Monday, April 25, 2011

Potential Threat to Academic Freedom

at the University of Minnesota

From an email received this morning:

Faculty for the Renewal of Public Education
*3.  Potential Threat to Academic Freedom.*

General Counsel Mark Rotenberg has asked the Academic Freedom and Tenure Committee (AFTC) to consider whether "factually-incorrect attacks on particular University faculty research activities" are protected by academic freedom.   
The administration raised the issue with reference to Carl Elliott's (Professor, Center for Bioethics) writing and public speaking about the death of Dan Markingson during a clinical trial conducted at the U. 
 In our view, defamatory speech does not pertain to academic freedom, so it's unclear why the administration has asked the committee to consider this issue. 
 Moreover, the administration has not presented any evidence to support its allegations regarding "factually-incorrect" statements by Professor Elliot.   
We consider the administration's action to be an effort to intimidate faculty who publicly criticize university policy.   
On Friday, the AFTC held its second discussion on the matter, and a number of concerned faculty attended, including the President of the local chapter of the AAUP, Naomi Scheman.   
We are optimistic that this effort by the administration will be killed in committee, but we urge faculty to remain vigilant. 
The minutes of the initial discussion of the AFTC are appended below. 
The letter from Naomi Scheman to the AFTC, and AFTC co-chair Barbara Elliott's response, can be read here:   
Carl Elliott's exchange with Barbara Elliott on this matter is available here:


1 comment:

maryweiss said...

General Counsel Mark Rotenberg has asked the AFTC whether "factually-incorrect attacks" (my quotations) on particular University faculty research activities are protected by academic freedom, this in reference to Dr. Elliott's writing about the death of Dan Markingson in a clinical study at the University. This question posed to the AFTC should be considered moot, as there was no factually-incorrect information, and with no incorrect information, there is no defamation.
I say this from a position of knowledge, as I am the mother of Dan Markingson. This fact does not make me biased, as bias is defined as "one which prevents unprejudiced consideration of a question." This would appear to be the the position of the administration. I have the "facts" at my disposal.
Now, however, is perhaps the time for the administration to admit that mistakes have been made, and simply because faculty have not been found guilty does not mean they are innocent.
I make myself available for any questions the administration may have. If they wish to keep their collective head in the sand, as the cartoon indicates, they must still understand that this will not go away. As long as I am alive, I will work to right the wrong that was done to Dan, and to prevent it from happening to others.

Mary Weiss