Campus Insecurity

The Right's Attack on Faculty, Programs, and Departments at U.S. Universities

By Nikhil Aziz
From The Public Eye, Vol. 18, No. 1 - Spring 2004

Patriot Games

Immigrant communities were targeted in the crackdown after 9/11/01, but they, antiwar activists, and NGOs (See Policing Civil Society: NGO Watch), are not the only ones under fire from the Right in its war on dissent. Reminiscent of the McCarthy era, universities and colleges across the country, particularly the faculty who teach at them, are being attacked in the name of patriotism, homeland security, and the "war on terrorism." It is important to remember, as William Walker, in an article in the Toronto Star writes, this new war against dissent is "being waged not just against students and professors, although universities are where the major skirmishes are taking place. Journalists, business people, even retirees have been targeted for speaking out. Some have been fired from their jobs, received hate mail or been made social outcasts for exercising their First Amendment right to freedom of speech."[1]

The American Council of Trustees and Alumni (ACTA, see, has trained its rhetorical guns on college professors who have questioned U.S. policies since the attacks on 9/11/01. Founded by (among others) Lynne Cheney, wife of Vice President Dick Cheney and Senator Joe Lieberman (D-CT) in 1995 as the National Alumni Forum (it changed its name in 1998), ACTA published a list of over 100 statements expressed in public by faculty, staff, and students that are not in accord with the current Administration's views. ACTA, according Walker, "cites a 'blame America first' bias among hundreds of professors and is monitoring their anti-war statements."[2] The list itself is part of a larger report put out by ACTA called, "Defending Civilization: How Our Universities Are Failing America and What Can Be Done About It." Emily Eakin notes in the New York Times, that the report's title page features an excerpt from a "speech by Mrs. Cheney calling for colleges to offer more courses on American history."[3]

"'We're criticizing the dominant campus orthodoxy that so often finds that America and Western civilization are the source of the world's ills,'said Anne D. Neal, vice president of the council and a co-author of the report… The cure for academe's anti-American bias, Ms. Neal and her co-author write, is what the council has been advocating all along: more courses on American history and Western civilization. Ms. Neal said that the council would send copies of the report to 3,000 college and university trustees.

Scholars protest that the council is taking advantage of a national crisis to further its [conservative and Eurocentric] academic agenda. 'Their aim is to enforce a particular party line on American colleges and universities,' said Eric Foner, a professor of American history at Columbia University whose name appears in the report. 'Now they're seizing upon this particular moment and the feeling that they're in the driver's seat to suppress the expression of alternative points of view.'"[4]

Jack Calareso, president of Ohio Dominican University, noted in the Columbus Dispatch that, "the organization [ACTA] criticized the University of California at Los Angeles for announcing plans to expand the number of courses it offered on Islamic and Asian cultures, saying, 'In the rush to add courses, these institutions frequently reinforced the mind-set that it was America and America's failure to understand Islam that were to blame.' Are universities actually supporting terrorism by fostering students' understand ing of other cultures?"[5] Calareso further observes that the "organization's report flies in the face of its stated mission as a 'nonprofit educational organization committed to academic freedom, excellence and accountability on college campuses…supporting programs and policies that encourage high academic standards, strong curricula, and the free exchange of ideas on campus."[6]

Beyond creating lists, however, ACTA has sent "mass mailings to alumni of schools where 'offensive' comments have been made, urging donations be cut off and pressuring university trustees to take action. One Florida professor, who didn't have the protection of being tenured, has already been fired." [7]

ACTA is not the only group active in this arena. Americans for Victory Over Terrorism (AVOT, see, founded in 2002 by William Bennett (Ronald Reagan's education secretary and George H. W. Bush's "drug czar"), James Woolsey (CIA director under George H. W. Bush), and Frank Gaffney (who was assistant secretary of defense for international security policy under Ronald Reagan), is a group that, according to an article in USA Today by Walter Shapiro, "stands ready to wage holy war against those who would weaken America's resolve to fight terrorism."[8]

Most right-wing protagonists, however, equate "America's resolve," with George W. Bush's foreign policy. Speaking at the press conference called to announce the formation of AVOT, Bennett remarked, "Professional and amateur critics of America are finding their voices. They're finding their voice on campuses, in salons, in learned societies and in the print media and on television."[9] According to Shapiro, Bennett "pledged to take this fight 'to campuses, salons, oratorical societies, editorial pages and television."[10]

