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UC Davis Update: Panel Rejects Finding of Academic Freedom Violation Against Professor

Last year, FIRE reported on the case of University of California, Davis medical school professor Michael Wilkes, who alleges that he faced retaliation from the university over comments made in a column he co-authored for the San Francisco Chronicle. Last spring, the Committee on Academic Freedom and Responsibility of the UC Davis Academic Senate found that the university had gravely violated Wilkes' academic freedom. UC Davis promised an investigation after the Senate passed a resolution unanimously calling on the university to apologize to Wilkes and retract all threats against him. Among other occurrences, Wilkes was informed in a letter from UC Davis Health System Counsel's David Levine that he could face legal liability for allegedly defamatory comments in the column. Background on this case is available at our case page.

As The Chronicle of Higher Education reports today, however, a panel convened by the university has rejected Wilkes' and the Senate's claims that he had been retaliated against in violation of his academic freedom. A two-page "Findings of Fact" document (PDF) offers little depth on how the panel reached its conclusions, but sums up its findings by stating:

The review committee concludes that there were insufficient facts to support the allegations by Professor Wilkes regarding his academic freedom for the majority of his allegations. However, the letter from the Health Systems Counsel was an inappropriate response to the opinion article and should not have been sent.

Although Levine's email was repudiated by the panel, it did not constitute improper retaliation, the panel found.

FIRE is studying the panel's conclusions and will provide further updates on this development. In the meantime, Wilkes and others strongly disagree with the panel's findings. As the Sacramento Business Journal reports:

"I'm extremely disappointed by the report," Wilkes said. "And I'm concerned it doesn't really bode well for academic freedom."

Gregory Pasternack, a hydrology professor who chairs the committee on academic freedom, also blasted the review.

The review presents "virtually no new information," contradicts testimony by [Executive Associate Dean Fred] Meyers and ignores the impact of the threats all occurring at the same time, Pasternack said.

"The faculty saw through thin excuses, while this review merely parrots and accepts them with no scrutiny or common sense," he said.

FIRE will be further assessing the latest from UC Davis in the coming days.

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