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CAUT Bulletin Archives

December 2003

Report Decries Secrecy in U.S. Zeal for Security

American Association of University Professors president Jane Buck spoke to CAUT Council delegates about a just-released special report by AAUP on the risks to academic freedom and free inquiry posed by the government response to the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. The 26-page report, published in the November/December issue of Academe, calls for more freedom of inquiry and openness in academic settings.

Buck expressed grave concern about many of the measures taken in haste after the tragic actions of Sept. 11, but added she was hopeful there is a growing realization of the need to restore long cherished constitutional rights and protections.

She told Council the report focuses on sections of the USA Patriot Act that threaten academic freedom.

According to Buck, the report also outlines recent restrictions on information and elevated barriers to entry into the United States by noncitizens, especially foreign students and scholars. In addition, it summarizes national responses to Sept.11 and the effect of those responses on the campus climate for academic freedom.

"The report of the special committee rests on the premise that freedom of inquiry and the open exchange of ideas are crucial to the nation's security," says Robert O'Neil of the University of Virginia and chair of AAUP's Special Committee on Academic Freedom and National Security in a Time of Crisis.

"The nation's security and, ultimately, its well-being are damaged by practices that discourage or impair freedom."

The report explores the idea that in scientific research, "the free exchange of data may better enable investigators to identify the means for preempting or neutralizing threats posed by information falling into the wrong hands."

At the national level, the report urges those in the academic world to take every opportunity to remind those outside the academic community of the vital value of academic freedom and free inquiry. The report calls for fair procedures for noncitizens who seek visas or other approvals to study, teach, or collaborate with researchers in the U.S. and it recommends that faculty expand their efforts to alert the public and colleagues in the academic community of potential new threats to academic freedom with an eye toward seeking early and effective intervention in the law and policymaking processes.

At the campus level, the report urges faculty to participate in developing institutional policies to protect academic freedom against governmental constraints. The policies would address issues such as the acceptance of classified research grants and contracts, access to personal computer files and the sharing of information with external agencies about library and student records.

The special committee cautions that the impact of Sept. 11 on academic freedom is far from over, and it promises to continue to monitor conditions for academic freedom.