Comments on "Academic Freedom in Times of War"
H. Rubin, Professor of Economics and Law
Klehr, Andrew W. Mellon Professor of Politics and History
are we here?
Devin Stewart, Associate Professor
and Chair, Department of Middle Eastern and South Asian Studies
Goldman, Associate Professor of Middle Eastern and South Asian Studies
freedom under attack
Kristen Brustad, Associate Professor of Middle Eastern and South
Shalom Goldman, Associate Professor of Middle Eastern and South
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
is dominated by a set of “experts” who, like the 1950s
experts on Communism, are not academicians. Some of them have Ph.D.s
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
to national wellbeing.” This is reference to Kramer’s
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?