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Protecting Freedom of Inquiry
An Open Letter to the University Community

Posted September 22, 1999

Dear Friends and Colleagues:

The destruction by vandals last week of corn plants that were being grown for a research project at the University of California, Berkeley, violates more than the state and federal laws that protect property. It represents an act of violence against the entire academic community and against the principles of academic freedom that protect the individual interests of each of its members. It is an act that differs in no significant way from the burning of books or the gagging of a citizen who rises to ask a question, because it intentionally aims to destroy the process of inquiry and the foundations of knowledge that bring scholars together in a lively and active intellectual community. It is the right of every faculty member, researcher and student to enjoy freedom of speech and freedom of inquiry within the university, and if the university is to remain a free and ordered space, we must protect it from attacks that threaten these core values. In defending the right of individuals to conduct their research, the university protects discussion and dissent, encourages debate, allows for open and vocal disagreement among its members. But we lose those core values if disagreement is ever allowed to devolve uncontested into the destruction of our colleagues' work. In the case of the research that was destroyed last week and during the past summer, many years worth of intellectual investment were undermined, the progress of graduate students has been hindered, and greater scientific understanding has been set back. We appeal to the university community to join us in supporting our colleagues who have suffered this harm. Ultimately, the pursuit of knowledge itself -- the life of the mind -- lies at the heart of the matter, and the university as a whole is in jeopardy when the search for truth is not our highest goal.

Robert M. Berdahl

Carol T. Christ
Executive Vice Chancellor & Provost

Joseph Cerny
Vice Chancellor for Research, Dean of the Graduate Division


September 22 - 28, 1999 (Volume 28, Number 7)
Copyright 1999, The Regents of the University of California.
Produced and maintained by the Office of Public Affairs at UC Berkeley.
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