And in this spirit, in February 2003 days before the United States invaded Iraq and before worldwide antiwar protests, AVOT organized a teach-in at Columbia University. The teach-in featured Paul Bremer (now head of the U.S. occupation in Iraq), and AVOT founders Bennett, Woolsey, and Gaffney. While all the panelists justified going to war against Iraq for various reasons, Gaffney gave perhaps the most dubious one, claiming "that there was suggestive, although not conclusive, evidence linking Iraq with the Oklahoma City bombing."[11]

Holy Wars

Besides individual faculty and university officials, Area Studies departments, (particularly Middle East Studies departments), are increasingly being scrutinized. A leading organization in this area is Campus Watch (see, founded by conservative commentator Daniel Pipes (see, who was nominated by George W. Bush to the U.S. Institute of Peace. In the face of major opposition to his nomination, President Bush appointed Pipes in a recess appointment in August 2003.

Campus Watch's website features its mission statement, the problems it sees with Middle East Studies in the United States, and its analysis of why these problems occur:

"Campus Watch, a project of the Middle East Forum, reviews and critiques Middle East studies in North America, with an aim to improving them. The project mainly addresses five problems:
  • analytical failures [University-based Middle East specialists have been consistently wrong in their analyses],
  • the mixing of politics with scholarship [Many U.S. scholars of the Middle East lack any appreciation of their country's national interests and often use their positions of authority to disparage these interests],
  • intolerance of alternative views [The Middle East studies professorate is almost monolithically leftist due to a systematic exclusion of those with conservative or even moderately liberal views. The result is that Middle East studies lack intellectual diversity],
  • apologetics [Middle East studies tend to evade, ignore, or apologize for topics that do not fit their politicized agenda],
  • and the abuse of power over students [Middle East scholars impose their views on students and sometimes expect students to embrace their own politics, punishing those who do not with lower grades or weaker recommendations].
Campus Watch fully respects the freedom of speech of those it debates while insisting on its own freedom to comment on their words and deeds."[12]

Such accusations are not new, and have been leveled by conservatives across disciplines. For instance, adherents of the Independent Women's Forum's views have accused feminists along similar lines. And curiously, playing the victim card is a recurrent theme within rightist discourse across the board, even as rightists commonly accuse leftists, women, ethnic minorities, and other marginalized groups of suffering from a victim syndrome.

Like the ACTA report that featured the list of "unpatriotic" or "insufficiently patriotic" sentiments, Campus Watch also features similar statements by Middle East Studies faculty or commentators, including a "Quote of the Month"complete with an accompanying picture of the author quoted. One such example is from an article in the Chronicle of Higher Education that quotes Nezar AlSayyad, chair of the Center for Middle Eastern Studies at the University of California at Berkeley: "We get money from the federal government. That does not mean we do what the federal government says. As academics, we have academic freedom. That's our God-given right."[13]

And again, like ACTA, Campus Watch claims as one of its goals, its intention to "Alert university stakeholders (administrators, alumni, trustees, regents, parents of students, state/provincial and federal legislators) to the problems in Middle East studies and encourage them to address existing problems. We challenge these stakeholders to take back their universities, and not passively to accept the mistakes, extremism, intolerance, apologetics, and abuse when these occur."[14]

But the challenge comes from more than a few rightist individuals or organizations. In October 2003, the U.S. House of Representatives unanimously passed HR 3077 or the "International Studies in Higher Education Act of 2003." As Benita Singh reported in the Yale Daily News, "HR 3077 was first proposed in June, at a Congressional hearing on 'International Programs in Higher Education and Questions about Bias.' Portraying academic institutions, particularly area studies programs, as hotbeds for anti-American sentiment, proponents of the bill proposed the creation of an advisory board that has the final word on curricula taught at Title VI institutions, course materials assigned in class, and even the faculty who are hired in institutions that accept Title VI funding."[15]

Jennifer Jacobson observes in the Chronicle of Higher Education, that "the board, made up of political appointees, would review the programs but not run them. Three members of the board would be named by the secretary of education, and one each by the majority and minority leaders of the House and Senate."[16] She, however, cites the concern of Amy Newhall, executive director of the Middle East Studies Association: "'The potential for meddling is still very great… Proponents [of the bill] certainly see it as intrusive…they're looking forward to it.'"[17]

