U scores academic victory in court case

  • Article by: Jenna Ross
  • Star Tribune
  • April 5, 2011 - 6:24 PM

The University of Minnesota is hailing a win in court as a victory for academics everywhere.

A federal judge decided last week that the U and its faculty members were acting within their rights when they listed websites as "unreliable" and warned students not to reference them.

In November, the Turkish Coalition of America and a first-year U student sued the university and the director of its Center for Holocaust and Genocide Studies, which posted the list. The Turkish group's website -- which challenges the established idea that Armenians were victims of genocide by Ottoman Turks -- was among those listed as unreliable.

In dismissing the suit, Judge Donovan Frank found that the case centered on academic freedom and that the U's "statements are protected by that freedom."

"The ability of the University ... to determine the reliability of sources available to students to use in their research falls squarely within the University's freedom to determine how particular course work shall be taught," Frank wrote.

On the center's website, director Bruno Chaouat applauded the decision as "an important victory for scholars and educators all over the United States."

But Bruce Fein, attorney for the Turkish Coalition, called the U's academic freedom arguments "a bogus claim" -- "a cover" to suppress ideas it doesn't like and discourage students from arguing them. Said Fein: "This ruling should be alarming to anyone who cares about free speech on campus."

In the midst of the controversy, the Center for Holocaust and Genocide Studies removed the list of "unreliable websites."

The Turkish Coalition claims that by removing the list, the center conceded it was inappropriate. But the center argues that it had planned to remove the list long before being pressured by the group.

"My rationale was quite simple," the ruling quotes Chaouat as saying. "Never promote, even negatively, sources of illegitimate information."

Jenna Ross • 612-673-7168

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