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Andrea M. Hamilton, News Service: (650) 724-5708,

Faculty Senate passes resolution warning against anti-terror law's unintended effects

The Faculty Senate unanimously passed a resolution Jan. 9 that warns against the unintended yet possibly harmful effects of anti-terrorism legislation, passed by Congress in the wake of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

In Senate discussions last fall, faculty had warned that certain elements of the laws -- primarily the USA Patriot Act passed in October 2001, as well as related legislation passed since then -- could unnecessarily impinge on the research activities of the university and foreign students.

In a report to the Senate Nov. 7, Associate Dean of Research Ann Arvin said that the laws affect three key areas of concern to Stanford and other research institutions: restrictions on possession as well as transfer of "select agents," certain biological agents and toxins that might be in research labs around campus; limits on the research activities of international students and other so-called "restricted persons"; and the possible creation of a new category of restricted information, so-called "sensitive but unclassified information" or "homeland security information," that is being floated by the White House. Even more alarming to research institutions like Stanford, Arvin said, the act imposes criminal penalties, for both institutions and individuals, for many activities that were formerly legal. Meanwhile, many of the implementation regulations have yet to be finalized.

Critics of the Patriot Act have complained that the legislation was hastily written by politicians with little or no scientific background. They condemned its broad, often vaguely defined expansion of the government's information-gathering and law-enforcement powers.

A preliminary version of the resolution was heatedly discussed and its wording dissected by the Senate Nov. 21. The language of the revised version passed last week reflected the concerns of those who wanted to make clear that Stanford understands the government has legitimate concerns when it comes to combating terrorism, while pointing out the equally valid concerns over academic and intellectual freedom.

Stanford joins a growing list of more than 50 communities in 25 states, including San Francisco, Berkeley, Sebastopol and Santa Cruz, that have passed or are considering resolutions protesting the Patriot Act.

Although several faculty conceded that the resolution had no legal power, they nonetheless felt it was important to make a statement on behalf of the university community. Senate chair Hank Greely said the resolution would be circulated to federal officials, legislators and leaders in higher education around the country.

Debra Satz, professor of philosophy, said Stanford's resolution was worthwhile, despite the fact it was not binding on a police force, for instance (as many of the similar municipal resolutions are). "We're not binding on any agency. We're not even binding on individual conscience. But as a statement of the importance and the integrity of academic research and education, I think it is an excellent statement."

The resolution states:

Resolved that:

In the aftermath of the attacks of September 11, 2001 the United States government has acted to limit the threat of further terrorism in the United States. The need for an effective response to terrorism is clear. Some of the actions taken, or contemplated, by the federal government, however, may harm the fundamental educational and research missions of colleges and universities. These include some aspects of restrictions on who may use certain biological materials, some limitations on visas for foreign students, the discussed possibility of going beyond the existing security classifications to restrict broad set of vaguely defined "sensitive" information, and the broadened range of monitoring of public and private communications.

Therefore, the Senate of the Academic Council of Stanford University calls on the Administration of the University, on leaders of other colleges and universities throughout the United States, and on executive and legislative leaders of the government of the United States to work together to ensure that governmental actions against terrorism do not compromise research and education.


By Andrea M. Hamilton

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