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Academic Freedom at BU

To the Editors:

We write to inform readers of The New York Review of Books of the continuing violations of academic freedom at Boston University under the presidency of John Silber.

John Silber has used his administrative power, both in personal and in delegated fashion, to punish his critics—sometimes by denial of tenure (against faculty recommendation), sometimes by refusing merit raises and leaves, sometimes by personal abuse (including a false charge of arson, later withdrawn, against a member of the faculty).

Administrative mistreatment of university employees—secretaries and librarians as well as faculty—has led all these groups to form unions. Last year there were four strikes before the Administration would agree to sign union contracts.

The Civil Liberties Union of Massachusetts has issued a report criticizing the Administration of Boston University for repeated violations of civil liberties—including censorship of programs on the university radio station, prior-review rules for student newspapers, the deletion of statements critical of the administration from student publications, and the dismissal of a news director at the radio station who protested the censorship there.

Punitive actions on the part of the Administration continue. The Dean of the College of Liberal Arts has added a new factor in the determining of merit raises for the faculty—“disservice to the University” or “negative merit,” by which publication and teaching performance, however meritorious, may be offset or cancelled out by actions “harmful to the University.” No distinction is made, by the Administration, between itself and “the University.”

The largest recorded meeting of the Faculty Assembly, with most of the full-time faculty of the University attending, voted by a two-thirds majority in December to ask the Trustees of the University to dismiss President Silber. But the Board of Trustees (where Trustees dissident from administrative policy regularly resign or are replaced) has not acted.

Because the Administration and Trustees have great resources for public relations, including full-page newspaper advertisements and expensive mailings to alumni, we feel we must in some way also reach the public, to tell our alumni, the larger academic community, and the general reader about the disorder, harassment, and intimidation of free speech (by punitive action) inflicted on students, faculty, and staff alike at Boston University. While John Silber remains in the presidency, these conditions will, it seems, persist, and worsen.

For the Committee to Save Boston University: Shane Hunt, Economics; S.M. Miller, Sociology; Frances Fox Piven, Political Science; Freda Rebelsky, Psychology; Helen Vendler, English; Howard Zinn, Political Science

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