Ellen Shrecker, a U.S. history professor at Yeshiva Univeristy in New York, will give a lecture titled “Academic Freedom: A Historical Perspective” on campus this afternoon in an attempt to ease the tension upon USF faculty members concerned about academic freedom.
In an emergency meeting Wednesday, the Faculty Senate voted not to support President Genshaft’s decision to fire Professor Sami Al-Arian.
Fraser Ottanelli, a history professor at USF, said students and faculty members are encouraged to attend the lecture. “(Shrecker) is really gearing the lecture toward the student audience,” Ottanelli said. “The lecture will be open for everyone to exchange ideas in a non-threatening environment.”
Ottanelli said that academic freedom influences the students and faculty as well as the bureaucracy and administration.
“All components that make up a university should have a voice in academic freedom, not just a group of faculty members, lawyers and administrators,” Ottanelli said.
Shrecker, who earned a doctorate degree from Harvard University, is considered to be one of America’s foremost experts on the “Red Scare” of the McCarthy era and on academic freedom. Roy Weatherford, President for USF’s faculty union, acknowledged Shrecker’s esteemed reputation.
“Ellen Shrecker is an expert on the study of academic freedom and its history in the United States,” Weatherford said.
Weatherford said the idea of academic freedom is important to the central function of an institution of higher learning, such as a union-based university like USF. It is based on the primary right derived from the right to free speech amendment to the Constitution.
Weatherford did not offer a position on the firing of Al-Arian but said the idea of academic freedom also entails that faculty members should have the right to their opinions. Whether they are religious, political or scientific, employees of a union-based institution should be free with their own, personal ideas, Weatherford said.
Aside from the Al-Arian issue, Ottanelli said the lecture will provide a solid, historical academic freedom background, the most important factor to consider. Ottanelli also said Schrecker will cite past university-level attacks on academic freedom.
“In non-unionized universities, the faculty members are in charge of the hiring and firing, and are serious about academic freedom,” Weatherford said. “In unionized universities like USF, it’s obvious the hiring and firing is administered by conservative, Republican businessmen who are not serious about academic freedom.”
The lecture will be held today from 3. to 5 p.m. in the Behavioral Sciences building, room 103. Sponsors include the USF Faculty Group for Phi Beta Kappa, the United Faculty of Florida -USF Chapter, the USF Department of History and the USF School of Library and Information Sciences.
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