PSO decries threats to academic freedom at U

Joel Sawyer

Academic freedom faces serious threats from tenure reform and U2000, University President Nils Hasselmo’s plan to restructure the school, said members of the Progressive Student Organization at a meeting Wednesday in Coffman Union.
“We think (tenure reform and U2000) are an attack on academic freedom and an attack on students at the University” said J. Burger, one of nine PSO members who attended the meeting.
University faculty members are currently battling the Board of Regents over tenure reform proposals that professors say would imperil their job security and jeopardize academic freedom.
But tenure is not as important for faculty job security as it is for preserving a professor’s ability to do provocative and independent research, Burger said.
Harvey Sarles, a professor of cultural studies and comparative literature who was at the meeting, agreed with Burger. Sarles said tenure reform and U2000 were attacks by business and political interests on academic freedom at the University.
“(Professors) ought to be truth tellers here,” Sarles said. “We tell the story as we understand it, the best we can.”
But that won’t happen if tenure “destruction” occurs and the University continues toward a corporate model of management, Sarles said.
Part of the U2000 plan includes partnerships between the University and private companies, such as Coca-Cola. Sarles said when corporations gain significant power in an institution, they have the ability to control what information about the corporation is released.
For example, doctors and scientists who work for the tobacco companies should be honest about the dangers of cigarette smoking, he said, but they are silenced by powerful executives who don’t want the truth about their products known by the public. At universities, Sarles said, “we need people who will tell the truth.”
Rebecca Pera, a College of Liberal Arts sophomore and PSO member, said she thought tenure reform would damage the prestige of the University. A poor reputation will “lower the quality of professors and lower the quality of classes we’ll have,” she said.
Burger also criticized big business, which he said purchases research results done at the University and turns them into profit without giving anything in return.
Rather than providing “corporate welfare,” Burger said, the University should use its resources for humanitarian purposes rather than enriching private businesses.”
PSO members said they will continue to hold meetings and rallies to inform the University community about these issues.