April 18, 2006
BY TORI BARRETO
On the April 5th Campus Forum, guest speaker and history professor at UC Berkeley Beshara Doumani claimed that collegiate academic freedom is at risk. His point: politicians, not academics, are gaining the power to redefine academic freedom in universities.
Doumani said during the forum that the attacks on academic freedom are part of a much larger shift in political culture in the United States.
“There is a general attack on the fundamental culture of democracy in this country,” he said. “What’s happening to the academy is very similar to what has happened to the press, to civil liberties under the Patriot Act, and to other sectors of American life and society.”
He went on to say politicians, using Web sites and coalition campaigns claiming to fight for academic freedom are actually targeting liberal professors who question and criticize mainstream viewpoints.
How is this possible? By using the same tactics the Patriot Act employs; with blatant acts of intimidation, harassment and hidden surveillance.
Doumani is not the first to take note of this trend. In January, two Los Angeles Times staff writers published an article reporting that a certain Republican-based alumni group was offering students up to $100 per class to secretly keep tabs on professors they felt were “actively proselytizing their extreme views in the classroom, whether or not the commentary is relevant to the class topic.”
Political organizations such as Campus Watch, an online project of the Middle East Forum, have also reverted to various methods of surveillance to keep tabs on “radical” professors. With a more defined agenda, specifically monitoring Middle Eastern studies, the group maintains and publishes dossiers on professors they feel are radical for providing dissenting opinions regarding our government’s role in the Middle East.
Although Campus Watch claims its aim is to improve the state of Middle Eastern Studies, much of their research targets professors providing criticism of the Israeli movement in particular. Doumani is among those professors that Campus Watch is watching.
Browsing through the Middle East Forum’s Web site, a Campus Speakers Bureau is present containing a list of approved speakers providing so-called “accurate and balanced information to American students.”
At the top of this list is Daniel Pipes, well-known supporter of the Israeli movement and former employee in two presidentially-appointed positions of the US government. Pipes has been described by many as the “leading anti-Muslim hate propagandist” in the country.
Also on the list of acceptable speakers are Jonathan Harris, Asaf Romiowsky, Gil Elan, Jonathan Schanzer and Martin Kramer, all of whom publicly support the pro-Israeli Zionist movement.
Just how accurate and balanced can information on the Middle East be if it’s provided by a group of people all in support of the Zionist movement?
In the recent article, “Policing Thought after 9/11,” published by the campus newspaper at UC Berkeley, Doumani said efforts are being made to privatize Middle Eastern studies and “establish think tanks that will provide for the press and government a ready stable of ‘experts‚’ who can shape knowledge about the Middle East.”
During the Campus Forum, Doumani made clear his thoughts that sites like Campus Watch are not really out to protect academic freedom at all but are instead “making charges of anti-Semitism when teachers criticize the Israeli movement. They’re making it treasonous for professors to question the prevailing reasons.”
I learned during last quarter’s Campus Forum how risky criticism of the Israeli movement can be.
After guest-speaker Norman Finkelstein provided facts and opinions against the Zionist movement, both Finkelstein and Saul Landau, host of Campus Forum, were accused of being anti-Semites and that the program itself promoted anti-Semitic views.
Never mind that both Finkelstein and Landau are Jewish.
In one letter, Landau was even accused of being a “self-hating Jew.”
When did disagreeing with specific political agendas become viewed as hatred towards an entire people?
Why are those questioning the prevailing wisdom labeled as anti-anything?
College is supposed to be an institution where we, as students and the faculty, have the freedom to use critical reason in the free pursuit of knowledge.
If not here, then where? If not now, then when?
Tori Barreto can be reached by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at (909) 869-3531.