Murderabilia Inc. Where the First Amendment Fails Academic Freedom

Samuel P. Nelson, Catherine Prendergast

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review


The commonplace justification of academic freedom, described in terms of professional norms and practices of the professoriate, often cites advancing the public interest in knowledge creation as a key basis for academic freedom. Yet the public's role remains underspecified, its interests loosely defined, and it is increasingly imagined as opposite the professoriate in this justification. Using the example of the U.S. government's effort to control and ultimately destroy the archived papers of convicted murderer and former professor Theodore Kaczynski through a “murderabilia” auction, we explore the relationship between the public's freedom of inquiry and access to information, on the one hand, and academic freedom of the professoriate, on the other. We argue that the public's broad, yet poorly recognized freedom of inquiry under the First Amendment is in some ways analogous to the academic freedom of faculty described by application of professional norms. While we seek to clarify the boundary between these freedoms, we argue that they can be mutually reinforcing to the benefit of both academics and the broader public. We conclude that more is to be gained by such rethinking of the relationship of the public to academic freedom than by the current attempts to refine the professoriate's position in the corporate hierarchy of the university.
Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)667-688
Number of pages22
JournalSouth Atlantic Quarterly
Issue number4
StatePublished - Sep 1 2009

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Cultural Studies
  • Sociology and Political Science
  • Literature and Literary Theory


Dive into the research topics of 'Murderabilia Inc. Where the First Amendment Fails Academic Freedom'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this