Tuesday, July 08, 2008

Guilty Pleas Benefit Academic Freedom

Mahtab Shirani, a University of Illinois at Chicago student, pleaded guilty last week to sending a threatening email to administrators and faculty one day after the Northern Illinois University massacre earlier this year. Shirani’s message declared, I'm aiming to kill as many as I can this is not a joke....After NIU, it's UIC's turn to face disaster. Sit back and relax now, you'll get what you deserve. Shirani will be sentenced to 10-16 months in prison. (The print version of the story, but not the online one, says that Shirani will pay more than $20,000 in restitution for security costs due her to note.)

So what does this have to do with academic freedom? Death threats are one way to silence free speech, and too often colleges do too little to stop and punish such threats.

In another victory for academic standards (and academic freedom), the creators of numerous diploma mills, Dixie and Steven Randock, pleaded guilty and Dixie received a three-year prison sentence. These diploma mills have used threats of libel suits to try to suppress their academic critics, such as the courageous George Gollin of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (where gutless administrators tried to silence his anti-diploma mill website).

Sadly, the Justice Department is refusing to make public the names of the people who bought these fake diplomas (although the names are being forwarded to a federal employment clearinghouse). There’s no valid reason to keep the names of these slimeballs secret. They’re using fake credentials to advance their careers, and the public (and their employers, especially if they work at colleges) deserve to know the facts.

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