Concerned about a rash of incidents that might be limiting academic freedom in the United States, the American Association of University Professors is launching a special committee to review and analyze events on campus since the terrorist attacks of Sept.11.
"It is crucial that we examine the lessons to be learned from the conflicts of the past year, and what they might portend for the future," said Joan Scott, professor of social sciences at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, New Jersey and chair of AAUP's Committee A on Academic Freedom and Tenure.
The committee will study responses by academic leaders and state government officials to controversial speeches and teaching; restrictions proposed by the federal government on university research that is deemed sensitive but is not classified, particularly in the areas of microbiology and bioterrorism; renewed concerns about classified research on university campuses; restrictions on foreign scholars and students; and restrictions on the implementation of the Freedom of Information Act with respect to academic research.
In recent months, a number of cases have raised the concern of the association, included the much publicized controversy over the study of the Koran at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, the attempted dismissal of a pro-Palestinian professor at South Florida University, and the denunciation by government officials of two Colorado colleges for inviting Palestinian activist and scholar Hanan Ashrawi to speak on their campuses.
Robert O'Neil, director of the Thomas Jefferson Center for the Protection of Free Expression, former president of the University of Virginia and of the University of Wisconsin, will chair the special committee.
"While there is much we still do not know about the impact of post-Sept. 11 actions and policies on academic freedom," O'Neil said, "the potential risks to open discourse within the academic community are grave indeed.
"We need to know not only how Sept. 11 has affected the academic freedom of faculties, but also what impact it has had on students and staff."
The committee is expected to issue its report in the new year.