AAUP committee will work to ensure academic freedom — of the left

If the announced concerns of the American Association of University Professors’ special committee to study academic freedom in the wake of Sept. 11 are any indication, look for more rarefied hand-wringing over the academic left’s travails and cricket-chirruping silence over others’.

Last year the AAUP’s general secretary, Mary Burgan, warned about the threat to academic freedom by “the voluble reactions of those who believe that thinking out loud in our colleges and universities is so subversive that it ought to be stopped, somehow.”

The idea is well in keeping with the leftist take on the First Amendment’s free-speech guarantee: their right to criticize the government and society is protected not just from government censorship, but also from criticism by other citizens. Free-speech ends once they’ve had their say, unless you agree with them. If you disagree and say so out loud, you’re an Orwellian neo-McCarthyite Nazi meanie-pants who ought to be made to shut up, because if not, then (grasping head à la Munch) what have we become? Hint: mention “Gestapo” here.

The cases concerning the AAUP now are, according to The Chronicle of Higher Education news of Sept. 11, 2002:
• the AAUP was concerned about the controversy over two Colorado school’s invitation of a Palestinian activist, Hanan Ashrawi, to speak at events intended to commemorate the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks
• violence between pro-Palestinian and pro-Israel groups at San Francisco State University
• the University of Minnesota press’s near-loss of state support for publishing Harmful to Minors: The Perils of Protecting Children from Sex, by feminist Judith Levine, a book that posits that sexual encounters during childhood are positive and that the current societal fear of pedophiles is unfounded, a projection of parents’ own erotic desires
• and the University of Missouri’s loss of $150,000 in state support after one of its professors published work on the topic of “The Pattern of Sexual Politics: Feminism, Homosexuality, and Pedophilia” and one of its public-TV stations banned the wearing of American flag pins on camera.

Also making the list was the uproar over the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill’s Summer Reading Program.

Not making the list, however, were the bulk of academic-freedom cases highlighted by the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (www.thefire.org), a nonprofit education foundation that works to protect individual rights on college campuses. Among those is UNC-Wilmington’s rifling through a UNCW professor’s email.

That occurred after a UNCW student complained about Criminal Justice Prof. Mike Adams’ response to her campuswide email blaming the Sept. 11 attacks on the United States, the world’s “main source of oppression.” Adams replied to all the recipients of the original email from Fuller, saying it was “an intentionally divisive diatribe” — ironically noting also that “The Constitution protects your speech just as it has protected bigoted, unintelligent, and immature speech for many years” and concluded with a hope that “your bad speech serves as a catalyst for better speech by others.” No one at the AAUP has contacted Adams about UNCW’s invasion of his privacy, not even about UNCW counsel Harold M. White Jr.’s criticizing Adams publicly in a university classroom.

Another incident in N.C. that FIRE highlighted (but not the AAUP) involved Duke University. Duke shut down Prof. Gary Hull’s website after he posted an article on it calling for a strong military response to the terrorist attacks. Duke later reinstated the web page — after requiring Hull to add a disclaimer that the views expressed in the article did not reflect the views of Duke, something the university had not previously required of any professor’s web pages.

FIRE has, in fact, been involved with several cases involving academic freedom after Sept. 11. A few of those include:
• Orange Coast College’s suspension of Prof. Kenneth W. Hearlson when Muslim students complained about his lecture in his contemporary politics course when he argued that silence on crimes against Christians and Jews in the Middle East was consent to terrorism
• the formal admonishment of an Arab-speaking international student at San Diego State University who had overheard two Arab students laughing about the Sept. 11 attacks and challenged their positions on it
• the president of the University of New Mexico’s saying he would “vigorously pursue” disciplinary action against Prof. Richard Berthold for the professor’s bad joke in a class about the terrorist attacks that “Anyone who can bomb the Pentagon has my vote,” for which he apologized
• and the vice provost’s threat to a professor at Pennsylvania State University that comments on the professor’s web site were “insensitive and perhaps even intimidating” (Penn State policies considers “intimidating speech” ground for dismissal).

FIRE director Thor L. Halvorssen welcomed the AAUP to the debate, saying “FIRE encourages the participation of all university-focused groups in the defense of academic freedom and freedom of speech.” Still, he was concerned about the AAUP’s apparently one-sided interest in the principle.

“It is very sad that the AAUP is only concerned about free speech and academic freedom rights in cases with an unmistakable ideological hue,” Halvorssen said. “It’s great that they are finally going to become involved but, where have they been for 20 years? Where were they when FIRE was fighting with the UNC administration in the case of Mike Adams? In the case of Orange Coast College’s Ken Hearlson?”

It’s hard to believe any American could ask those questions of the AAUP. Has Halvorssen no respect for free speech? Golly.