From: "Harrison, Paul" <pharriso**At_Symbol_Here**MCMASTER.CA>
Subject: Re: [DCHAS-L] Academic freedom?
Date: Sat, 29 Dec 2018 21:14:45 +0000
Reply-To: ACS Division of Chemical Health and Safety <DCHAS-L**At_Symbol_Here**PRINCETON.EDU>
Message-ID: A784D28212D6A541B17F8925019667003484332A**At_Symbol_Here**

Hello all: while I continue to respect the members of this discussion list and the work they do, I do feel this particular thread has gone rather off track, and taken on a somewhat anti-academic theme that seems inappropriate to me.
My own interpretation of academic freedom at its most fundamental (and there may be other aspects) is that it covers the right to perform research in areas of one's own choice; this is in stark contrast to the industrial case, made earlier in this thread, where an "employee" of a company may well be compelled by an "employer" to move field, in line with the company's objectives (usually money).  The academic freedom concept is a hard-fought-for principle that should not be dismissed lightly, for example solely by safety arguments that say the work cannot be done.
That said, this "right" to work in the area that fascinates us academics has limits: first, of course, money raises its ugly head, and one has to convince grant panels and so forth that the work is worth funding.  Presumably the work in fluorine chemistry that has raised this matter has already been judged to have met that standard, and I am not convinced that it is up to the safety community to judge the work again.
Safety poses a similar challenge in the context of academic freedom, in the sense that it should not be used to ride roughshod over the fundamental right to do the work, yet still is an absolute requirement of it.  As such, I see the role of the safety professional as working with the academic to facilitate the work being conducted in a safe manner.  If the work has been judged worthy of funding, then the budget should include all the funds necessary for the safety program to perform the work (beyond whatever the institution might agree to provide).  I rather doubt that there are many projects which it would not be possible, in principle at least, to perform safely.
I will say that I can imagine that it can be frustrating for safety professionals to work with academics who oppose them at every move.  However, it may be helpful to recognize that the academic may well be an expert in the specific materials and the nature of the risks associated with them (e.g. fluorine), while the safety professional is more of an expert in assessment of those risks.  I have found that a collegial approach has been more productive in the long run, and I say this both as an academic and from many years working on and with our safety committees.
Anyhow, my 5 cents' worth... 
Paul Harrison, B.A. Hons. (Oxon), Ph.D.
Associate Professor and Associate Chair (Undergraduate)
Chemistry & Chemical Biology
Dept. of Chemistry & Chemical Biology
McMaster University
1280 Main St. West.
Hamilton, ON L8S 4M1
Map icon location: ABB-418
Phone icon phone: (905) 525-9140 x 27290
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From: ACS Division of Chemical Health and Safety [DCHAS-L@PRINCETON.EDU] on behalf of Daniel Kuespert [0000057d3b6cd9b7-dmarc-request@LISTS.PRINCETON.EDU]
Sent: December 29, 2018 6:38 AM
Subject: Re: [DCHAS-L] Academic freedom?

Ghastly. I get variations on the “academic freedom” and “I am an expert in this research area therefore I am an expert on this research area’s safety” arguments all the time.

The idea that scholars should have unrestricted "freedom to communicate ideas or facts without being targeted for imprisonment," etc. is ridiculous. Such an over-broad interpretation of academic freedom basically gives carte blanche for faculty members to engage in risky behaviors and subject their students (or even the public) to the same risks. Dr. Thrasher does not have the “academic freedom” to teach his students to dispense LN barehanded, as the caption for the photo states he is doing. That doing so is safe is not a “fact,", but it is an idea-one that he has a positive ethical and legal responsibility not to foster.

No one has the right in a civil society to disseminate ideas that are potentially physically injurious to others—if someone gets hurt or killed, the authorities can interpret it as anything from reckless endangerment to depraved-heart murder. Academic freedom is limited by the same factors that limit other freedoms—particularly other people’s right to be free from injury or death. Recall the old saying, “your right to swing your fist stops where my nose begins.”

Daniel Reid Kuespert, PhD, CSP
11101 Wood Elves Way
Columbia, MD 21044

On Dec 27, 2018, at 11:41 AM, Ralph Stuart <000005bc294e9212-dmarc-request@LISTS.PRINCETON.EDU> wrote:

This is an interesting case study for those of us overseeing academic laboratories.

The article above includes an interesting take on academic freedom. Wikipedia describes academic freedom as
"Academic freedom is the conviction that the freedom of inquiry by faculty members is essential to the mission of the academy as well as the principles of academia, and that scholars should have freedom to teach or communicate ideas or facts (including those that are inconvenient to external political groups or to authorities) without being targeted for repression, job loss, or imprisonment."

The story doesn't indicate that any of those consequences are likely as a result of the University's action. The professor's case that he operates safely would probably be stronger if he wasn't pictured dispensing liquid nitrogen barehanded as part of the story...

- Ralph

Ralph Stuart, CIH, CCHO

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