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The Academic Freedom Fund was established by the American Association of University Professors in 1956 as a restricted fund for supporting academic freedom through research, publication, and direct assistance to faculty members. Over nearly five decades, the fund has disbursed almost $500,000. Most awards—more than a hundred— have gone to individual faculty members to assist them when their academic freedom has been threatened. The fund has also underwritten conferences and workshops on academic freedom and subsidized special reports on critical academic freedom issues.
The reasons for grants of support from the fund reveal the highlights of the fight to protect academic freedom over the past half century: failure to provide due process in reappointment and tenure decisions, denial of appointment and unfair dismissal because of political or religious beliefs, ideological attacks on scientific research and artistic expression, corporate interference in the publication of research results, and the use of national security concerns as a pretext for silencing dissent. Some of these threats to academic freedom are new; others are old enemies in new garb that remain threats nonetheless.
As of January 1, 2013, the Academic Freedom Fund became part of the AAUP Foundation, where its mission continues. The eminent historian Joan Wallach Scott puts the matter succinctly. “Academic freedom,” she has said, “is not a luxury or a special privilege. It is the necessary foundation of our educational system, one of the essential building blocks of our free society.”