Say What? by Michael M. Chemers

Editorials featured in the Forum section are solely the opinions of their individual authors.

In November 2001, Lynne Cheney, wife of the Vice President, and Senator Joe Lieberman (D?Conn.), as founding members of the academic watchdog group American Council of Teachers and Alumni (ACTA), sponsored the Defending Civilization report, a McCarthyesque blacklist of American professors, students, and others in the academic community who had spoken out against the war or the administration. (You can still read it at
defciv.pdf.) The report is vicious in its condemnation of American professors who displayed a hatred of America, apparently, when they ?sponsored teach-ins that typically ranged from moral equivocation to explicit condemnations of America. While America?s elected officials from both parties and media commentators from across the spectrum condemned the attacks and followed the President in calling evil by its rightful name, many faculty demurred. Some refused to make judgments. Many invoked tolerance and diversity as antidotes to evil. Some even pointed accusatory fingers, not at the terrorists, but at America itself.?
To be sure, there was indeed a segment of the American people who opposed the President?s reaction to the 9/11 tragedy, and a percentage of that population hesitant about marching in lockstep with the President was employed in the academic profession. Some of these professors may even have crossed the line into absurdity in their passionate reactions, but the ACTA report explicitly targets professors who
?advocated tolerance and diversity,? who ?refused to make judgments,? and who ?demurred? from joining the President?s suspicious, under-thought ?Crusade? (this was his word). Professors earned places on this list for comments as innocuous as ?we should build bridges and relationships, not simply bombs and walls,? ?I deplore those who are deploying rhetoric and deploying troops without thinking before they speak,? and ?an eye for an eye leaves the whole world blind.?
Universities came under criticism in the report for allowing teach-ins and antiwar speakers, or for providing a diversity-based curriculum. Included in the report is a quote from a speech Cheney gave on October 5, 2001: ?To say that it is more important now [to study Islam] implies that the events of September 11 were our fault, that it was our failure to understand Islam that led to so many deaths and so much destruction.?
Over the following three years, this document was used to isolate and frighten professors who were deemed insufficiently patriotic, to discourage the creation of non-traditional courses, and to silence academic dissenters with vague threats. The report was used to target reprisals as professors across the U.S. were reprimanded, harassed, humiliated, flamed in e-mail, threatened with violence, and even fired for espousing strong anti-administration views, and came to a head in 2003, when HR 3077 brought the Title VI provision under review. Title VI mandates that programs receiving federal money train their graduates for careers in national service. ACTA, acting on behalf of the White House, advocated the creation of an ?advisory board? which would monitor these programs to ensure they met the federal mandate; the clear purpose of this board was to evaluate whether universities were representing conservative foreign policy. It could recommend pulling funding from programs that employed professors critical of the administration. Historically, the Bush White House is known for stocking such advisory boards with unqualified corporate shills or demagogues in order to ensure a particular agenda. Such boards have been instructed to distort and suppress scientific data and other findings. (A recent example of this was the 2004 appointment of W. David Hager, a pro-life activist who advocates a ?biblical? approach to medicine that has flown in the face of scientific understanding, to chair the FDA?s Reproductive Health Drugs Advisory Committee.)
Such a climate on the academic side encourages the proliferation of organizations like Campus Watch, which puts out inflammatory and misleading dossiers on professors critical of the Bush administration and advocates anti-Muslim ethnic cleansing in America. Such a climate legitimizes the work of conservative activists like David Horowitz, whose ?academic bill of rights? is the centerpiece of an ongoing effort to silence liberal voices on American campuses.
These facts are not in dispute. The administration is open about, and proud of, its actions against the intellectual community. What should make America?s professoriat, conservative and liberal alike, quake in its penny loafers at the fact that the architects of this anti-intellectual movement have won a second term in office is that this win is an honest one. We can no longer dismiss Bush as an accident, as the product of a loophole or some star-chamber manipulation of the election. If our President truly reflects the values of America, apparently these values include the silencing of critical thought, the retarding of scientific progress, and the transformation of our universities into nationalistic theological seminaries. Now that Bush has his so-called mandate, we can certainly expect the next four years to bring an intensified chill on academic discourse, an increased sense of fear among our nation?s intellectuals to speak and write freely, and a significant ?brain drain? as the next generation of thinkers thinks twice about entering such a vilified profession.