13, 1999, meeting 
Approved by the Senate February 10, 2000