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My Word: John Yoo's academic freedom is being guarded by UC Berkeley

Christopher Edley Jr., Contra Costa Times

By Christopher Edley Jr., Contra Costa Times

IN A March 20 headline (Yoo's work for White House"...) and March 27 editorial (UC Berkeley's punishing of John Yoo violates academic freedom) your newspaper mischaracterized my position regarding tenured Professor John Yoo.

In the editorial, you wrote that "UC Berkeley leaders are considering violating the doctrine of academic freedom in their quest to punish law school professor John Yoo."

Nothing could be further from the truth. Berkeley administrators have spoken publicly and repeatedly about the importance of Professor Yoo's academic freedom and First Amendment rights.

During an interview with your reporter, I made it very clear that premature disciplinary procedures would raise a "McCarthy-era problem."

I also said that a university does not have the institutional competence to conduct investigations involving classified intelligence, or to establish rules for behavior distant from the functions of a university.

We must depend upon outside organizations such as a prosecutor or court for fact-finding and norm-declaring.

This reduces the risk that any university would target a faculty member because of his or her unpopular views or outside activities.

We cannot be the arbiters of when the unpopular — or reprehensible — becomes criminal; and we cannot debate whether alleged acts are antithetical to our educational mission without knowing the material facts.

Our rules protect faculty from discipline for outside activities unrelated to their university duties except in limited circumstances.

Short of criminal conviction, the rules are somewhat vague, but the importance of academic freedom is not. Like others at Berkeley, I will watch developments regarding Professor Yoo carefully, even as we guard academic freedom zealously.

Christopher Edley is dean of the UC Berkeley School of Law.

4/4/2009