Office of the Vice President for Global Communications

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Provost issues statement regarding Juan Cole, support for academic freedom

The U.S. Senate Select Intelligence Committee is reviewing whether the Bush administration and CIA attempted to find and disseminate negative information about Juan Cole, a U-M professor of history and south Asian studies, in order to discredit his publicly critical views of the Bush administration’s handling of the Iraq war.

In response to those allegations, first reported in The New York Times on June 15, Provost Phil Hanlon released a statement acknowledging professor Cole’s longtime service and value as a “renowned Middle East scholar and popular teacher” in LSA. The statement also acknowledges the university’s support for the principle of academic freedom.

LSA Dean Terry McDonald, Arthur F. Thurnau Professor, professor of history, expressed concern over the media reports.

“I was surprised to learn of these allegations. If indeed they are true, I find this extremely disappointing and would consider it a serious attack on Professor Cole's first amendment rights,” McDonald said.

Geoff Eley, Karl Pohrt Distinguished University Professor of Contemporary History and chair of the Department of History, said of Cole, “He is a widely respected historian of the region, an astute analyst and source for informed commentary on contemporary events.”

Provost Hanlon’s full statement regarding the issue

Professor Cole is a renowned Middle East scholar and popular teacher. He is a long time valued member of the university community.

In addition to his scholarly work, Professor Cole is active in the public arena, freely sharing his views on developments in the Middle East. While Professor Cole’s views are his own, the University steadfastly and unequivocally stands behind the principles of academic freedom and freedom of expression. Free expression of views is essential to dynamic dialogue and debate.

Recently, President Coleman, Provost Hanlon and Edward Rothman, Chair of the Senate Advisory Committee on Academic Affairs commented publicly on the University’s commitment to the principle of academic freedom:

“Protecting students' and the faculty's right to pursue lines of inquiry and express ideas without fear of reprisal is fundamental to the University's core missions of research and education. The pursuit of answers, however unpopular, cannot be constricted if we are to remain a place of open and vigorous debate.

The standard of academic freedom is incorporated throughout the fabric of the University. The principles of academic freedom are ones we will always uphold and defend.” (April 19, 2011)

The University will be closely watching developments in this case.