The UO Faculty Senate will vote next month on a resolution opposed to war with Iraq. UO President Dave Frohnmayer opposes the vote.
UO geneticist Frank Stahl gave notice this week that he will seek a vote on an anti-war resolution at the Dec. 4 UO Senate meeting. The resolution "urges the United States government and other members of the United Nations to pursue exclusively peaceful means of resolving the conflict with Iraq." Stahl is one of the UO's top scientists, winner of more than a dozen prestigious research honors including a MacArthur "genius" grant.
Frohnmayer e-mailed Stahl in opposition to the vote. "It is not the place of this university to be captured by any one political voice," he wrote. "It is vital for the university to resist efforts to be captured by one side of a debate."
But Stahl says silence supports the war. "Not saying something is saying something," says Stahl. Frohnmayer could not be reached for comment.
Stahl says he expects a difficult fight for his resolution, but he says faculty should not be "cowed" by Frohnmayer into not taking a stand. The nation is faced with "a fascist takeover of the American government," Stahl says. The Bush administration is colluding with corporations to use the war to hold its grip on power, Stahl says. "It's a way to keep the citizenry repressed," he says.
The war on terrorism's crackdown on open information threatens the university's mission of free thought and research, according to Stahl. "A proud research institution must defend its right to free inquiry."
Stahl says universities can flourish only in democratic countries and that war threatens democracy. "The whole concept of political debate (or scientific debate, or cultural debate) is likely to be rendered meaningless by the further erosion of civil liberties that is bound to accompany an increased state of war," Stahl says. He quotes James Madison, "Of all the enemies to public liberty war is … the most to be dreaded. … No nation ... could preserve its freedom in the midst of continual warfare."
Concern about the war's impact on university research is spreading nationally. Proposals to "restrict scientific communication in order to prevent the spread of information that could be used in terrorist attacks, such as the anthrax letters of last year ... have sent a chill through academe," the Chronicle of Higher Education reported last month.
Stahl says an anti-war vote could cost the UO support in the Republican state Legislature and from corporations. But he says such considerations shouldn't matter. "It mattered to the German universities, that's why they shut up when their Jews were murdered [in World War II]," Stahl says. "You can wonder if a university is worth saving if it doesn't take a stand."
"If we don't defend the democracy upon which intellectual freedom depends, who will?" Stahl asks.
Avoiding the war issue "means the university has been captured the same way it was captured on the sweatshop issue," Stahl says.
Two years ago, Nike CEO Phil Knight angrily withdrew a planned $30 million donation after the UO joined a workers' rights monitoring group Nike opposed. Frohnmayer, to get back on Knight's good side, described the corporation as a "world leader" in promoting fair labor and withdrew from the coalition.
While Frohnmayer says the UO shouldn't take a stand on the war, the UO administration has a history of taking conservative political positions. In 1993, then law school Dean Frohnmayer gave in to timber industry pressure to move the Environmental Law Clinic off campus. Later pressure caused the UO to cut funding for a premier environmental law conference. In 1997, UO Provost John Moseley responded to business community complaints about professors opposed to the new Hyundai/Hynix plant by warning the corporation's opponents to "avoid even the appearance of inappropriate uses of [UO] time or resources." The same warning did not go to pro-Hyundai faculty. Moseley himself had written letters on UO letterhead in support of wetlands destruction permits for the corporation's chip factory.
While post 9/11 teach-ins at the UO have filled auditoriums with explorations of U.S. policy and the root causes of terrorism, Frohnmayer, a Republican, has taken a more conservative tack in public speeches.
At a candlelight vigil, Frohnmayer called for "moral clarity" after the attack. "There is such a thing as a difference between good and evil," Frohnmayer said, describing the terrorists as "pure and blinding evil."
On the 9/11 anniversary this year, Frohnmayer said, "I believe that the flags that fly from our homes are not symbols of arrogant nationalism."
There is some precedent for the UO Senate taking political stands. A campus divestiture movement in the 1980s lead to a vote in the Legislature to withdraw investments in South Africa. Stahl says the university has taken stands against racial and sexual preference discrimination that are politically controversial.
University campuses have been hotbeds of the anti-war movement. More than half of the 100,000 or more protesters in Washington, D.C., last month were college students, according to the Chronicle of Higher Education. Hundreds of university faculty have signed petitions against war. Anti-war speeches at the UO have filled the largest lecture halls on campus.
Stahl says he won't give up. Whether or not the anti-war resolution passes, he says he plans another resolution opposing the Patriot Act for its weakening of civil liberties after 9/11.