Academic-FBI Rapprochement

Bureau appoints panel of university presidents to advise it on relations with higher education.
September 19, 2005

J. Edgar Hoover never trusted academics -- and many felt likewise.

On Friday, however, the Federal Bureau of Investigation announced the creation of a panel of university presidents that will advise the bureau on how to improve relations with higher education. The panel will provide the FBI with ideas about how to better understand academic culture and values -- and work to explore research areas that professors might explore that could promote national security.

Robert S. Mueller III, director of the FBI, said in a statement that the bureau wanted "to be sensitive to university concerns about international students, visas, technology export policy and the special culture of colleges and universities." Indeed on all of the issues Mueller cited, many universities have criticized the policies of the FBI and other security agencies as needlessly intrusive or restrictive.

Mueller appointed Graham B. Spanier, president of Pennsylvania State University, to lead the committee, which will be called the National Security Higher Education Advisory Board.

In an interview, Spanier said that he has been concerned about "the gap in understanding between higher education and some of our government agencies." He has been having informal discussions with officials of the FBI and other agencies about this issue for about a year, and also organized some discussions involving FBI officials and other university presidents.

Spanier said that he realizes that there is still substantial distrust of the FBI in academe. "Frankly, based on some episodes in American history, such distrust was justified," he said. But he said that the FBI is sincere in wanting to work more closely with colleges and to respect higher education. "I believe the appointment of this board represents a new direction. In my discussions over the past few months, I have seen less in the way of insularity and more in the way of cooperation," Spanier added.

Technology and research issues may be a key area of discussion, Spanier said.

"Much of the nation's intellectual property is produced in universities, in a culture of sharing and openness. Yet there are nations that would exploit our discoveries," Spanier said. "This is an areas where our commitment to academic freedom and openness must be accepted by yet co-exist with our government's concerns."

In addition, he said that it is important to protect the computer networks on which colleges depend from "exploitation."

Spanier said that it was important, given academic values about being open, that the new board be publicly announced and he said that he wanted to have "open doors" in telling academics about the panel's work. He also said that the creation of the panel "sends a positive message that leaders in higher education are willing to assist our nation during these challenging times."

Fifteen other presidents or chancellors are serving on the new FBI committee:

  • William Brody, Johns Hopkins University
  • Albert Carnesale, University of California at Los Angeles
  • Jared Cohon, Carnegie Mellon University
  • Mark Emmert, University of Washington
  • Marye Ann Fox, University of California at San Diego
  • Robert Gates, Texas A&M University
  • Gregory Geoffroy, Iowa State University
  • Amy Gutmann, University of Pennsylvania
  • David Hardesty, West Virginia University
  • Susan Hockfield, Massachusetts Institute of Technology
  • Martin Jischke, Purdue University
  • Bernard Machen, University of Florida
  • James Moeser, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
  • C.D. Mote, University of Maryland at College Park
  • John Wiley, University of Wisconsin at Madison


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