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Academic freedom questions cloud OCC campus

December 13, 2001

Deirdre Newman

OCC CAMPUS -- Now that a professor here has been cleared of wrongdoing

by the administration after being accused of harassing Muslim students,

some professors and students say they are concerned that officials'

knee-jerk reaction has chilled the climate of academic freedom on campus.

Hearlson, 57, was exonerated Tuesday night when administrators made

public a report showing that the main allegations against Hearlson were

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unsubstantiated.

After being barred from the classroom during the past three months

while the independent investigation occurred, the Costa Mesa resident

will resume teaching when the spring semester begins Jan. 28.

The Muslim students who lodged the complaints against Hearlson have

maintained their silence since the announcement. Before the results were

disclosed, they agreed not to comment on the case, said student C.C.

Abdel Muti, who did not provide a reason for the decision.

Meanwhile, the teachers union is planning to file three grievances

against the administration, including one that charges Hearlson's

academic freedom was violated.

Already, some teachers say they are worried about the future of

academic freedom on campus.

Math teacher Eduardo Arismendi-Pardi said he is concerned about rights

he has come to take for granted after moving from Venezuela to the United

States.

"I pride myself on freedom of speech and the fact that I'mentitled to

due process and fair and equitable treatment -- those are the pillars of

democracy," Arismendi-Pardi said. "But [the situation] raises concern

that maybe I should document what I say to protect myself."

Arismendi-Pardi said he may tape record classes in addition to keeping

a journal to document his lectures.

English teacher Jay Zimmerman said he worries that the Hearlson case

has created a cloud of paranoia that hovers over the campus.

"I'm afraid that it intimidates new teachers," Zimmerman said. "How do

we say to them that this is a campus that respects due process?"

Students, meanwhile, say they don't want their professors to feel as

if they have to censor themselves.

"There obviously are some restraints that [teachers] have to exercise

to some degree, but as a political science professor, you're supposed to

question what's going on in the world," student Jessica Fraser said.

Student Shelly Ebias said the burden of responsibility should be on

the students to discern what is fact and what is opinion.

"Teachers will state their opinions, and the students should realize

it is only their opinion," Ebias said. "They are free to state that in

any way, shape or form."

* Deirdre Newman covers education. She may be reached at (949)

574-4221 or by e-mail at o7 deirdre.newman@latimes.comf7 .

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