Few tenured professors leave the academy, but Alice Dreger quit, on principle. Dreger enjoyed a successful career as a tenured professor at Michigan State before moving on to Northwestern University for the next ten years. In 2014, a controversy erupted over an essay published in Atrium, a faculty journal for which she was guest editor. Post-publication, administrative officials asked that they be allowed to approve themes of future issues, for the call for proposals for each issue, and also for the content. Dreger and her Atrium team members refused. There has not been another Atrium published since the contentious issue went to press.
As this conflict was unfolding, Dreger was finishing up her now-acclaimed book about academic freedom, Galileo’s Middle Finger: Heretics, Activists, and the Search for Justice in Science. As Dreger later said in an interview with Heterodox Academy, “You can’t have any integrity if you have a major book out on academic freedom telling people to stand up for their academic rights and you’re allowing your university dean to tell you what you can and can’t publish.”
In the end, Dreger resigned over the incident. Her experience was widely chronicled in a variety of outlets, from USA Today to the Chicago Tribune to the Huffington Post.
Since leaving Northwestern, Dreger has devoted herself to a new cause with obvious connections to the norms of scholarship: non-partisan news, a promising response to our era of fake news and political polarization. She continued to be a sought-after speaker at schools and events across the country. Because censorship has a stifling effect on viewpoint diversity and open inquiry, she urges faculty resist pressure from higher-ups to self-censor. By officially separating from the university, Dreger has become one of its most important and constructive critics for she is now able to candidly identify challenges and propose solutions.
To learn more about Dreger’s story (and get a glimpse of her humor), we invite you to watch her keynote address on academic freedom from the FIRE 2017 Faculty conference.
Institutional pressure and potential career damage will intimidate most people into acquiescence. But not Alice Dreger, which is why we are awarding her the first-ever HxA Open Mind Award for Courage.