Law Prof. Says Academic Freedom May Be at Risk

Academic freedom at universities today may be at risk, a University of Virginia law professor and free expression advocate said to about 20 people at the Law School's Hauser Hall yesterday afternoon.

"Some of the forces that brought Joseph McCarthy into power are perennial," said Robert M. O'Neil '56, director of the Thomas Jefferson Center for the Protection of Free Expression at the University of Virgina.

"Academic freedom may be at risk at some places," O'Neil said, adding that "the situations are admittedly quite different from the '50s."

His speech, titled "Faculties, Governance and Academic Freedom," was sponsored by the Harvard chapter of the American Association of University Professors (AAUP), which deals with freedom of speech and faculty concerns.

The speech was meant to encourage Harvard faculty to join the AAUP, according to a letter the 16 members of AAUP's Harvard chapter sent to the faculty.

"Anti-intellectualism and intolerance are heavy in the air of the late 1990s," the letter reads, "and they will test faculty even at the strongest of universities."

O'Neil said the AAUP could play an important role here because Harvard does not have a University-wide faculty council to address such issues as tenure, faculty benefits and administrative versus faculty jurisdiction.

"I realize that Harvard is very different," he said. "If you have not had a faculty senate for 350 years, it is probable that you will not have one now. That is simply Harvard tradition."

But O'Neil said a "revitalized AAUP chapter might offer an alternative" to such a council.

"We can bring the problems to the attention of the academic community," he said.

O'Neil also said a larger Harvard chapter would improve AAUP's national prominence.

"We are far better able to intervene in crises [because of Harvard's name recognition]" he said. "[Harvard's] potential impact as a chapter would be greatest in these areas of most interest to the AAUP."

O'Neil said the need for the AAUP is greater than ever because of a current national trend of anti-intellectualism.

He cited several instances of national figures barred from holding government positions because of controversial views, including Surgeon General Joycelyn Elders, who was dismissed, and Lani Guinier '71, whose nomination for Attorney General was blocked.

"Dr. Elders had every right to raise the question of how we teach human sexuality; Lani Guinier had every right to raise the question of minority representation," O'Neil said. "If people get fired from Washington for raising these views, we're in big trou