The Daily Tar Heel

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Sunday December 5th

Professors’ right to free speech in the classroom protected by organization

An organization that protects professors’ rights is becoming more active as cases alleging infringement of those rights rise in number.

Professors at universities cannot be fired at will, and they must receive both fair warning and justification when they are fired, according to the American Association of University Professors.

In some situations, professors have been fired because of their opinions. They are entitled to speaking their mind, as long as they make it clear they are not speaking on behalf of their university, said Gregory Scholtz, the director of academic freedom at the American Association of University Professors.

“If professors are unable to speak their mind in classrooms, then it is a threat to the quality of education,” Scholtz said.

The AAUP makes a list of schools that are not conforming to its standards.

The AAUP has accused Tulane University in New Orleans of terminating tenured professors with little to no warning, a violation of the AAUP’s outlined procedure, Scholtz said.

Michael Strecker, director of external relations at Tulane University, said the professors were fired because the costs of damage from Hurricane Katrina made it impossible for the university to pay them.

If the AAUP understood the extent of the damage to the university, it would understand why Tulane had to fire those professors, Strecker said.

The university had to cut $60 million from its annual budget after the hurricane, according to the AAUP Web site.

At UNC, the policy for professors aims to protect their right to speak their minds in their areas of expertise.

“We have reaffirmed the right of the faculty member to have full freedom and the right of the faculty member to take controversial stands on issues in society without fear of retribution and pressure,” said Ron Strauss, executive vice chancellor and provost at UNC.

But in the 1960s, a “speaker ban” at the University meant to prevent people associated with communism from speaking limited the speech of professors and students, as well as visiting speakers.

And last spring, the free speech issue arose again with a visit by former U.S. Rep. Tom Tancredo, R-Colo., who was invited by Youth for Western Civilization to speak about immigration issues.

Tancredo was prevented from finishing his speech by protesters.

“The Tancredo incident was a shock to the UNC campus. … You may not agree with them, but you give them the option to be heard, and that was a principle that was lost,” Strauss said.

“In settings where academic freedom is limited, it will cut down student willingness to express ideas about different issues and is a way of dampening scientific inquiry and discourse.”



Contact the State & National Editor at stntdesk@unc.edu.

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