Academic Freedom and Free Speech: What You Need to Know

Protect Yourself from a Lawsuit

Ignorance isn’t bliss. It’s dangerous.

Academic freedom might give college and university professors license to say (or write) almost anything they please, but there are limits. And crossing over those boundaries can invite serious repercussions. If you don’t know what is protected and what isn’t, you could find yourself knee-deep in a lawsuit or without a job.

Find out what you can say and what you can’t with a copy of Academic Freedom and Free Speech: What You Need to Know. This 60-minute Magna Online Seminar will familiarize you with:

  • The current state of the law
  • Legal definitions of academic freedom and free speech
  • Steps you can take to protect yourself or your faculty and staff


Yes, we know what you’re thinking: Isn’t free speech ultimately what tenure is all about? How can academic freedom be that complicated?

Blame it on Garcetti v. Ceballos, the 2006 U.S. Supreme Court case that established that when public employees, while acting within the scope of their employment, criticize their superiors, they are not protected by the First Amendment. The opinion suggested that faculty might be included, and a number of lower courts have interpreted the ruling both in favor of and against faculty.

So where does that leave us? First and foremost, we now know that it isn’t safe to assume that the First Amendment will protect faculty and staff from all lawsuits, personnel actions, and other negative consequences. The same goes for private-school faculty and administrators, as there are limitations to free speech that affect them as well.

Ultimately the main lesson that Garcetti v. Ceballos teaches is that all instructors and administrators need to know the meaning and limitations of terms such as “free speech” and “academic freedom.” And if you think you know, you had better double-check to make sure that your understanding has kept pace with the courts. If you’re wrong—or even just a little off—you could put yourself or your faculty and staff in a precarious position.

What you will learn

Don’t let outdated information jeopardize your livelihood. Academic Freedom and Free Speech: What You Need to Know provides the answers to your questions and brings you up to speed with the law and its implications. After watching the seminar, you will be able to:

  • Cite the specifics of the Garcetti v. Ceballos ruling
  • Understand how the ruling might be applied at your institution
  • Reference lower-court rulings that add additional insight and clarity to the issues of free speech and academic freedom
  • Understand the difference between prevailing popular and current legal definitions of free speech and academic freedom
  • Recognize legal limitations of free speech and academic freedom, particularly the behaviors those terms cover and the ones they don’t
  • Identify the steps that individual faculty members should take to protect themselves from legal liability or personnel action under Garcetti
  • Understand other institutional and organizational responses to Garcetti and recognize when and how those responses affect you and your school

Presenters Rob Jenkins and Deborah Gonzalez team frequently to help college and university faculty and staff untangle thorny higher education legal issues. In Academic Freedom and Free Speech: What You Need to Know, they will quickly bring you up to speed with Garcetti v. Ceballos as well as subsequent rulings and their ramifications.  


Gonzales and Jenkins provide a long list of academic freedom do’s and don’ts for faculty members and administrators. Here are some:

For Faculty Members

Don't assume that you can write or say whatever you want in a public forum and that you will be protected by the First Amendment.

Do understand the courts' rulings, in Garcetti v. Ceballos and subsequent cases, regarding First Amendment protection for public and private employees.

Don't assume you can say whatever you want to in your classroom and that you'll be protected by academic freedom.

Do familiarize yourself with your institution's statement on academic freedom and policy manual as well as with your professional organization's guidelines for the proper exercise of academic freedom.

Don't be intimidated into silence by the Garcetti ruling.

Do have the courage to stand up for what you believe in a civil, professional, and appropriate manner.

For Administrators

Don't ignore the potential impact of Garcetti on your faculty and your institution.

Do familiarize yourself with the relevant rulings and their possible ramifications.

Don't assume that your faculty members are familiar with Garcetti and its impact on them.

Do make sure that faculty members know about the rulings and understand how to protect themselves both in and out of the classroom.

Don't assume that Garcetti won't affect your institution.

Do take steps to protect your institution and its faculty, staff, and administrators through training, policy revisions where necessary, and other appropriate steps.

"The point that we're really trying to get across here more than anything else is that the federal government isn't going to protect the right of faculty members to speak out," said Jenkins. "For so long, we've relied on the government, and we've assumed that we'd be protected by free speech, or we've mistakenly thought that academic freedom was, you know, somehow written in stone. The Garcetti ruling makes it abundantly clear that that's not the case. The government isn't going to take care of it for us. We have to take care of it ourselves. In general, I believe that higher education should encourage speech, not squelch it. I think that should be one of the underlying principles behind our approach to academic freedom in this post-Garcetti environment."

Get the recording on CD, plus the transcript

When you order the recording of this seminar on CD, you’ll also receive the complete transcript. An optional Campus Access License is available for an additional $200. It allows the purchasing institution to upload the CD of the seminar onto the institution’s password-protected internal website for unlimited access by the entire campus community.

Who will benefit?

Faculty members and administrators from both public and private institutions

Let’s face it. If you wanted to spend your time poring over court cases, you would have gone to law school. Luckily, there’s a better way to understand how cases like Garcetti v. Ceballos affect you and others on your campus. Academic Freedom and Free Speech: What You Need to Know cuts through all the legalese and gives you the information you need to understand and apply the landmark decision and its ramifications.

The product qualifies for use with Magna Credits. Learn how you can save on this and future purchases by using Magna Credits.

TO ORDER: Academic Freedom and Free Speech: What You Need to Know
Academic Freedom and Free Speech: What You Need to Know - CD & Transcript$249
Academic Freedom and Free Speech: What You Need to Know - CD & Transcript w/ Campus Access License$449
30 Day On-Demand Single User Access$99

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Recorded: 9/25/2012
Running Time: 60 minutes
Video with PowerPoint


1. Online
2. Mail/Fax in form
3. Phone: 800-433-0499 ext. 2

Bonus Materials on your seminar CD:
  • Seminar CD with handouts
  • Supplemental materials
  • Complete transcript
  • Free shipping within US and Canada



Rob Jenkins, M.A.
Deborah Gonzalez, Esq.

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