Thursday, May 26, 2011

The Markingson Case:

You can run but you can't hide 

at the University of Minnesota

"Faculty members’ rights to study, re-analyze, and publish controversial scholarly materials cannot be abridged," says the report from the UCSD Committee on Academic Freedom. "These rights to academic freedom cannot be administratively revoked to prevent possible future breaching of professional norms. In our view, the campus administration’s fundamental responsibility is precisely to protect the right of faculty members to research and publish scholarly work even when others, on or off campus, find the work or its conclusions controversial or objectionable."

The report goes on to call on the administration "to promptly and publicly accept responsibility for serious errors of judgment in this case" and "to take concrete steps to prevent future violations of academic freedom rights, such as training for all administrators and their staff on these rights, which lie at the very heart of the university."

The dispute at UCSD comes as a controversy with some similar overtones has alarmed some faculty members at the University of Minnesota-Twin Cities. In both cases, administrators have raised questions about faculty critiques of colleagues.

Aftermath in Minnesota

While the nature of the scholarly dispute at UCSD is unclear, that's not the case at Minnesota. There, the question of faculty criticism arose after bioethicists and other professors asked the Board of Regents for an independent review of a death in a clinical trial at the university. The board rejected the request.
Subsequently, Mark Rotenberg, general counsel of the university, posed a series of questions to a faculty committee, including this one: "What is the faculty's collective role in addressing factually incorrect attacks on particular [University of Minnesota] faculty research activities?"

Rotenberg has argued that the question is legitimate, and protects researchers at the university from having their credibility unfairly undermined. And he has denied trying to punish those who have raised questions about the clinical trial.

Many faculty members at the university haven't been reassured, and see the question about "factually incorrect attacks" as an administrator's attempt to declare certain subjects off limits for faculty critiques of colleagues. Some faculty leaders, however, have said that Rotenberg's role has been mischaracterized and that the discussions have not amounted to any effort to limit academic freedom.

In both Minnesota and California, administrators have said that they are in some ways protecting faculty members from unfair or unreasonable criticism from colleagues. 

Those who are upset about the administrators' involvement say that they aren't opposed to civility, just the way it is being promoted.

Nelson of the AAUP said that "I'm a great believer in civility" and that everyone on campus can be a role model in promoting it. But he said that "faculty themselves" need to sort through any problems -- and that research disputes are best left for the market place of ideas to work out.

What if a faculty member complains about a colleague? Nelson said the answer is simple: "The dean should say, 'According to my records, you are both grown-ups and can handle this problem yourselves.'"

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