National Institute for Learning Outcomes Assessment |

National Institute for Learning Outcomes Assessment

Occasional Paper 22 - Assessment and Academic Freedom: In Concert, not Conflict


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Cain, T. R. (2014, November). Assessment and academic freedom: In concert, not conflict. (Occasional Paper No. 22). Urbana, IL: University of Illinois and Indiana University, National Institute for Learning Outcomes Assessment.


In NILOA’s twenty-second occasional paper, author Timothy Reese Cain explores the relationship between assessment and academic freedom.

Paper Abstract

Scholars and practitioners of learning outcomes assessment widely recognize the importance of faculty engagement with the planning and implementation of assessment activities. Yet garnering participation by the majority of faculty has remained a significant challenge due in part to faculty concerns over the purposes of assessment, the value that it holds, and the costs of its implementation. In this paper I consider another claim that contributes to faculty resistance: that learning outcomes assessment is a fundamental abridgment of academic freedom. Granted, assessment activities can be imposed in ways that violate faculty rights, but such a consequence is not inevitable. Faculty control of the curriculum and effective shared governance set the stage for assessment that supports and builds on the faculty’s ongoing efforts while protecting their historic and essential right to academic freedom.

Biography of the Author

Timothy Reese Cain, is an associate professor at the University of Georgia's Institute of Higher Education and a senior scholar at NILOA. He writes and teaches about the history of higher education, the faculty, campus speech, and learning outcome assessment. His on academic freedom includes the 2012 book, Establishing Academic Freedom: Politics, Principles, and the Development of Core Values, and several journal articles. He is currently writing a book on the history of faculty unionization from 1918 to 1980, arguing that unions were significant even before they could collectively bargain and that studying their contested rise reveals deep-seated tensions in American higher education. Along with his colleagues at NILOA, he is co-author of Using Evidence of Student Learning to Improve Higher Education, which will be published by Jossey-Bass in January 2015


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