Scholar speaks today on academic freedom

With the development of the case of ousted professor Sami Al-Arian, USF has become a national center for debate about academic freedom. That debate will continue today as the United Faculty of Florida welcomes the director for the Thomas Jefferson Center for the Protection of Free Expression Robert O’Neil to campus.

O’Neil will deliver a lecture entitled “Faculty Academic Freedom and Tenure in a Troubled World.”

Gregory McColm, a professor at USF and senator for USF’s faculty union, said he looks forward to O’Neil discussing many of the issues surrounding freedom of speech.

“We’ve invited a very prominent person in the academic field and also in the free expression movement in America,” McColm said. “I’m hoping that he will describe some of the important issues describing free expression in this country, especially in this troubled time.”

McColm said USF’s situation is vital because it is important for a university to provide a blueprint of how to handle free speech issues.

“I believe that the United States is in a sense the leader of the free world, not only as the most powerful democracy but also as a very powerful example to other nations,” he said. “A university serves as a very powerful example in the community of how an institution should behave.”

Because of this example, McColm said, the situation at USF is important nationwide. McColm said he would like O’Neil to help the USF community understand the important implications of the Al-Arian case.

“I’m hoping he will give us some perspective on why the system is the way it is now,” he said. “We have faced problems in the past and we can learn from the past.”

O’Neil is a lawyer and former president for the Universities of Virginia and Wisconsin. Because of this, he can be considered an expert on academic freedom. The USF administration, however, has long held that academic freedom is not the issue in the Al-Arian case. McColm said his union disagrees.

“The union is convinced there are academic freedom issues involved and also, overlooked, there are due process issues involved,” he said. “The union is profoundly concerned about the academic freedom aspects of it regardless what the administration claims its own motives are.”

The USF faculty union maintains a Web site devoted completely to the Al-Arian case and the discussion of academic freedom. McColm said O’Neil will hopefully give perspective on both of these issues. He said having a prominent figure lecture at USF about these issues is symbolic of its importance and its danger.

“The one striking thing is that this case has achieved national and in fact international attention,” he said.

O’Neil’s lecture will take place at 1:30 p.m. in Cooper Hall Room 103. It is free and open to the public.