The Faculty Senate at the University of Wisconsin at Oshkosh is urging faculty members not to cooperate with investigations of students, professors, or staff members made under the USA Patriot Act. The senate voted last week following unconfirmed reports that a professor at Oshkosh has been investigated, but cleared, under the act.
Passed in October 2001, the Patriot Act greatly expands law-enforcement officials' ability and authority to gather information secretly and conduct surveillance. Concern and fear about the act are increasing at colleges, where many people worry that the law will sacrifice privacy and academic freedom for security.
Anthony A. Koyzis, chairman of Oshkosh's department of education and human resources, said he received a one-line anonymous letter in November stating that, based on the Patriot Act, an investigation had been ordered and completed and that he had been cleared of any suspicions, he said.
Mr. Koyzis said he does not know why he would be investigated. Born in the Greek part of Cyprus, he has lived in the United States for more than 25 years and has dual citizenship. The government had never investigated him before, he said. "I'm your basic, boring professor." He traveled to Greece last September to work with the Greek Ministry of Education, he said. On a stopover in Cincinnati on the way back, officers with the U.S. Transportation Security Administration pulled him aside. They questioned him for an hour about his itinerary and who had bought his tickets -- the Greek government, he said -- and then let him go.
In November, he received the letter -- one page of cheap, perforated computer paper that was "quite mangled," he said, and did not name a government agency. "I thought it was a joke," he said, and threw it away.
It wasn't until later that Mr. Koyzis said he thought about the letter's implications. "Is this all they do," he asked, to let people know they're being investigated?
The U.S. Departments of Justice and of Homeland Security did not reply to calls for comment. Monica Shipley, a spokeswoman for the Federal Bureau of Investigation office in Milwaukee, said she had never heard of people getting letters telling them they were cleared after a secret investigation.
Wayne H. Swanger, an associate professor of special education, is the faculty senator who suggested adding the Patriot Act statement to a resolution denouncing plans to go to war against Iraq. He said he had proposed the statement after he spoke with Mr. Koyzis and another faculty member with dual citizenship. Both were concerned, he said, that they would be targets under the act.
"It surprised me that there's an atmosphere of fear among the faculty," Mr. Swanger said.
The resolution, with the Patriot Act amendment, passed handily because most faculty members feel that the law is an overreaction by Congress to the September 11 terrorist attacks, said James R. Simmons, chairman of the department of political science and president of the Faculty Senate.