… in the Minneapolis Star Tribune notes that the most charitable description of what’s been going on at the clubby University of Minnesota medical school would be “bizarre.”
Wednesday, April 27, 2011
More For the Record
University of Minnesota Faculty Consultative Chair
Senate Committee on Academic Freedom and Tenure
[Added later - see important comment at end]
Date: Tue, 26 Apr 2011 15:15:14 -0500
Subject: Re: Academic freedom & tenure committee discussion
From: Kathryn VandenBosch
To: Barbara Elliott
Cc: Naomi Scheman
S Charles Schulz
We are writing today to follow up on the response of Barbara Elliot, co-chair of the Academic Freedom and Tenure Committee (AF&T) to Naomi Scheman, President of the University of Minnesota AAUP chapter, concerning the discussion in the AF&T meeting of April 22, 2011. We thank all of you for your interest in academic freedom and your participation in an ongoing discussion with respect to the range and limitations of that privilege.
In general, neither AF&T nor FCC is a body that adjudicates specific disputes among faculty members, nor between faculty members and the administration. Rather, it is our practice to identify general questions about policy and procedure that arise from specific events, to extrapolate to future situations that the University may face, and to offer our opinions in a consultative manner. For example, this past year AF&T has taken up questions identified from the handling of the film “Troubled Waters”, and also in response to the situation in Wisconsin, where the emails of a faculty member were subpoenaed by a political organization. These cases highlighted areas where greater understanding was needed in order to inform both the faculty and the administration.
This year, Board of Regents Chair Clyde Allen responded to an inquiry from several faculty members concerning the University’s investigation of a psychiatric clinical study in which a participant tragically committed suicide (the Markingson case). In Chair Allen’s response to the faculty inquiry, he invited the University to take up a discussion of wider issues related to clinical research. We agree entirely with his statement, “We believe our faculty are ideally suited to engage in a rigorous, open, and honest exploration of these opportunities and challenges, and the impact that they may have for the integrity of our research mission.”
With the goal of rigorous and honest exploration in mind, we invited the General Counsel’s office (OGC), which had reviewed the circumstances of the Markingson case, to suggest general questions for additional discussion in governance. FCC then referred some of these questions to the Senate Research Committee (SRC). The SRC discussion of these items is memorialized in the minutes from its meeting on March 21, 2011. We referred one question to AF&T: What is the faculty’s collective role in addressing factually incorrect attacks on particular University faculty research activities? In retrospect, we recognize that the phrasing of the question could have been more artfully constructed, because as written it could be inferred to presuppose factually incorrect attacks in the specific instance of the Markingson case. Nevertheless, we stress that the intent of our question was to the address the issue in the abstract, and to generalize without making a determination about past events. Individual faculty members, inside and outside of current governance committees, may have individual opinions as to the factual accuracy of the allegations raised by critics of the clinical study, but governance as a whole has not sought to articulate a consensus opinion on this specific issue; we regard addressing the specific case as outside our charge.
We wish to note, contrary to the views of some who may misunderstand the question posed to AF&T, that Mr. Rotenberg did not raise questions about academic freedom. His question asked for a discussion regarding the role, if any, of the larger faculty when individual faculty members criticize other faculty members. We did not presume that any restraint on the academic freedom of faculty members to criticize one another was being proposed. Nor, we infer, did AF&T, and correctly so.
AF&T took up the discussion of the question on April 8, 2011. Although we were not at the meeting, it is evident from the minutes that the discussion was far-reaching, multi-faceted, and unconstrained, which is to say that it was exactly the type of discussion that should occur on difficult topics in academe. Although the discussion did not draw conclusions, consensus seemed to emerge on several points. First, AF&T affirmed that academic freedom clearly protects those with controversial viewpoints who challenge an institution’s official decisions. Academic freedom also protects those who speak out against such challenges and who wish to defend individuals who are the targets of criticism; indeed, academic responsibility involves speaking up against challenges thought to be unjust. All agreed that there are limits to academic freedom, in that it fails to extend to illegal activities (e.g., legally defined defamation), but that in the specific case discussed, AF&T is not a body charged with or intent upon making such a determination.
We look forward to the further progress of the AF&T committee as members continue to discuss the dimensions of academic freedom and academic responsibility as they relate to criticism of the work and ethics of others. We have confidence in the co-chairs’ ability to guide a fair and thorough discussion of this topic. Furthermore, we expect that the committee will be successful in distilling broader significance and guiding principles from this discussion. We do not expect that there will be a consensus on the specific instance that prompted the discussion (i.e. the Markingson case), nor is that a goal of the discussion. We note that this year the Senate voted to change the definition of academic responsibilities, as stated in the tenure code and the code of conduct, to include the responsibility to “seek truth.” The original language that was discarded directed community members to “state the truth.” Here is a clear example of individuals all avidly seeking truth, but who are unlikely to agree on what that truth is.
Last, in other business in governance this spring, we have discussed a resolution on Academic Civility that is due to come to the University Senate for action in May. This resolution states, in part, that: The University Senate supports the Academic Civility Work Group, which envisions “a university culture that fosters academic excellence and promotes civil and respectful relationships through effective prevention of, and response to hostile, offensive, or intimidating behavior.” This resolution was developed to promote “continued growth of a respectful culture for graduate and professional students,” although the resolution applies equally to faculty relations. We strongly endorse the goal of a respectful culture for all interactions in governance as well, even when, or especially when, the view of truth differs.
Kate VandenBosch, FCC Chair, and Chris Cramer, FCC Vice-Chair
________comment submitted via email_________
(1) In her e-mail VandenBosch omits this significant part of the letter of Regent Chair Clyde Allen:
See the February 24 report of the FCC at http://conservancy.umn.edu/
- We do not intend to suggest that the broader concerns you raise related to protection of subjects involved in clinical research are unimportant. We encourage the University community to engage in further discussion about the wider issues.
The question that Rotenberg submitted to the FCC about the "collective role of faculty in addressing factually incorrect attacks on University faculty research activities" is a far cry from the protection of patients in clinical trials.
(2) There is an internal inconsistency in her description of the AF&T inquiry:
(3) If no restraint on criticism is being proposed, then what is the purpose of the inquiry? Do they not recognize that the very process of conducting such an inquiry has a chilling effect? If they continue and develop a policy, then some faculty members may not speak for fear of having a sanction imposed for a violation of the policy.
- We wish to note, contrary to the views of some who may misunderstand the question posed to AF&T, that Mr. Rotenberg did not raise any question about academic freedom. His question asked for a discussion regarding the role, if any, of the larger faculty when individual faculty membes criticize other faculty members. We did not presume that any restraint on the academic freedom of members to criticize one another was being proposed. . . .
- We look forward to further progress of the AF&T committee as members continue to discuss the dimensions of academic freedom and academic responsibility as they relate to criticism of the work and ethics of others.
(4) What authority does the AF&T committee have to determine the "collective role of the faculty" on any issue? See the description of the duties and responsibilities of the committee in the Senate bylaws at http://www.umn.edu/usenate/
at 3:04 PM