Approved by the:
University Senate - April 28, 2005|
Administration - *See comment
Board of Regents - no action required
* I continue to support the principles of the academic freedom resolution, and in fact appointed an academic freedom task force that produced a very strong paper in support of academic freedom. The paper is now posted on the Provost's web site and continues to be referenced and implemented by the University's leadership. The report also will be provided to the Faculty Culture strategic positioning task force.
Resolution on Academic Freedom
The Social Concerns Committee is extremely concerned about recent
well-publicized events concerning academic freedom that threaten faculty,
including academic administration, with loss of position or tenure for making
unpopular comments about sensitive issues of national importance. The role of
the University is to provide a venue for the exchange and transmission of ideas.
That the communication of these ideas engages, provokes, or angers a segment or
even a majority of the population emphasizes its importance. As educators and
members of a free and democratic society, we have a responsibility to provide a
safe atmosphere for debate and discussion. A diversity of views and
interpretations enhances an understanding and deeper knowledge of the world,
making us all better citizens. Recent events, such as public opinion makers
calling for legislation to limit academic freedom, or the dismissal of faculty
or academic administrators for making unpopular observations or defending those
who make such observations, may illustrate a weakening of the trust between
faculty and institutions of higher learning. This seems to be particularly true
in the politically delicate national atmosphere of post-9/11 or in addressing
the cause of the under-representation of certain groups such as women in the
sciences. The academic community must not engage in the overt or covert
silencing of divergent or unpopular voices in response to public pressure and
must uphold its responsibility to the greater good in the long term, despite
immediate pressures and unpopularity.
The Social Concerns Committee
supports the institutional defense of the free and open exchange of ideas and
knowledge, and of expressions of diverse views in a civil manner by faculty,
students, and staff both within and outside of the academy.
Concerns Committee therefore urges the University Senate and the President on
behalf of the Regents to formally reaffirm the support of academic freedom and
to condemn the silencing of diverse opinions and views on nationally sensitive
Although the University of Minnesota is
on record as supporting academic freedom, such fundamental principles must be
strongly reaffirmed periodically. This is especially true when the national
climate seems to be shifting to be less tolerant of unpopular opinions or even
research that challenges deeply held ideas. For this reason, the Social
Concerns Committee urges the Senate to reaffirm its support for Academic Freedom
and to request a strong reaffirmation from the Regents.
has been spurred by events such as the furor over comments made by Larry
Summers, President of Harvard, in which he speculated that a reason for the
under-representation of women in the mathematics and “hard” science
fields might be inherent biological differences, as well as Ward
Churchill’s statements concerning the culpability of the U.S. in the 9/11
attacks. Churchill has been removed from his position as chair of Ethnic
Studies at the University of Colorado and termination of his tenured position
has been called for by Colorado politicians and some media personalities.
Summers has been severely chastised and his repeated apologies may, in part,
keep him from being dismissed. These are two examples have captured the
attention of the media and the public. For a number of reasons, they are
perhaps not the easiest examples to submit in defense of academic freedom, yet
the strength of our commitment is measured by our defense of those making
controversial statements with which we do not agree. More chilling examples
include faculty being suspected of links to terrorism or of being activists for
the “wrong” political cause, as illustrated by the University of
South Florida’s dismissal of tenured professor Sami al-Arian for
statements made on the O’Reilly show in early 2002 and the State
Department’s recent decision to deny Dora Maria Tellez admission to the
U.S. to take an appointment at Harvard as a result of her involvement in the
Nicaraguan Sandinista movement.
We are also greatly concerned about
attempts to coerce the academic community into conformity with current norms.
Granting agencies such as the Ford Foundation and the Rockefeller Foundation
have added new anti-terrorism language which top research universities believe
will stifle research and impinge on academic freedom. They argue that the
language of the grant requirements is overly broad and may mean that any
statement made on their campuses could be interpreted as pro-terrorist. Several
states, including Minnesota, are considering legislation to limit free speech in
college classrooms and on college campuses. This will have a chilling effect on
the educational process that takes place through the civil expression of diverse
stances, interpretations and viewpoints.