FIRE’s Letter to Albright College

By July 16, 2001

As you see by our Directors and Board of Advisors, the Foundation for
Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) unites civil rights and civil
liberties leaders, scholars, journalists, and public intellectuals
across a broad political and ideological spectrum on behalf of liberty,
legal equality, academic freedom, and, in the case of Professor Achal
Mehra, freedom of expression and due process on America’s college
campuses. Our web page, www.thefire.org, will give you a fuller sense
of our identity and our activities.

We are writing to you in your capacity as a trustee of Albright
College, as we are writing to the other members of the Board of
Trustees. The trustees of an institution of higher learning have a
solemn fiduciary obligation to pass along to the next generation a
university as free, honest, and decent as the institution it inherited
from its predecessors. When academic freedom and fundamental fairness
are threatened at that institution-particularly when the faculty and
administration have defaulted on their obligation to protect these
time-honored principles-it is incumbent upon the trustees to exercise
their legal and moral authority to take corrective action.

You know the obvious issues here. Professor Mehra-joined in
this by many independent investigators-believes that President Zimon
falsified his curriculum vitae in applying for the presidency of
Albright College. In arguing on behalf of his allegations, Professor
Mehra has proffered a large amount of evidence, including data gathered
under the Freedom of Information Act, and he has argued vociferously
that deep academic dishonesty, which he asserts is beyond the pale, has
occurred in this instance. He believes that the soul and reputation of
Albright College are on the line.

This affair has created great tensions at Albright College and
great interest nationwide. The Chronicle of Higher Education has
examined both the claims against President Zimon and the threats to
Professor Mehra. Some members of the Board of Trustees and the faculty
have resigned in sympathy with the positions taken by Professor Mehra
(we have copies of their letters in our possession), and some
administrators, faculty, and students filed charges of “harassment”
against Professor Mehra, calling for his dismissal, with the Committee
on Rank, Tenure and Sabbatical Leave. Those charges were sent to the
Faculty Executive Committee, which had to ask both parties if “truth”
were a satisfactory defense against the charges. Remarkably, the reply,
on behalf of all the complainants, came from Albright’s outside legal
counsel. Do all complainants at Albright get free legal counsel from
Klett Rooney Lieber & Schoring, or only those associated with
President Zimon? The law firm instructed the FEC that it must prosecute
the case against Professor Mehra, that the truth or falsity of his
charges were not “central to the complaint and the statement of
charges,” and that it must find that Professor Mehra was guilty of
“moral turpitude for which Dr. Mehra should be terminated.” The law
firm further informed the Committee that the issue of the College
paying counsel for the complainants, counsel that would take an active
role in the proceeding, was “immaterial and beyond the jurisdiction of
the Faculty Executive Committee.”

FIRE is profoundly concerned with the assault both upon Professor’s
Mehra’s right to due and impartial process to which Professor is
entitled and upon his academic freedom to criticize the university and
its president, above all on a matter of the most intense public concern
and importance. If Professor Mehra has defamed President Zimon, the
president has been free to sue him for defamation. Retaliation by means
dismissal for criticism that is labeled as “harassment” seems
unconscionable.

To make matters worse, Dean Thomas Brogan has ordered Professor Mehra
to cease all communication to the Board of Trustees, defining that as
inappropriate ex parte communication. The legal analogy is, to say the
least, stretched, given the role of the trustees as the informed
guardians of Albright College, with fiduciary obligation not only to
its legal and financial status, but, above all, to its status as an
academically free institution within a free society. The Mission
Statement of Albright College proclaims its “dedication to a
values-based education in an atmosphere of academic freedom.”
Albright’s Commission on the Future proclaims, “Values are crucial to
the way we live.” Professor Mehra is claiming that this mission has
been betrayed. A hearing of his charges, not his silencing, is the
appropriate means to deal with this crisis.

If one accepts the legal analogy, however, then the appropriate
solution to Dean Brogan’s complaint is not to prohibit communications
to the Board of Trustees, but to inform Professor Mehra of whom else
should be copied on his correspondence. The Board of Trustees, note
well, is not an ordinary judge or court of appeal, but the highest
board of moral and legal authority at this institution.

FIRE was prepared to act in May, but we desisted when the
Faculty Executive Committee suspended its proceedings against Professor
Mehra. We appeal to your sense of academic freedom, honor, and
conscience in this matter, and ask for an end to the attempt to silence
and punish Professor Mehra for his criticisms of the leadership of his
college. If the case against him is pursued, however, we will be at
this side on the question of academic freedom and due process, we shall
seek the widest possible diffusion and dissemination of the materials
relevant to this case, and we shall help him secure appropriate legal
representation so that his case in not the occasion for the betrayal of
academic freedom.

Looking forward to hearing from you, and trusting in your conscience, I am,

Sincerely,

Alan Charles Kors