Dr. Frances A. Córdova
National Science Foundation
4201 Wilson Boulevard, 1205 N
Arlington VA 22230
Dear Dr. Córdova:
We write now in concern for Dr. Valerie Barr.
Barr, a Professor of Computer Science at Union College, was hired by NSF in 2013 for two years as program director in its Division of Undergraduate Education. A year later, according to ScienceInsider Magazine, she was fired for “dishonest conduct.”
In 1979, when she was 22, Barr volunteered for two advocacy groups, Women’s Committee Against Genocide and the New Movement in Solidarity with Puerto Rican Independence. She left both organizations to go to graduate school. A federal investigation found that the organizations for which Barr had volunteered 30 years before her employment by NSF had ties to a terrorist group, the May 19 Communist Organization (M19CO) that was found guilty of a failed bank robbery in 1981.
When Barr was interviewed about this connection in 2013, we understand that she denied that she had known about the nature of the M19CO group (to which she did not belong) or that she advocated violence. There seems to have been no evidentiary hearing on the discrepancy between the investigator’s allegation about her state of mind in the 1980s and her statement that she neither knew nor approved of violence. She said, according to the news article, that she found out about the robbery from the news “just like everyone else and I was shocked.”
An accusation of dishonest conduct with respect to federal employment is a very serious charge against a respected academic, especially since it is based on seemingly innocent conduct that took place 30 years before her current federal employment. Barr’s discharge on this basis without proof of willful misstatement denies her rights to due process and freedom of association.
We urge you to find a resolution to this situation that is compatible with Barr’s stake in her truthfulness and good name and with NSF’s reputation as a respected promoter of science and scientific freedom.
Sincerely,Joel L. Lebowitz, Paul H. Plotz, Walter Reich,
Eugene M. Chudnovsky, Alexander Greer
Co-Chairs, Committee of Concerned Scientists