Yes, You Can Say That: Charges Dropped Against Professor at Albright College
September 12, 2001
It seems important to us at FIRE, in the midst of the unspeakable and wicked atrocity visited upon the United States, not to abandon the normalcy of our efforts to sustain freedom and decency on America's campuses. We mourn with you, but honest labor and the struggle for liberty are things too precious to be set aside by unreason and brutal violence. In that spirit of defiance of the darkness, I share with you our latest news.
In a great victory for freedom of speech, fundamental fairness, decency, and academic freedom, Albright College-in a case with which FIRE has been deeply engaged since early in the spring semester of 2001-dropped all charges of "professional unfitness" (read, courage) and "moral turpitude" (read, principle) against Achal Mehra, professor of communications, who sought to expose actual professional unfitness and moral turpitude at his institution in Reading, PA.
Throughout the academic year 2000-2001, Professor Mehra, on the basis of rigorous inquiry, sought to expose the errors and misstatements on the résumé of Albright's new president, Henry Zimon, and to convince his institution to deal decisively with this moral reality. For his courageous and rigorous effort to safeguard the integrity of his institution, Mehra found himself the object of bizarre charges and yet more bizarre campus judicial proceedings, all aimed at silencing his voice and stripping him of his tenure. FIRE has been at Professor Mehra's side. The hearing of charges against him was postponed in May 2001, in the midst of a breakdown of fundamental fairness, after which I wrote to each and every member of Albright's Board of Trustees [see FIRE's letter here].
Salvatore M. Cutrona, Sr., Chairman of the Board of Trustees, replied on behalf of the Board, insisting upon Albright's commitment to academic freedom, thanking FIRE for "the role you represent in higher education today," but disputing, wrongly, FIRE's accurate presentation of the facts of the case. Mehra's attorney in his internal dealings with the College, the able and determined E. Daniel Larkin, Esq., of Merion, PA, wrote to Albright's counsel, warning of the error that Albright was making in this matter. Concerned for future litigation-Albright appeared ready to dismiss the tenured Mehra with scandalous disregard for academic freedom and even minimal fairness-FIRE secured the services of the Philadelphia law firm Drinker Biddle & Reath, which communicated its views of the case to Albright's counsel. On the morning of Friday, September 7, the day of the scheduled hearing before a faculty committee, the Albright College administration announced that all charges were being dropped against Achal Mehra, "given the totality of the concerns and considerations at stake."
FIRE is both saddened that the struggle for academic freedom at Albright College was so long and tortuous and profoundly satisfied that the charges against Achal Mehra have been dropped, so that he may exercise his basic rights of freedom of expression on behalf of the integrity and moral quality of his institution. Mehra's attorney, E. Daniel Larkin, expressed his full confidence that his client would have prevailed legally: "Professor Mehra's actions did not violate his contract with Albright or the standards of academic professionalism, and the College therefore had no grounds upon which to terminate his appointment." FIRE's sad experience, of course, is that the voices of critical liberty on our campus, when they lack adequate representation, are often punished with "no grounds." We commend Mr. Larkin for his great efforts.
Professor Mehra issued a statement about FIRE's role in his case. He wrote, "FIRE has been a source of inspiration and practical support in fighting back these kangaroo court proceedings. Alan Charles Kors and Harvey Silverglate strengthened my resolve that I would never permit the college to prevail. The bullies in the administration take advantage of their financial muscle to silence their critics. Part of the reason Albright fled the scene of its crime is because college officials were terrified that I could go toe to toe with them. Albright officials recognized that FIRE had evened the playing field."
Liberty, decency, fairness, and integrity all matter immeasurably. Achal Mehra's victory is a victory for all of these things, which are all so imperiled at our colleges and universities. We will continue to fight for these values, and we intend to prevail.
FIRE is a nonprofit educational foundation. FIRE unites civil rights and civil liberties leaders, scholars, journalists, and public intellectuals across the political and ideological spectrum on behalf of individual rights, freedom of expression, the rights of conscience, and religious liberty on our campuses. FIRE's website is www.thefire.org.
Alan Charles Kors or Thor Halvorssen, FIRE: 215-717-3473: firstname.lastname@example.org
Achal Mehra, Professor of Communications, Albright College: 610-396-0366
E. Daniel Larkin, Esq., Merion, PA: 610-660-5201
Salvatore M. Cutrona, Sr., Chairman, Board of Trustees, Albright College: 610-921-7600
Henry Zimon, President, Albright College: 610-921-7600