The University Record, March 15, 1993


Academic freedom challenges not new

Editor’s Note: The following letter is based on remarks made by Peggie J. Hollingsworth at the Davis, Markert, Nickerson Annual Lecture on Academic and Intellectual Freedom Feb. 18.

Thirty-nine years ago three young U-M faculty members were suspended from their University positions for refusing to testify before the House Un-American Activities Committee.

The challenges today to academic and intellectual freedom are perhaps equal in scope, magnitude and significance to those of that earlier period.

In the first Davis, Market, Nickerson Lecture on Academic and Intellectual Freedom, given in February 1991 by Robert M. O’Neil, professor of law at the University of Virginia and director of the Thomas Jefferson Center for the Protection of Free Expression, O’Neil talked about federal policies related to offering abortion information or counseling, the use of fetal tissues in research, the investigations of suspected fraud or misconduct on the part of scientists and engineers, and the granting of funds to artists whose works might be viewed by some as obscene.

O’Neil warned then that “the sanctity of the classroom and the laboratory” seems to be threatened “much more these days by members of the academic community itself.”

Within three months of O’Neil’s speech, the administration and Regents put into place the U-M Policy on Sexual Harassment by Faculty and Staff. At that time Senate Assembly members expressed concerns about the harassment policy similar to those expressed by O’Neil regarding investigations of fraud and misconduct by federal agencies such as the National Institutes of Health. O’Neil had warned that the federal rules “in protecting the accuser ... slight the interests of the accused.”

In the time following delivery of the 1992 lecture in May by Law School Dean Lee Bollinger, three other University policies have been put into place that have aroused academic and intellectual freedom concerns among faculty, students and staff.

They are: the Interim Policy on Discriminatory Harassment by Faculty and Staff in the University Environment, which became effective October 1992; the Statement of Student Rights and Responsibilities, which became effective as an interim policy in January; and the Policy for Scheduled Use of the U-M Designated Outdoor Common Areas, also effective in January.

The Interim Policy on Discriminatory Harassment by Faculty and Staff in the University Environment states that “the University is prepared to act to prevent or correct discrimination and discriminatory harassment on the part of its faculty and staff.”

Law Prof. Robert J. Harris, in a recent memorandum, wrote: “this Interim Policy is a proposal for government censorship of faculty speaking and writing on 12 (overlapping) topics. The sanction, officially, is discharge from one’s job, which may be a tenured one. Milder official sanctions are possible, too. The unofficial sanction is ostracism and loss of professional reputation.”

Harris ended his lengthy analysis of the policy with the opinion that “the Interim Policy is censorship forbidden by both the Constitution and wise policy.”

The Davis, Markert, Nickerson Annual Lecture on Academic and Intellectual Freedom was established to address the issues that are raised by such policies.

Peggie J. Hollingsworth
President, Academic Freedom
Lecture Fund