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Rejoinder to Daniel Pipes: Fighting for Freedom of Speech

"Why do American academics so often despise their own country while finding excuses for repressive and dangerous regimes?" So asks Daniel Pipes, self-appointed arbiter of acceptable speech and founder of Campus Watch, "a project to monitor, assess, and improve Middle East Studies in America."
Pipes recently included us in a list of six "Professors who Hate America." His column, published online at History News Network and in print in the New York Post, the Jerusalem Post, and other newspapers, reached millions of readers. Using us as examples of professors who voice "relentless opposition to their own government," Pipes called for "outsiders (alumni, state legislators, nonuniversity specialists, parents of students and others)" to "take steps to ... establish standards for media statements by faculty."

Were Pipes simply a crackpot who displayed a profound misunderstanding of academic freedom, there would be no cause for alarm. But his screed is symptomatic of a broader trend among conservative commentators, who since September 11 have increasingly equated criticism of the Bush administration with lack of patriotism. William Bennett, in his recent work Why We Fight, claims that scholars with whom he disagrees "sow widespread and debilitating confusion" and "weaken the country's resolve." The American Council of Trustees and Alumni (ACTA), an organization founded in 1995 by Lynne Cheney that calls on those groups to take a more "active" role in determining what happens on campuses, chastised professors who fail to teach the "truth" that civilization itself "is best exemplified in the West and indeed in America." Last year, ACTA posted online the names and affiliations of faculty members who in the wake of September 11 made statements it deemed insufficiently patriotic.

Pipes's call for outsiders to police the statements of faculty conjures up memories of World War I and the McCarthy era, when critics of the government were jailed and institutions of higher learning dismissed antiwar or "subversive" professors. Historians today consider such episodes shameful anomalies in the history of civil liberties in America. But Pipes is calling for a return to those dark days, with Campus Watch, administrators, lawmakers, trustees, and parents dictating what faculty may and may not say in speeches and opinion columns. Moreover, in equating opposition to government policies with hatred of our country, Pipes displays a deep hostility to the essence of a democratic polity: the right to dissent.

What did we say to inspire Pipes to advocate the abrogation of faculty members' right to express their views if they happen to differ with his? Our sin was (independently, in our universities' student newspapers) to oppose the Bush administration's assertion of the right to launch a preemptive war against Iraq. The same position has been voiced by numerous public figures, including members of the first Bush administration, former president Carter, and members of Congress like Senator Robert Byrd (who said that "an unprovoked attack on a sovereign nation" would alter our national character). It is the viewpoint of virtually every country in the world, including most of the longtime allies of the United States. Neither of us offered any "excuse for dangerous and repressive regimes." It is one thing to deem a regime repressive, quite another to believe that the United States has the right to assume the unilateral role of global policeman.

Pipes is disturbed that "professors of linguistics, chemistry, American history, genetics," etc., speak out on foreign policy. Putting aside the fact that "experts" are themselves sharply divided on the proper course to pursue in the Middle East, in a democracy all citizens, including faculty members, have a right to express their opinions on whether to send our sons and daughters, neighbors, friends, and colleagues, to war.

Pipes wants "outsiders" to bring faculty into line with "the rest of the country." Fortunately, the two of us teach at universities whose administrations understand and value academic freedom. There is little chance that Columbia or Yale would allow alumni, parents, or trustees to dictate what opinions are patriotically correct and therefore can be voiced by faculty members. But many institutions are less financially secure and more dependent on the good will of private donors and state legislatures. Their administrators may feel themselves under pressure to bend to demands that would seriously weaken freedom of speech. Faculty around the country should realize that Pipes's assaults are part of a gathering threat to the free exchange of ideas on American college campuses.

An abridged version of this article first appeared in the Los Angeles Times and is reprinted with permission of the authors.