Even some conservatives are alarmed at the level of this intrusion. The American Conservative magazine founded by Paleoconservative Pat Buchanan, featured an article by Anders Strindberg that noted,

"Taking advantage of the fears and anxieties following 9/11, and their current political clout in Washington, neocon think tanks have waged a three-part battle against the academy. First it was necessary to popularize the view of universities across the country as an unmitigated breeding ground for 'terrorist thought.' This was accompanied by the monitoring of scholars and institutions that expressed criticism of Israel and of U.S. foreign policy (i.e., 'anti-Semitic' and 'anti-American'views), 'naming and shaming' them on the Internet and in columns and editorials. While thus 'raising pub-lic awareness,' Congress was being lobbied for legislation to confront the threat from this enemy within: the fifth column in the ivory tower." [18]

Strindberg reports that, "The most prominent advocates of HR 3077 have been Martin Kramer, a senior associate in the Moshe Dayan Center at Tel Aviv University and editor of the Middle East Quarterly; Daniel Pipes, director of the Middle East Forum (which publishes the Middle East Quarterly); and Stanley Kurtz, a fellow at the Hoover Institution and contributing editor to National Review."[19]

It is not entirely surprising to get this perspective from a Paleoconservative magazine-Paleocons have historically been isolationist and insensitive to antisemitism, and there is no love lost between them and the Neocons. But given that, Strindberg is correct to point out that,

"While academia is doubtless more left-leaning than many other professional environments, it is by no means the extremist left-wing monolith that the neocons claim. In reality, some institutions tend to be critical of U.S. policy and others not; some tend to support Arab positions, while others express sympathy for Israel. Some engage in 'leftist'post-colonial studies, others in quantitative survey work, and others still in 'rightist' political-culture studies. There is great diversity of perspectives, and the debate between them enriches academic inquiry and improves the general knowledge base."[20]

Laboring Classes

Besides Area Studies departments, another area of academe that the Right has zeroed in on is Labor Studies. Across the country, departments, programs, and centers for Labor Studies are being systematically attacked by an alliance of conservative think tanks, funders, elected officials, and pro-industry lobbying groups. As David Bacon, reported recently in The Nation,

"When newly elected Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger unilaterally imposed draconian budget cuts on the state just before Christmas, he wiped out this year's remaining funding for the Institute for Labor and Employment [ILE]. If he does the same thing with next year's appropriation in March, the institute will be destroyed."[21] But, as he points out, this is just the latest move in a long campaign to shut down the ILE that has been mounted by California's "Associated Builders and Contractors (ABC, the powerful lobby for nonunion construction companies) and the Pete Wilson wing of the state's Republican Party, which has retaken the governor's mansion."[22]

Bacon argues that the ABC set its sights on the ILE after the latter published a study on project labor agreements (PLAs), which while enabling wages, benefits, and union status to be agreed upon prior to starting large construction projects, work against nonunion construction.[23] And in fact, George W. Bush banned such agreements "as one of his first acts in office (facing Congressional opposition, he later allowed agreements for then-current projects to continue, but prohibited PLAs on new federal projects)."[24]

One of the leading players in this campaign is the Pacific Research Institute (PRI, see, a rightist libertarian think tank funded by some of the leading conservative foundations in the United States, including the Sarah Scaife Foundation and the John M. Olin Foundation.[25] According to the PRI website, Bacon notes, the ILE was anticapitalist because it was involved in "popularizing unions in high schools and adult schools and doing research that supported campaigns to raise the minimum wage and pass 'living wage'ordinances."[26] The underlying assumption of PRI's argument, according to Bacon, is that workers should negotiate as individuals-thereby negating the premise of collective bargaining which has been public policy since 1936.[27]

There is a double standard in the attack by groups such as the PRI, but hardly surprising given its ideological bent. While Labor Studies departments and programs are being accused of supporting private or special interests, as opposed to public good, the same is not said about business schools and programs. Far more universities (including public ones) have departments and even schools of business than have Labor Studies, and spend far more public monies on them. As Elaine Bernard of Harvard University's Trade Union Program observes, "Can you imagine a business administration program that doesn't take for granted the need to make profits...or that doesn't want to talk to business leaders, or place its students in companies? But when a labor program assumes that workers should strive to raise wages and improve conditions, it's considered selfish-against the public interest."[28]

