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Faculty approves Patriot Act resolution

Members of the Lehigh University faculty unanimously approved a resolution regarding the USA Patriot Act and related governmental activity when it met at the final university-wide faculty meeting of the academic year in early May.

The faculty resolution affirmed the central importance of civil liberties and academic freedom on university campuses and highlighted ways in which the Patriot Act and related government actions threaten to override basic constitutional safeguards. It also recommended a series of actions by the Lehigh administration to ensure the protection of basic freedoms.

In presenting the resolution, Ted Morgan, professor of political science, observed that it “affirms the values of free expression, access to information, and the unfettered flow of ideas” that “go to the core of what an academic community is about.”

Security versus liberty

The resolution calls upon the Lehigh administration to report regularly on international students, faculty, and staff who are denied visas to study or teach at Lehigh. It requests an accounting of research that is suppressed for security or political reasons. And it recommends that the administration post warnings to library, bookstore, and computer lab users about potential inspection of records and personal information.

It also calls upon elected officials in Bethlehem and elsewhere to work together to honor the principles espoused in the U.S. Constitution and to resist attempts to diminish them.

John Pettegrew, associate professor of history and director of Lehigh’s American Studies program, says that the faculty passed the resolution with little opposition during a period of debate, underscoring a widely held concern about government encroachment of civil liberties.

Alwyn Eades, professor of materials science and engineering, notes that while the faculty resolution does not condemn the Patriot Act, it does ask the university to “work together to ensure that governmental actions against terrorism do not violate the Constitution and do not compromise individual liberties, research, education and academic freedom, and to resist vigilantly all attempts to do so.”

Adds Eades: “This is an issue with the propensity to be very divisive. The drafters of the resolution did a wonderful job balancing the issues and producing a resolution that would merit wide support. And, indeed, the resolution passed without opposition.”

Robert Thornton, professor of economics, says that he supported the resolution because, “frankly, I find some of the Patriot Act provisions frightening.” Lehigh is following the lead of many other universities and cities across the country that have passed similar resolutions expressing concern about the far-reaching surveillance powers the controversial act grants the U.S. government, he adds.

“Lehigh’s not alone here,” Thornton says.

Dina Wills, director of faculty development and an adjunct professor in journalism/communication, says she cheered when the university faculty passed the unanimous resolution by voice vote.

“I worked with the faculty committee that drafted the resolution because I have used the Patriot Act as a basis for group projects in my communication course, “Persuasion
and Influence,” and I’ve read the act closely,” Wills says. “My students and I have compared provisions of the Patriot Act with the Bill of Rights and the U.S. Constitution, and we’ve found some major civil liberties problems. Class discussions about security versus civil liberties issues have been lively and informed by research done by the students for their projects. That security versus civil liberties debate must continue.”

-- Linda Harbrecht

Posted on Friday, May 14, 2004

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