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Thu

04

Oct

2007

From Sea to Shining Sea - AcademicFreedom (or what's left of it) in the US
Thursday, 04 October 2007 19:10
by Paul J. Balles

Fire him!

He had said the wrong thing about the wrong people to the wrong audience. “Fire him,” they said, but not for that reason. “Find something else wrong with him.” His firing had to appear legitimate (no one said this, but the record speaks for itself).

Ward Churchill, an American university professor was recently fired by the University of Colorado. They said he had committed:
…serious research misconduct, including four counts of falsifying information, two counts of fabricating information, two counts of plagiarizing the works of others, improperly reporting the results of studies, and failing to "comply with established standards regarding author names on publications. In addition, the committee found him "disrespectful of Indian oral traditions.
No one had complained of research misconduct previously, even though accusations had been published against Churchill as early as the 1990s.

After studying the committee report carefully, Professor Tom Mayer of the University of Colorado found that they had no legitimate basis for their accusations of serious research misconduct.

What really set off the firestorm against Churchill was an essay he wrote in September 2001 entitled "On the Justice of Roosting Chickens" about the September 11, 2001 attacks, in which he argued that U.S. foreign policies provoked the attacks. It didn't get much attention until 2005 when he was asked to speak about his earlier, controversial paper.

Following the controversy, the University of Colorado interim Chancellor Phil DiStefano stated, "While Professor Churchill has the constitutional right to express his political views, his essay on 9/11 has outraged and appalled us and the general public."

The main reason for granting tenure to university professors in America is to guarantee academic freedom. The protection is supposed to guarantee freedom for professors to take unpopular positions. Professor Mayer wrote (before the university decided to fire Churchill):

If any of the sanctions recommended by the investigating committee are put into effect, it will constitute a stunning blow to academic freedom. Such punishment will show that a prolific, provocative, and highly influential thinker can be singled out for entirely political reasons; subjected to an arduous interrogation virtually guaranteed to find problems; and then severed from academic employment.

American universities have been delivering stunning blows to academic freedom much too often.

Professor Steven Jones, among many, was relieved of his university post for contending that the World Trade Center Towers were blown up with the explosive thermate.

Inside Higher Education reports that Professor Norman Finkelstein's tenure bid, while "backed by his department and a college wide faculty committee," was denied by the president of DePaul University. Professor Finkelstein, whose parents survived the Holocaust, has been a critic of Israeli policies and what he dubbed the "Holocaust industry."

Finklestein's difficulty came about as a result of a campaign of interference by Israeli first Harvard law professor Alan Dershowitz, who Finklestein had exposed in his book Beyond Chutzpah: On the Misuse of Anti-Semitism and the Abuse of History as a fraud and plagiarist.

About academic tenure denial, James Petras has written that the Israeli lobby AIPAC has influenced many of these decisions, dealing severe blows to academic freedom:

Highly qualified candidates with outstanding résumés are denied academic and professional appointments or threatened with loss of tenure or expulsion for the mere reason of criticizing Israel. The cases of Professor Juan Cole’s appointment at Yale and Professor Norman Finkelstein at De Paul University are the most notorious cases. The world-renowned Palestinian American scholar, Edward Said was persecuted and slandered up to his recent death by the attack hounds of the Lobby.

The same attackers have infested Canadian universities as well. McGill University fired Professor Norman Cornett. According to observers, the underlying reason appears to be that he provided a platform in his classes for both pro and anti-Israeli comments - too many of the latter.

Not long ago, a correspondent sent me a petition to sign supporting Dr Nadia Abu Al-Haj's tenure bid at Barnard College, comparing her plight to Norman Finkelstein's targeting by "the Israel lobby forces”.

Sami al-Arian, a Kuwaiti-born Palestinian, was a respected computer professor at the University of South Florida who tried, however vainly, to communicate the real tragedy of Palestinian Arabs to the US government. But Israel’s lobbyists were enraged by his lessons. In 2003, at the instigation of Attorney General Ashcroft, he was arrested and charged with conspiring “to murder and maim” outside the United States and with raising money for Islamic Jihad in “Palestine”. He was held for two and a half years in solitary confinement, hobbling half a mile, his hands and feet shackled, merely to talk to his lawyers.

Based in Philadelphia and headed by anti-Arab propagandist Daniel Pipes, Campus Watch unleashed an Internet firestorm in 2002, when it posted "dossiers" on eight scholars who have had the audacity to criticize US foreign policy and the Israeli occupation. The devastating effect of this type of vilification has included fear in both academics and institutions.

Academic freedom has been disintegrating in a country where it once was the most sacred of freedoms. A statement on academic freedom made by a colloquium of university presidents at Columbia University defined it as “the freedom of teachers, students, and academic institutions to pursue knowledge wherever it may lead, without undue or unreasonable interference.”

Another useful definition considers academic freedom "the right of a worker in academic institutions to research and teach their beliefs without their livelihood being placed in jeopardy by those who disagree."

Ironically, in sentencing the shoe bomber Richard Reid, the judge in pronouncing sentence concluded that Reid hated America's freedom. He said:

"It seems to me you hate the one thing that to us is most precious. You hate our freedom. Our individual freedom... Here, in this society, the very winds carry freedom. They carry it everywhere from sea to shining sea."

The winds of academia have carried freedom further offshore, no longer everywhere from sea to shining sea. 
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