The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill’s (UNC’s) decision to revoke the network access of Professor Emeritus Elliot Cramer continues to draw headlines, most recently with today’s column in the Chapel Hill newspaper The Herald-Sun by FIRE Senior Vice President Robert Shibley.
For those unfamiliar with the case, Cramer’s network access was revoked by UNC after an external critic, Joseph Villarosa (with whom Cramer had been in an ongoing, non-university related dispute), complained to UNC about a link Cramer posted on his university website. This link carried readers to a site for an animal welfare organization Cramer is affiliated with, through which readers could access a page containing information on their dispute.
If this sounds like a private dispute that UNC shouldn’t be getting into, you’re right. What’s more, UNC agreed: General Counsel Leslie Strohm told Villarosa to stop pestering the university, and that she saw "no reference … whatsoever" to Villarosa on Cramer’s cite. Nonetheless, Strohm also ordered Cramer to remove the link. Even though he complied with this request, his network access was removed a few days later.
Robert’s column in today’s edition of The Herald-Sun points out the larger consequences of UNC’s action here:
By treating Cramer in this way, UNC has set a terrible precedent for free speech and academic freedom. These important rights allow professors to conduct research and advance ideas without fear of punishment or pressure from outside forces, who for political or ideological reasons might like some professors silenced. If a university is to fulfill its role as a true "marketplace of ideas," its faculty must not be subject to the whims of the loudest or most persistent individuals.
Universities — including UNC — recognize that active faculty members require free speech and academic freedom. Why, then, are these protections any less important for emeritus professors fulfilling many of the same functions?
Be sure to read all of Robert’s column as well as our previous writings on the case, and join the dozens who have already written to Chancellor Thorp demanding an end to UNC’s unjust treatment of Professor Cramer.