Academic Freedom Requires Academic Accountability

David Schnare — from his Facebook page

Should public university faculty email be exempt from the Freedom of Information Act? So asks the Roanoke Times in dueling op-eds from David W. Schnare with the American Tradition Institute (ATI) and Kate Westcott with the American Association of University Professors.

ATI sued the University of Virginia to gain access to the emails of a climatologist Michael Mann, a former professor who devised the controversial “hockey stick” graph so well known in the Global Warming debate. Westcott argued that professors’ scholarly work should be protected from FOIA on the grounds of academic freedom. Most people would agree that academic freedom is a value worth protecting.

While Schnare acknowledges the value of academic freedom, he also contends that the tax-paying public has the right to know how university faculties at public institutions “spend the peoples’ money.” The Climategate emails recovered from an English university exposed how a professorial clique (of which Mann was a member) manipulated scholarly institutions to suppress opposing points of view. Another FOIA request showed how a North Carolina professor used grant funds for projects other than those intended.

And then, writes Schnare, there was this: “A recent Virginia FOIA request found that at one university, of 15 professors conducting research, not one kept a research log. In one case, a professor could not duplicate his findings for lack of such research discipline. Without FOIA, this execrable faculty misbehavior would never have been uncovered.”

Does the public have a right to know if publicly funded scientists at Virginia universities are following basic protocols so their research findings can be examined and replicated? Isn’t that central to scientific inquiry? Or should university professors be entitled to “academic freedom” without “academic accountability”?


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