Academic freedom is one of the foundations of a liberal arts education, maintaining that the freedom of inquiry by faculty is essential to academia. Essentially, professors are allowed to teach ideas or facts, including controversial ones, without repercussion. There are, however, limitations to academic freedom. In the United States, professors are generally to avoid controversial topics that unrelated to the subject material of the class.
Those who support academic freedom argue that it is fundamental to the mission of a college or university. Both inside and outside the university setting, instructors should be granted the liberty, without restriction, to test and question received wisdom as well as promulgate controversial or unpopular opinions without fear of reprisal, such as job loss. The Supreme Court of the United States ruled that academic freedom means that each university has the right to determine who can teach, what can be taught, how it should be taught, and who may be admitted to participate in study at the institution.
Academic freedom is related to, but often goes beyond mere freedom of speech. While the Supreme Court upholds academic freedom at public universities as protected by the First Amendment, private universities may have their own standards, and tighter regulations on what can and cannot be taught in the classroom.