Restriction of scholarly freedom on university campuses

At Stanford University, Prof. Bruce Lusignan is defying the US government with the full backing of the university administration. At the University of Minnesota, president C. Peter Magrath has adopted a similar stance.

They are refusing to comply with restrictions that amount to one of the greatest threats to academic and scientific freedom ever faced in the United States.

Acting under broad interpretations of the Export Control Act and the Arms Export Control Act, the Departments of Commerce, Defense, and State are trying to restrict access of foreign scholars and students to a number of areas of knowledge, such as computer science, and curtail contact between them and US citizens. No military, or even commercial, secrets are involved. What is being sought, is restriction on ordinary, open university classrooms, seminars, libraries, and scientific meetings.

This pressure has been increasing over the past few years. Already, several embarrassing, even ludricous, incidents have erupted. For example, a year and a half ago, visas were suddenly revoked for some Eastern European scientists who were to attend an open conference on computer memories. Chinese experts at the meeting had to sign ''letters of assurance'' not to divulge what they might learn there. Now at Minnesota, Stanford, and some other campuses, professors, deans, and presidents are being asked to deny foreigners full access to university life. They are even being asked to monitor their travel.

This is the kind of police state restriction of scholarly freedom normally associated with totalitarism. At Minnesota and Stanford, now, it is being resisted. ''The Campus environment is completely open with no means to prohibit access by foreigners. . . . Even if we had the means to monitor or police the activities of any subgroup of scholars, such actions would drastically disrupt the academic environment which is essential in fostering creative research endeavors,'' Gerald Lieberman, Stanford vice-provost, says.

Rep. George E. Brown (D) of California warns that ''existing and proposed government controls over the flow of scientific and technical information can have a potentially devastating effect on the scientific enterprise.''

He asks, ''Can we really expect a set of regulations to be workable when the Frenchman can talk to the Chinese at a conference, but the American can talk to neither? Is it realistic to label as 'classified' some abstract thoughts in the mind of a mathematician, to the extent that the very act of committing these thoughts to a piece of paper might constitute a violation of law? These are not far-fetched examples.''

Such restrictions are sought in the name of national or commercial security. They would secure neither, but they could seriously damage scientific freedom. Such police state tactics have no place in the United States of America.

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