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
Academic Freedom in Times of War
Paul H. Rubin, Professor of Economics and
interesting issues arise in this set of interrelated comments by
faculty from the Department of Middle Eastern and South Asian Studies.
I focus mainly on the comments of Professor Shalom Goldman, in which
he draws an analogy between mid-twentieth-century McCarthyism and
public critiques of university faculty in Middle Eastern studies
Academic Exchange, February/March 2003).
Professor Goldman begins his comment with a discussion of the McCarthy
era in American politics, a time when many faculty members lost
their jobs over ideological disputes. This analysis is irrelevant
to the rest of his comments. In todays climate, no one is
being threatened with loss of a job. Professor Goldman makes no
claim that this is occurring. While McCarthyism was harmful, debate
is not advanced by likening every criticism of an academic viewpoint
Further, he argues that the failure of policy makers to rely on
college professors trained in the languages and cultures of
the area is a new type of McCarthyism. This argument
does not logically follow. The essence of free information exchange
in society is that all voices be heard; when one set of voices wins
the debate this is not a form of repression. Professor Goldman believes
that professors should dominate the public debate. If they do not,
however, it is because either they have failed to communicate or
because decision makers have rejected their arguments. A more effective
response is to hone ones arguments or to think of more persuasive
ways of presenting them, or perhaps to reexamine ones conclusions,
instead of trying to disqualify those who are winning the debate
at a particular time.
Professor Goldman asserts that the discussion of the Middle East
is dominated by representatives of think tanks who are not academicians.
(He compares this to the 1950s non-academic experts on Communism.
He does not mention that history has demonstrated that these non-academic
experts had the better of the debate about the merits of Communism.
Non-academics were more critical than academics of Communism, and
history has shown the more critical response to be correct. ) He
argues that a think tank with a very explicit political agenda
wouldnt be the place to seek unbiased information. Although
think tanks have agendas, they do not force their agents to agree
with them. Rather, they seek trained people (often with PhDs
from prestigious institutions, as Professor Goldman indicates)
whose research and thinking have led them to agree with the position
of the think tanks. In todays world, it is by no means clear
that the positions of think tanks are more biased than positions
in many university departments, which often have political agendas
of their own. Indeed, the rise of the conservative think tanks may
be a response to the perceived one-sidedness of academic debate.
(I should disclose that I am associated on an adjunct basis with
some of the organizations that Professor Goldman may have in mind.
In no case has this ever led me to change an opinion, nor have I
ever been asked to do so.)
Professor Goldman also criticizes The Middle East Forum, which operates
a website (run by Daniel Pipes and Martin Kramer) that posts writings
and comments by faculty in Middle Eastern studies departments. He
seems to believe that this is a violation of academic freedom. But
academic freedom implies the right of others to criticize ones
beliefs. I myself have been known to make controversial arguments
(as in this comment), and I would be quite happy to have these posted
(by friends or enemies) on the web because in that way my arguments
would get additional attention. If I did not want some argument
publicized, I would not make it.
There is a fundamental inconsistency in Professor Goldmans
remarks. On the one hand, he wants professors to be more influential
in policy making. On the other hand, he does not want professors
to be criticized for their views. But the essence of policy making
is a rough-and-tumble debate. If we want to be influential, we must
be willing to engage in this debate. We cannot privilege ourselves
by asking for influence without accountability, and accountability
in policy debates means that our arguments will be severely and
publicly criticized in ways that we may view as unfair.
In his comments, Professor Devin Stewart contrasts the academic
style of debate with debate in the public arena: argue points
rather than making emotional appeals; evidence rather
than hearsay; abide by the rules of logic and decorum
are we here? Academic Exchange, February-March 2003) He
makes valid points, but if we want to influence policy we cannot
set the rules, and if we want to enter that forum, we must expect
the negative form of argument to be used. If we cannot tolerate
this sort of argument, we should not expect or ask to be influential.
Klehr, Andrew W. Mellon Professor of Politics and History
Shalom Goldman's article in the
last issue of Academic Exchange takes Daniel Pipes and Martin Kramer
to task for daring to criticize the biases of Middle Eastern Studies
Departments. He links their websiteCampus Watchto a
new form of McCarthyism. But his description of the old McCarthyism
does not inspire confidence in his grasp of facts.
Goldman makes the astonishing
claim that "between 1949 and 1962 over eight hundred college
faculty members were fired for ideological reasons." I have
studied McCarthyism and communism for many years and have never
seen such a number bandied about even by those who believed McCarthy
ignited a reign of terror in America. Ellen Schrecker, a fierce
critic of McCarthyism, put the number at "over a hundred."
Professor Goldman might respond that even one firing for political
reasons is too many. But where is his evidence that Pipes and Kramerprivate
citizenshave called for anyone to be fired? They have criticized
the political views held by a number of academics. Goldman asks
whether "attempts to stifle dissenting voices fall under the
rubric of free speech?'" But since when is he or any other
academic immune from public criticism? Instead of crying foul about
voices dissenting from his orthodoxy, he ought to engage them in