One of the main reasons why Labor Studies programs are being targeted is because the nature of Labor Studies in the United States has fundamentally changed over the years. When they were first begun, most of these programs "taught labor economics, trained stewards and union negotiators, and examined health and safety problems. But these worthwhile functions were tied to a philosophy of labor-management cooperation."[29] Bernard points out that "the guiding idea in industrial relations was how to stop struggle and have labor peace, how to quiet people down. The other philosophy [which is what most Labor Studies programs now represent] sees that labor is about working people, and is involved with them. We would expect to see programs like that come under attack."[30]

Attacks such as these ones on departments, programs, and faculty at universities around the country are a significant part of the larger crackdown on dissent in civil society. And, they represent a cleverly-cloaked, ideologically-inspired rightist drive to determine what is being said, researched, and taught on our campuses.


1) Walker, William. 2002. “On the front lines of a war on dissent.” Toronto Star, April 14, p. B03.

2) Ibid.

3) Eakin, Emily. 2001. “An Organization on the Lookout for Patriotic Incorrectness.” New York Times, November 24.

4) Ibid.

5) Calareso, Jack. 2003. “Freedom to Dissent is Crucial for Nation.” Columbus Dispatch, January 25, p. 06A.

6) Ibid.

7) See Walker, op. cit.

8) Shapiro, Walter. 2002. “Anti-anti-war crowd dreams up a disloyal opposition.” March 13, USA Today, p. 5A.

9) See Walker, op. cit.

10) See Shapiro, op. cit.

11) Shapiro, Walter. 2003. “Now maybe a time better suited for prudence than paranoia.” USA Today, February 14, p. 7A.

12) See The inserts in brackets are the problems with Middle East Studies identified by Campus Watch on its website.

13) See For the original quote see Jacobson, Jennifer. 2004. “The Clash Over Middle East Studies.” Chronicle of Higher Educa- tion, February 6, pp. A8-10, p. 9.

14) See, op. cit. Its other stated goal is to “Engage in an informed, serious, and constructive critique that will spur professors to make improve- ments. We look forward to the day when scholars of the Middle East provide studies on relevant topics, an hon- est appraisal of sensitive issues, a mainstream education of the young, a healthy debate in the classroom, and sen- sible policy guidance in a time of war.”

15) Singh, Benita. 2003. “New bill threatens intellectual free- dom in area studies.” Yale Daily News, November 6. See Goldberg, Michelle. 2003. “Osama University? Neoconservative critics have long charged Middle Eastern studies departments with anti-American bias. Now they've enlisted Congress in their crusade.” November 6. See University.htm; and Gitlin, Todd. 2004. “Culture War, Round 3077: This latest battle has it all: a federal international-studies bill and two sides-government and academe-worlds apart in their interpretation.” January 1. See t.html. Another resource for various opinions on this issue is a page on the website of the Social Science Research Council. See Opinions/

16) Jacobson, op. cit., pp. 8-9.

17) Ibid., p. 9.

18) Strindberg, Anders. 2004. “The New Commissars: Congress threatens to cut off funding to collegiate Mideast Studies departments that refuse to toe the neo- con line.” American Conservative, February 2, pp. 20-22, p. 20. See article.html

19) Ibid., p. 21. For Stanley Kurtz’s views see For Martin Kramer’s views see http://www.mar-

20) Strindberg, op. cit., p. 20.

21) Bacon, David. 2004. “Class Warfare: Labor Studies Programs are Under Attack by a Well-financed Right- wing Campaign.” Nation, January 12-19. pp. 17-20, p. 17.

22) Ibid.

23) Ibid.

24) Ibid.

25) Another critic of Labor Studies programs is author Steven Malanga who has written a couple of articles in the conservative Manhattan Institute’s City Journal. Malanga received a grant by the Brunie Fund for New York Journalism. Charles Brunie is the Manhattan Institute’s chairman emeritus. See Ibid., p. 19.

26) Ibid., p. 18.

27) Ibid.

28) Ibid.

29) Ibid.

30) Ibid., p. 20.

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