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NYU Hosting the Latest "Academic Freedom" Conference

by Cinnamon Stillwell [political columnist] 3/5/08

The proliferation of dubious conferences on "academic freedom" continues unabated. And, in each case, biased and politicized Middle East studies academics are a major component.

In October, 2007, the University of Chicago hosted, "In Defense of Academic Freedom," an event whose unifying theme was "the notion that Jewish groups have degraded the quality and breadth of discussion in the media and in Washington." Hardly the stuff of self-described progressives, but such is the state of discourse in the corridors of academia today.


Cinnamon Stillwell is a columnist for SFGate.com, the online arm of the San Francisco Chronicle and the Northern California Representative for Campus Watch. She can be reached at stillwell@meforum.org. Her website is CinnamonStillwell.com and her blog is at http://www.cinnamonstillwell.blogspot.com [go to Stillwell CRO Index]


Then there was the "DePaul Academic Freedom Conference" earlier this month. It featured the usual suspects, all alleging "academic freedom violations" against DePaul University because "professors Mehrene Larudee and Norman Finkelstein were denied tenure." Apparently, the granting of tenure is now a God-given right and any infringements thereupon are considered grounds for martyrdom.

Next up on February 23, the College of Arts and Science (CAS) Student Council of New York University will host the "First National Teach-In on Freedoms at Risk in America." This time around, the gathering of the persecuted will include, as described at the CAS website, "our nation's foremost academics and intellectuals, and students and faculty from both within and outside of the NYU campus."

Among this supposedly stellar cast of characters is the aforesaid Norman Finkelstein, who was last seen on Lebanese television expressing "solidarity" with the terrorist group Hezbollah, calling for the "defeat" of Israel, and encouraging "military resistance" to America. Finkelstein fancies himself a sacrificial lamb to the cause of academic freedom, not only for being denied tenure, but for losing his job at DePaul. Finkelstein's long record of extremist statements, unprofessional behavior, and outright lunacy was more likely the real reason DePaul chose to part ways. But that hasn't stopped the so-called academic freedom movement from transforming Finkelstein into its poster-child.

Speaking of unsavory heroes, radical leftist attorney Lynne Stewart will also be addressing the NYC teach-in. Stewart, you'll recall, was convicted in 2005 of conspiracy and providing and concealing material support of terrorism for sneaking messages from her imprisoned client Omar Abdel-Rahman to members of the terrorist group Gama'a al-Islamiyya. The teach-in announcement conveniently omits these details, describing Stewart simply as a lawyer who represents "unpopular clients" and, of course, a victim of "recent political oppression." Apparently, those who plot the mass murder of civilians are merely "unpopular" in the rhetoric of aggrieved academia, and legal consequences for aiding and abetting terrorists is known as "political oppression." That Middle East studies academics would align themselves (and not for the first time) with someone like Stewart indicates just how low the bar has been set.

NYU Middle Eastern studies and history professor, Zachary Lockman, is another speaker at the teach-in. Lockman is the president of the highly politicized Middle East Studies Association (MESA), an organization devoted in large part to decrying the attention paid to the field by external critics in the wake of Sept. 11, 2001. Such whining was a mainstay at the 2007 MESA annual meeting in Montreal where, as noted by Campus Watch, Lockman and his cohorts played the victim card to the hilt. Similarly, Lockman was quoted in a 2007 Nation article on "The New McCarthyism" as follows:

There certainly is a sense among faculty and grad students that they're being watched, monitored. People are always looking over their shoulder, feeling that whatever they say--in accurate or, more likely, distorted form--can end up on a website. It definitely has a chilling effect.

If the ability of students, as well those outside academia, to observe, cite, and, if warranted, critique professors on a professional basis has a "chilling effect," then Lockman and company had better develop thicker skins. In the age of new media, no one is free from scrutiny, nor, above all, accountability.

The truth of the matter is that the only threat to academic freedom in the realm of Middle East studies extends to those that buck the prevailing left-leaning, anti-Western orthodoxy. The case of Georgia Perimeter College history professor Tim Furnish, who, writing for Campus Watch, described being turned down for a job because he was seen as "more conservative than others in [his] field," as well as for sounding "like Daniel Pipes," comes to mind.

Meanwhile, the keepers of the post-colonialist flame remain firmly ensconced in their Ivory Towers. That they continue to hold conferences alleging their persecution, circulating alarmist petitions, and railing against perceived "censorship" in a variety of publications is a testament to the true situation at hand.

Nevertheless, expect to break out the violins this weekend. CRO


copyright 2007 Cinnamon Stillwell





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