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receding memories of the Twin Towers ablaze. Although two
prominent September 11 “revisionists” safely dodged the
bullet inWisconsin and NewHampshire, a colleague in Utah
fared less well. BrighamYoung physicist Steven Jones, a long-
tenured senior professor, was placed on leave pending a formal
review of his recent scholarship when his university became
aware of his controversial published views about the causes
of the attacks and possible Bush administration complicity.
The official announcement declared BYU’s concern that “Dr.
Jones’ work has not been published in scientific
venues”—a desideratum not normally
imposed on scholars’ extracurricular writings.
The matter became moot in late fall
2006, when professor Jones opted for early
retirement, partly to enable him to pursue
without institutional constraint his unorthodox
theories about the terrorist attacks. But Jones’
departure from the faculty left unresolved a
host of intriguing and difficult issues; other
“Patriots Question 911” members within the
academic community (such as University of
Massachusetts, Amherst geoscientist Lynn
Margulies, a longtime member of the National
Academy of Sciences) could be deterred by
Professor Jones’ plight, even though the ranks
of such skeptics and revisionists continues to
grow as doubts about Iraq and Afghanistan as
well as the 2001 attacks remain unresolved.
Also within the past year, two long-running faculty
personnel cases have taken new and tortuous turns, making
it more difficult for academic freedom champions to declare
victory. University of Colorado Ethnic Studies professor
Ward Churchill has been the most visibly controversial
member of a burgeoning group of outspoken faculty. His
troubles began early in 2005 with the discovery of a long
dormant essay on an obscure website, in which he excused
the September 11 hijackers because they “manifested the
courage of their convictions,” and charged that some victims
of theWorld Trade Center attacks were “little Eichmanns”
who deserved their fate. The Colorado Board of Regents met
a few days later and, after promptly rejecting gubernatorial
demands for harsher action (including dismissal), directed
the administration to undertake a careful inquiry. Because the
chosen standard for that investigation was the scope of a public
employee’s First Amendment freedom of speech, Boulder
campus officials concluded that Churchill’s deeply offensive
outburst was nonetheless constitutionally protected expression
for which he could not be punished.
The saga did not end there, however. In mid summer 2007
The Colorado Regents accepted a recommendation from
University President (and former U.S. Senator) Hank Brown
to dismiss Churchill from his long-tenured faculty post—not
because of his politically volatile statements (more than just the
“little Eichmanns” reference), but because of a proven record
of persistent and grave research misconduct. That issue soon
became the focus of a completely separate inquiry by a faculty
committee that played no part in reviewing the free-speech
issues, but grew out of a pre-existing concern about Churchill’s
published scholarship.
Yet Churchill and some of his supporters claimed that his
research record would have escaped such intense scrutiny
but for the “little Eichmanns” furor. Thus, ran the argument,
Churchill had been punished through the back door for his
political outbursts, even though the front door had been
barred by academic freedom and free-speech principles. An
analogy to the criminal law doctrine of “fruit of the poisonous
tree” did not elude Churchillian defenders. The cogent
response of the administration and the regents was that even
a suspect path to the unmasking of egregious research abuses
should not blind the institution to their gravity, nor should
it bar the university from enforcing standards of academic
integrity. Since Churchill’s lawyers immediately vowed to take
the regents to court, final resolution seems unlikely in the near
future.
The other long-running faculty personnel matter that
turned sour in 2007 involved professor Sami al-Arian, a
Palestinian born computer scientist at the University of South
Florida who had organized and led a highly controversial
Islamic group. When he admitted on Fox News, just days after
September 11, 2001, that he had urged (in Arabic) “Death
to Israel” and had raised funds for radical Muslim causes, al-
Arian was at first suspended from teaching and barred from
campus. His dismissal from a tenured faculty position some
months later reflected his indictment by a federal grand jury
on charges of aiding terrorist activities. The jury eventually
acquitted al-Arian on several of the most serious charges, but
deadlocked on others. After spending three years in solitary
confinement, with no convictions, he pleaded guilty to a
relatively minor charge in return for the government’s promise
that he would soon be freed and deported.
Yet, as the summer of 2007 progressed, the deportation did
not materialize. Al-Arian remained inexplicably in a Virginia
jail on civil contempt charges, while his wife and children
(having abandoned any hope for early redemption) prepared
to move to Egypt. Al-Arian’s faculty status at South Florida,
which had been the focus of an internal campus appeal which
the federal indictment aborted, remains unresolved nearly six
years after the first adverse personnel action.
Here it should be noted that, while the AAUP’s recent
censure list includes no politically volatile cases, the same
cannot be said of its formal investigations. An extensive
inquiry was undertaken at the University of South Florida
soon after al-Arian’s initial suspension, and the resulting
report was published, though any prospect of censure or even
condemnation of the administration was rendered moot
by the criminal charges and incarceration. The beleaguered
professor’s deportation would only confirm the mootness
of one of the few genuinely troubling personnel actions of
the post-9/11 period. (AAUP also investigated the case of an
instructor at York College of the City University of New York,
whose professional collaboration with an attorney for accused
terrorists placed his continuing appointment in jeopardy.)
Thus the record on the vital academic freedom dimension
of faculty personnel matters remains, on the whole, fairly
benign, if increasingly mixed—still closer to Senator Levin’s
sanguine view than to Senator Feingold’s skepticism. Most
professors who have evoked official wrath by speaking out on
Middle East or other foreign policy issues have incurred only
Two long-running
faculty personnel
cases have taken
new and tortuous
turns, making it
more difficult for
academic freedom
champions to
declare victory.