Faculty Discuss War, New Laws

Although it usually wrestles with mundane academic issues, the Faculty last night tackled the challenges of extensive federal anti-terrorism measures that apply to the University.

It was the second meeting in two months at which the Faculty was preoccupied with federal laws that could require professors to inform on students and colleagues, among other measures.

In addition, discussion of the faculty’s projected budget shortfalls and the possible war in Iraq underscored the somber mood of the meeting.

After announcing his intention to support the University of Michigan’s affirmative action policies in upcoming Supreme Court cases, University President Lawrence H. Summers broached the subject of the possible war in the Middle East.

“There is a prospect that by the time this faculty meets again in March, we’ll be at war,” Summers said.

He emphasized the University’s commitment to “fostering respect, civility, and rational discourse,” in the event of war. However, Summers said he anticipated legislation such as the USA PATRIOT Act to challenge the University’s values of openness and trust.

Summers identified three issues raised by the new laws: the protection of foreign nationals, research at the University and the civil liberties of students and faculty.

The future of shopping period also remains unclear, as Dean of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences William C. Kirby said there were no definitive plans to change the current system. He did, however, thank the more than 1,200 students who signed a petition in favor of preserving shopping period.

“I, too, love to shop,” said Kirby, who went on to assure that, regardless of the Faculty’s eventual decision, “students will still be able to buy and return.”

Later in the meeting, Kirby resumed discussion of the PATRIOT Act, citing two recent letters to the Faculty on the ways the new rules will affect the University.

The first letter, from Acting University General Counsel Robert W. Iuliano, detailed the new federal rules on biological research, foreign students and disclosure of student information.

The other letter, written by Paul C. Martin, dean for research and information technology, discussed new limitations on research at the University, particularly in the life sciences.

According to Martin, no research subject to the PATRIOT Act is currently being conducted by the Faculty of Arts and Sciences.

Faculty members at the meeting expressed concern for the effect the new rules could have on civil liberties for members of the Harvard community.

“The International Office has done a good job protecting the students, but anxiety is still there,” said Everett I. Mendelsohn, professor of the history of science. “These issues are not going away any time soon.”

Mendelsohn also suggested that the Faculty keep track of laws that might affect students and reassure students by keeping them informed.

Iuliano said that an atmosphere of heightened fear, not the laws themselves, was more likely to have effects on the University.

“Law has never been good at regulating morality,” Iuliano said. “There is no legal constraint on what one might say to another. This is not a legal question, but [one of] atmosphere and culture.”

Faculty members also raised concerns about potential conflicts among librarians, professors and students.

Cabot Professor of Aesthetics and the General Theory of Value Elaine Scarry, who has been one of the more vocal critics of the new rules, said she agreed with Mendelsohn about the need for clear guidelines on complying with the PATRIOT Act.

“The more concrete we are about the rules, the better off we are going to be,” she said.

Scarry also expressed frustration about the parts of the PATRIOT Act that might require librarians and faculty members to surrender information about students and colleagues.

Faculty members asked specific questions about the legislation, including what the proper response would be should the government contact them and demand information about a student.

Some professors who spoke said that they knew of colleagues who had already been asked for information on students.

Although he directed most of the questions to Iuliano, Summers said that “all people with access to individual records are under obligation of the law to preserve the privacy of these records.”

—Staff writer Rebecca D. O’Brien can be reached at robrien@fas.harvard.edu.