The principles of academic freedom as articulated in centrally influential documents such as the 1940 AAUP “Statement of Principles on Academic Freedom and Tenure” assume the concept of merit as basic. The protections and the responsibilities of academic freedom and tenure are granted to faculty members who over time have demonstrated meritorious work in their specific fields of expertise. The proliferation of post-tenure reviews, however, suggests another model at work: academic freedom as grounded in free market principles rather than on long-term merit. The changes marked by the transition from merit to market models affect a considerable range of people, not only faculty, but also students and the general public, whose support is crucial to higher education. I argue that the economic costs of sustaining an academic freedom market are enormous, a burden borne primarily by groups marked as exogenous to the proper operation of the market who receive little or no benefit from its operations. Combinations of merit and market models usually offer the worst of both worlds, where the exclusionary force so often a part of the history of merit practices thereby becomes available to rationalize the exclusions imposed by an academic freedom market. Thus rather than attempt a return to merit-based principles of academic freedom, I argue in conclusion that it's worth exploring the possibility of building alternative collective forms of markets that can be responsive to the needs of all citizens who have a stake in the ideals of academic freedom.

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