A Statement on: Academic Freedom
From Members of the Executive Council of
The USF Chapter of the United Faculty of Florida,
With Some Other Members and Friends of UFF/USF.
UFF negotiates and enforces the contract
that, via Article 5, protects Academic Freedom at USF.
The University of South Florida serves the public interest by educating students and giving honest counsel to the community. Our calling as faculty is to study the world, to seek to understand it, and to present our discoveries and conclusions, without fear or favor.
Our academic freedom to speak to the community arises from the public's right of access to current knowledge. Especially in a democracy, the public has the right --- and often the need --- to know. When faculty speak of the dangers of asbestos and cholesterol, the consequences of pollution and racism, the effects of law enforcement and urban planning, and the uses of robot technology and music education, these faculty are serving the community.
As with judges and journalists, the independence of scholars is crucial to the health and safety of the Nation. A university must be a place where honest debate is not suppressed in fear and anger, or stifled by parochial interests. Academic freedom is essential in good times, when holding to high principles is popular. But it is imperative in a crisis, when principles might be sacrificed out of false necessity or momentary expedience.
When the public itself suppresses academic speech, it commits a folly as great as slapping a band-aid on a lump and hoping it is benign. When parochial interests stifle academic speech, they deprive the people of public knowledge. When academic colleagues or administrators censor academic speech, they betray the trust that the community places in them. And when principles are abandoned out of fear or fury, the damage done so quickly takes decades to heal.
Professor Sami Al-Arian says unpopular things in public, and he and USF now face demands for his resignation or dismissal, and even threats of violence. Yet it is honest counsel, not dishonest comfort, that the public needs most. And threats of violence are themselves acts of terrorism, to which USF can not and should not submit. History shows that the silencing of one leads to the subservience of all.
By the principles upon which this Nation was founded, each person has the right to speak --- indeed, is encouraged to speak --- as an individual. And a scholar has a greater obligation to be honest than to be agreeable. Therefore, while we have varied opinions on what Professor Al-Arian says, we defend his right to speak. We believe that only out of a debate that includes all voices will the truth come forth.