Academic Freedom
in Times of War


On September 24, 2002, the Department of Middle Eastern and South Asian Studies hosted a public
forum on "Academic Freedom in Times of War." Members of that department commented on their perceptions of threats to the university's mission and how the academy might respond. Portions of those remarks are included here.


 

New!
Comments on "Academic Freedom in Times of War"

Paul H. Rubin, Professor of Economics and Law

Harvey Klehr, Andrew W. Mellon Professor of Politics and History

Why are we here?
Devin Stewart, Associate Professor and Chair, Department of Middle Eastern and South Asian Studies


Subversives
Shalom Goldman, Associate Professor of Middle Eastern and South Asian Studies

Academic freedom under attack
Kristen Brustad, Associate Professor of Middle Eastern and South Asian Studies

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Subversives
Shalom Goldman, Associate Professor of Middle Eastern and South Asian Studies

In 1949 six tenured professors at the University of Washington lost their jobs. Accused of "membership in subversive organizations,"these teachers were the first academic victims of the anti-Communist witch-hunts of the period. While we now know this phenomenon as McCarthyism, it might have been better termed "Hooverism."For it was the FBI under J. Edgar Hoover that investigated the activities of "subversives"—and kept extensive dossiers on those accused. Suspected "Reds"were often first identified by citizen vigilante groups. These groups, headed by "experts" on Communism (non-academic experts, I might add), published newsletters listing
suspected subversives and alerted local legislators and law enforcement to the presence of these dangerous influences in the American classroom.

Between 1949 and 1962 over eight hundred college faculty members were fired for ideological reasons. Among them were many teachers who had no record of membership in outlawed organizations. But their refusal to sign loyalty oaths was deemed an act too defiant for state and federal authorities to tolerate. Most of these eight hundred-plus faculty members were never able to re-enter the teaching profession. The effect on thousands of other teachers and students was to silence opposition to government policy, and many scholars see the free speech movement of the mid 1960s (with all of its excesses) as emerging from this background of enforced social and ideological conformity.

In the past few years a new type of McCarthyism has emerged, and it infringes directly on the lives and work of faculty in both Middle Eastern studies and other disciplines that study that area. The new McCarthyism, like its 1950s model, sees danger lurking in the American university classroom. American involvement in Middle Eastern politics, especially under the current administration, is deemed too volatile and serious an issue to be left in the hands of those trained in the languages and cultures of the area. College professors offering opinions contrary to the current dominant viewpoint are attracting considerable attention.

Television news and “infotainment” on Middle Eastern issues
is dominated by a set of “experts” who, like the 1950s experts on Communism, are not academicians. Some of them have Ph.D.s from
prestigious universities—and they mention those universities on every broadcast—but they are not college or university faculty members. Rather, they are members of conservative think tanks that grant these pundits the title of “research associate,” “fellow,” and “director.” I am not suggesting that objective expertise does not exist outside of the academy. Rather, I am suggesting that a think tank with a very explicit political agenda wouldn’t be the place to seek unbiased information.

A major target of these pundits: virtually all university Middle Eastern studies departments and the professional organization to which almost all department members belong, Middle East Studies Association (MESA). The latest attack against Middle Eastern studies has been launched in cyberspace. In September 2002 the Middle East Forum of Washington, DC, opened a website to monitor our profession. In the language of the website, www.campus-watch.org, “Academics seem generally to dislike their own country.” To counter that dislike, students and other campus-watchers are encouraged to write to the website and report on professors’ anti-American remarks. These reports are compiled into “dossiers”—quoting (and often misquoting) remarks attributed to that faculty member. A firestorm of protest forced the directors of the website to modify their format. (Over eighty faculty members wrote to the website and requested that they be listed: “It would be an honor to be on your enemies list,” said one eminent scholar.) As of late November the “information” about individual professors is still on the site—under the name of the professor’s university—but the individual dossiers are gone.

Daniel Pipes and Martin Kramer co-direct the website. Kramer authored an earlier attack on Middle Eastern studies. His 2001 book Ivory Towers on Sand was accurately described as “vitriolic” by the English newspaper the Guardian. The Weekly Standard, on the other hand, asserted that “Kramer has performed a crucial service by exposing intellectual rot in a scholarly field of capital importance
to national wellbeing.” This is reference to Kramer’s assertion
that the U.S. Middle Eastern studies “establishment” failed to warn
the country of the possibility of the 9/11 attacks, and that they therefore bear some culpability for that national tragedy. One consolation to political conservatives is that the “intellectual rot” isn’t influencing the current administration. Rather, the Middle East experts from the think tanks, and not university teachers, are advising policy makers. University faculty whose political stance is similar to that of the think tank are also called to Washington, but oddly they are second-stringers. The real power lies with the TV pundits and their “sources.”

Particularly bothersome to Kramer and his colleagues is U.S. government funding of university Middle Eastern Studies National Centers. A table of these centers and their funding is reproduced on the last page of Ivory Towers on Sand. As Emory was awarded a grant in 2000 to establish a Middle Eastern Studies Center, we appear on the list. (In fact, because of the alphabetical listings, we appear first on the list.) And while we have received much positive feedback for our public education efforts, we have also been the target of the opprobrium and indignation that the free-expression of ideas seems to generate in the current political climate.

As in the 1950s, local vigilante groups are acting as a catalyst to national groups that would like to stifle dissent. National efforts are catalyzed by local efforts. The Internet makes this all too easy. Some Emory campus groups have joined the fray and have begun to “monitor” the pronouncements of faculty members. Learnlink, no stranger to raging controversies, has witnessed considerable “flaming” on Middle Eastern issues. We might applaud this as a manifestation of the free market place of ideas. But this flaming presents us with a classical free-speech dilemma. Do attempts to stifle dissenting voices fall under the rubric of free speech?