Academic Independence Prevails Despite Volatility

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While the country learns to deal with tighter restrictions on information accessibility, some UC Berkeley professors say they have not been denied academic freedom after Sept. 11.

The faculty members said they acknowledge the tension between opposing campus groups but do not feel threatened to restrict classroom content.

"I think academia is one of the few places where most perspectives are still tolerated and even welcomed," said Jack Glaser, a UC Berkeley assistant professor of public policy. "But clearly there is pressure elsewhere against criticizing the government, particularly in its efforts to combat terrorism."

Sept. 11 did increase tensions between individuals of differing political affiliations, said political science Professor Amy Gurowitz, but she added that she has always sensed classroom contention, even prior to the attacks.

"There are people in any class that are sensitive to criticizing the government, and there are people who are sensitive to not criticizing the government," Gurowitz said.

Professors have a duty to sustain and affirm their beliefs, Gurowitz added, saying that "you'd be hard-pressed to find professors who are willing to change their views or are willing to bow to pressure."

Because of UC Berkeley's liberal reputation, however, some campus members say conservative voices have been stifled, especially in UC Berkeley students' highly publicized anti-war outcries following the attacks.

But Glaser said the perception of conservative views as suppressed on campus is largely unfounded.

"The discourse at Cal has been very healthy," Glaser said.

A year after the Sept. 11 attacks, similar issues still emerge surrounding academic freedom, said Ronald Amundson, who recently assumed the chair of the UC Academic Senate's committee on academic freedom.

"The concept and issues of academic freedom haven't changed," said Amundson, who is also a UC Berkeley professor in the Department of Environmental Science, Policy, and Management. "The things that come up might be related to in the federal government or elsewhere that might impinge or infringe upon academic freedom on campus."

Last December, the Academic Senate issued a statement underscoring support for both civil liberties and academic freedom.

The statement, however, acknowledged a greater need for security following Sept. 11.

"The freedoms of individuals are not absolute," the statement said. "Heavily weighted though they must be, civil liberties and academic freedom must be balanced against other important principles such as national security."

The Senate also said it is committed to resolving the conflict between restricting information and academic freedom.

Faculty members whose expertise shares connections with the Sept. 11 attacks said although course content may have changed, the perspectives surrounding their classes have not.

"I have not changed how I present my views," Gurowitz said. "Because this is a different political climate for human rights, I have changed the material in my courses."

Glaser, whose interests involve hate crimes and racial profiling, said his research allowed him to educated those who wanted to know more after Sept. 11 thrust such subjects in the public eye.

"My research interests were so well aligned with what's come to the tops of everyone's minds that just doing what I do has been enough," Glaser said.


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