Monday, September 23, 2002

I've been Instapunditted! Thanks, Glenn. Welcome, new readers. The post Instapundit mentioned is here. The short version: Campus Watch, in its "dossiers" on professors and universities, mixes different categories of events in very disturbing ways. There is a real need to keep track of wickedness such as the student suppression of Netanyahu's talk at Concordia, and Concordia's subsequent shutting down of all Middle East-related events; the San Fancisco State University attacks on pro-Israeli demonstrators; and other instances of shutting down pro-Israeli or pro-Jewish speech, whether by violent students or by administrators. There is also a legitimate purpose in keeping track of the biases of Middle East Studies as a discipline, and in publicly engaging that discipline's practitioners. (Martin Kramer, of course, has been the leader in this enterprise.) And institutional attacks on Israel or on the United States-- the proposed divestment from companies that do business with Israel, the vicious boycott of Israeli academics-- should be publicly engaged, denounced, and shamed.

The monitoring of classroom activity is much more problematic. Except when the problem lies in the announced description of the course (as in the case of the Berkeley writing class on Palestinian issues that initially instructed conservative students to look elsewhere for a class), the accuracy of information gathered is impossible to gauge. That problem is worsened by Campus Watch's reliance on anonymous, unchecked student reports. "Bias in the classroom" isn't intrinsically a problem; it depends on whether the professor offers readings and/or guest lecturers to balance his or her own views, and on whether the professor encourages students to argue, question, and discuss. An outside monitor with a clear agenda relying on one student's anonymous report is not well-positioned to evaluate whether professors are taking these appropriate steps.

Finally, the mere expression of anti-Israeli or anti-Semitic sentiment by students, student groups, panelists, non-class lecturers, and so on, when this is not accompanied by violence, threats, or attempts to suppress rival opinions, is different in kind from the rest. Stanley Kurtz's snide defense of Campus Watch in NRO today misses this point entirely. It supposes that safely tenured radical scholars are the only ones who have anything to worry about from Campus Watch, and they obviously don't have many worries. Freedom of student speech goes unmentioned. But Campus Watch lists, alongside genuine institutional abuses, "offensive articles" published in student newspapers (offensive because they question campus Jewish institutions), the showing of an anti-Zionist film in a Palestinian film festival, the presence of offensive materials in a library, and the fact that a student told an anti-Semitic joke. The dossiers are not at all restricted to the writings of professors, or to instances of the suppression of pro-Israeli viewpoints. The failure to suppress speech one does not like is not equivalent to suppressing speech one does like. This is a basic premise of a free society, and an absolutely fundamental premise of universities. But Campus Watch mixes the two. The need to monitor events such as that at Concordia does not translate into it being appropriate to monitor and publicly censure every student expression of an anti-Israeli viewpoint, much less into a need to install tests of Zionistic-correctness on the content of libraries.

Kurtz again: "It is important that Campus Watch exercise caution in vetting students complaints." This it has manifestly failed to do. And again:

"No, it is not ideal to have to create an organization like Campus Watch. Far better to have the kind of intellectually diverse faculty that would make honest and substantive intellectual debate possible on campus. Far better to have professors with sufficiently diverse views that students could find and work with like-minded mentors, while also challenging themselves by taking classes with professors with whom they disagree. Far better to have a college or university that functions the way an educational institution was meant to, instead of as a training camp for leftist activists. But that is not the world we live in. And until it is, projects like Campus Watch must be welcomed and nurtured... And the very folks now screaming about Pipes are the ones who have prosecuted the most vicious and successful campaign of blacklisting in the history of the American academy." To which I'll say: 1) the University of Chicago as an overall institution clearly has a faculty with such diverse views; students who don't like the viewpoints they find in Middle East Studies can easily cross the quadrangle to work with a very different faculty in Political Science. Indeed, I venture to say that Chicago has one of the most ideologically diverse faculties of any major university in North America. 2) Chicago has not suppressed Jewish or Zionist speech, and has not even entertained the possibility of divesting from Israel. (Indeed, we have an institutional precommitment to prevent the university from taking political stands of that sort, found in the Kalven Report of 1967-- in my view a wise precommitment that other universities would do well to make.) 3) Nonetheless, the University of Chicago has been singled out for attack by Campus Watch, alongside such places as Berkeley and SFSU. 4) And so I'm complaining (not, I suppose, "screaming") about it, though I'm not a Saidian post-colonialist Middle East scholar, I have no part in the "blacklist" Kurtz alleges, and I support Israel in general and oppose the tyrannical Arab states... because 5) I also care about protecting universities in general and the University of Chicago in particular from ideological, political-correctness-style attacks on free speech and intellectual freedom, and because Campus Watch has adopted shoddy procedures and standards that discredit its cause and will make it actively harder for those of us inside the academy to oppose what really needs to be opposed. Their "dossiers" lack all of the care and caution that one sees, for instance, in the work of FIRE to consistently protect free speech on campus.

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