Texas Law Prof. David Rabban is wrapping up an extraordinary year in which he was honored with two of the most prestigious fellowships for academics and leading thinkers in the country.
Rabban, the Jamail Regents Chair at the School of Law, is the recipient of both a Guggenheim Fellowship, and of a fellowship from the Program in Law and Public Affairs at Princeton University. The twin honors are the latest in a career of distinctions for one of the most eminent scholars at the University of Texas at Austin.
The fellowships recognize Rabban’s preeminence as a legal historian and theorist of the First Amendment. His current research focuses on problems of academic freedom: the protection of the professional speech of faculty members, which can have important social consequences. As Rabban explains, “The justification of academic freedom is that there’s a benefit to society from protecting professors’ pursuit of knowledge through their specialized expertise – even if what they find is controversial, and may have adverse economic consequences for a university.”
Academic freedom is the subject of two book projects that the fellowships have enabled Rabban to pursue. One is a technical treatment of academic freedom as it has been recognized and developed in the courts. “There has been very little analysis of what distinctively First Amendment academic freedom is, as opposed to First Amendment free speech,” Rabban said. “So a major part of the legal analysis for my book will be to analyze these cases, and to suggest my own view on how to differentiate First Amendment academic freedom from the First Amendment, and from free speech generally.”
The other book is a for a more general audience. It will discuss the basis and importance of academic freedom in American university life. Rabban intends the book to contribute to the debate on the value of academic speech, a debate that has become increasingly contentious in recent years. “I truly believe this project will have greater consequences than any other work I’ve done,” said Rabban.
Ward Farnsworth, Dean of the School of Law, praised Rabban’s achievements. “David Rabban is one of the great First Amendment scholars in the country, and a crown jewel of the faculty at the School of Law,” Farnsworth said. “These fellowships, both of them highly competitive, have recognized the exceptionally high quality of David’s scholarship, and have give him an opportunity to produce new work that I believe will prove to be his best yet.”
Rabban is uniquely positioned to shed light on questions of academic freedom. He has served as general counsel for the American Association of University Professors. He is author of the highly acclaimed book Law’s History: American Legal Thought and the Transatlantic Turn to History(2013). That book was designated a “notable title in American intellectual history” by the Society for U.S. Intellectual History. Rabban also is author of Free Speech in Its Forgotten Years (1997), which received the Morris D. Forkosch Prize from the Journal of the History of Ideas and the Eli M. Oboler Award from the American Library Association Intellectual Freedom Round Table.
At the School of Law, Rabban has taught Labor Law and a highly popular course on the First Amendment. He was the first recipient of the Massey Prize for Teaching Excellence, the Law School’s highest recognition of outstanding work in the classroom. In addition, he is a member of the Academy of Distinguished Teachers, an honor the University of Texas bestows only on those tenured faculty members who have made significant contributions to improving the quality of the student experience.