Letter to the Editor: Universitas Magistrorum et Scholarium

After seven years at the University of Miami, I am departing on bitter note. I recently read that a number of UM students have been reprimanded and punished for expressing their political views on campus. Looking back it is hard to summarize a decade of relationships and experiences that have punctuated my undergraduate and medical education. Yet the enduring principle was the universal held belief in “academic freedom” which is the bedrock of the university system. As scholars, we partake in a tradition that fiercely protects the freedom of organization, speech, and assembly within academic institutions. As an undergraduate student I was free to join political associations, free to express my views, and free to gather with other students when my concerns were not heeded. Indeed, as president of Amnesty International, as host to WVUM’s Counterpoint, and as a student leader, this freedom from undue retribution allowed me to seize unfettered the educational, social, cultural and political opportunities around me. I was dismayed when I read that two UM students who partook in this process of learning and discovery have been charged with “vandalism” for announcing an upcoming event in sidewalk chalk. Students for a New Democracy (S.T.A.N.D) has been on a two-year campaign to pressure the university to fulfill promises made around a publicly funded Biotechnology project in the low-income neighborhood of Overtown.  Regardless of a reader’s political persuasion, the charges leveled against students constitute an egregious violation of the spirit of academic and intellectual freedom. One student was unable to register for fall classes after incurring an “academic hold” on his registration and the group S.T.A.N.D faces disbandment from the University. A third student from FIU was threatened with arrest for participating in protests. These students have committed no more of a crime than a 10-year-old who chalks boxes on the sidewalk to play hopscotch. Unfortunately, a small group of administrators has compromised the century-old values of academia to quiet dissent and stymie opposition. These are not the values of my alma mater and these actions only serve to undermine the great institution from which I am graduating.
Trishul Siddharthan is a graduating medical student and will be pursuing a residency in Internal Medicine at Yale University. He graduated cum laude with a degree in Neurobiology (08’) and is the 2007 recipient of the Vice-Presidents Award for Service.