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Professors Plead for Academic Freedom

In case you missed this little tidbit from the Chicago Tribune.
Professors Plead for Academic Freedom
by Meg McSherry Breslin and J. Linn Allen

Fearing the war on terrorism may lead to censorship of college teachers who espouse unpopular views, faculty groups on campuses around the country are calling for a renewed commitment to untrammeled freedom of expression.
The Washington-based American Association of University Professors has issued a statement championing academic freedom in a response to "those who believe that thinking out loud in our colleges and universities is so subversive that it ought to be stopped."

Locally, the arts and sciences faculty at the University of Illinois at Chicago has passed a resolution reaffirming freedom of speech "even in wartime conditions."

The concerns over what is seen as a looming hostility to intellectuals comes as campuses are being energized by the events of Sept. 11 and its aftermath. Students are packing teach-ins and classes on a wide range of subjects relevant to recent events, professors are widely sought as experts and schools are scrambling to add new classes.

The statement from the professors group came after it received complaints from a number of academics who said they were reprimanded by administrators or received threatening letters for expressing anti-patriotic views or opinions that made students uncomfortable, according to association President Jane Buck.

In particular, the statement cited comments by trustees at the City University of New York on a controversial Oct. 2 teach-in. Two trustees drafted a resolution that blasted professors for "selfish, tasteless, and unjustified conduct" that had "brought shame" on the institution.

Marda Dunsky, a journalism professor at Northwestern University in Evanston, said impassioned intellectual debate could be in trouble if the war intensifies.

"I don't think people here feel their rights are threatened now, but I'm afraid the worst is yet to come," she said. "As there's more responses here and more responses there [in Afghanistan], that's going to make the climate even dicier."

As many students look to their professors to help make sense of a complex situation, campuses are welcoming what they see as a renewed sense of the importance of intellectual inquiry.

UIC is introducing new courses in Middle Eastern studies and on the history and philosophy of terrorism, and it is planning to hire a new faculty member to teach Arabic.

The debate on Chicago-area campuses has been mostly civil, though occasional emotional outbursts have been reported.

"Emotions on these issues go very high," said Dick Simpson, a UIC political science professor, former Chicago alderman and the author of the recent UIC resolution reaffirming freedom of speech. "That's one of the reasons it's prudent to make sure the administration is clear about the protection of academic freedom."



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