Chancellor’s annual speech pays homage to academic freedom

Drawing subtle parallels Friday between state Sen. Susan Wagle, Josef Stalin’s Russia and McCarthyism, Kansas University Chancellor Robert Hemenway said academic freedom must be rigorously defended.

“Nothing threatens academic freedom more than a faculty having to look over its shoulders to see if Big Brother is watching,” he said. “In Stalin’s Russia, KGB spies in civilian clothes were sent to university classrooms to inform on professors. Senator Joseph McCarthy, in the anticommunism of the 1950s, provided a chilling example of how public power could be abused to intimidate artists and intellectuals.”

Hemenway, who spoke at the All- University Supper in the Kansas Union Ballroom, used his State of the University speech as an opportunity to defend social welfare professor Dennis Dailey, who has been accused by Wagle of using pornographic videos and making crude comments in his human sexuality class. Audience members gave Hemenway a standing ovation when the speech ended.

A leader among conservative legislators, Wagle introduced an amendment aimed at cutting funding to the KU School of Social Welfare, which oversees Dailey’s class. The amendment passed the Senate and House but later was vetoed by Gov. Kathleen Sebelius. A university investigation released Monday found Wagle’s claims baseless.

Hemenway invoked the First and Sixth amendments to the U.S. Constitution, which protect free speech, the right to an impartial jury and the right to confront one’s accusers. Dailey was given no chance to defend himself because many of his attackers were anonymous, Hemenway said.

“Professors have a responsibility to treat students with respect,” Hemenway said. “But professors must also be free to pursue truth in their research and in their classroom without fear of political reprisal from the state.”

Hemenway’s comments were “excellent,” said Amir Khosrowpour, who listened to the speech and then treated the audience to a piano performance.

“He just basically said what it is about — the stuff being sensationalized, comparing it to McCarthyism,” said Khosrowpour, a KU senior from Irvine, Calif.

Another attendee, Dan Johnson, also said he felt Hemenway’s remarks were well-chosen.

“I thought it was eloquent and appropriate, and I was proud of him,” Johnson said.

A former Kansas University professor died Thursday while in Lawrence for the Distinguished Service Citation ceremony.

Robert T. Aangeenbrug, 67, Gulfport, Fla., was in Lawrence to see friends and attend the ceremony when he died at Trinity Episcopal Church.

Comparing the university’s spring semester to the tornado that recently touched down in southwest Lawrence, Hemenway also discussed the tumultuous days in the athletic department after basketball coach Roy Williams announced he was leaving for North Carolina.

“One Monday we are playing for the national championship, the next Monday we are absent a basketball coach, and the next Monday we have begun the Bill Self era,” Hemenway said, referring to the team’s new coach.

And he said the university’s financial situation, while improving, still offered numerous challenges.

KU’s budget was cut by $19 million early in the school year, but was saved from future cuts during the 2003 session. In addition, a 1.5 percent salary increase for state employees was secured by the governor.

“All in all, things could have been worse,” Hemenway said. “And when we look around at surrounding states, we realize that they are worse.”