Along with the attacks against foreign students, academics themselves became targets in the aftermath of the September 11 attacks by right wing forces.
Academics and activists at universities were not only being shouted down, but given a mantra about that moment not being the time to say anything that might offend or challenge other Americans.
“At a time when the country could most benefit from the diverse perspective that we depend on academe to provide, there will be immense pressure on those in the academic community to repress their view.” – Paul McMasters, Freedom Forum
In one incident at California State University of Chico, a professor was heckled by students when he spoke out against US foreign policy at a campus vigil. After the incident got much press coverage, the school received hate messages emailed from all over the country. Manuel Esteban, president of the university, defended the professor but said “there is a time and a place for his position, and one needs to be careful when one speaks.”
The targeting of the campus community for opposing official policy is nothing new. During the Red Scare of the 1950’s and during the Vietnam War, tenured professors were dismissed and even jailed for holding views some considered anti-American. The extent of what happened on campuses after 9/11 was not as severe, but it created a new “chilling effect.” There were several other incidents of conflict on campuses for speaking out documented by the news media. Many incidents specifically targeted professors. The Chronicle of Higher Education said “professors across the country have found their freedom to speak out hemmed in by incensed students, alumni, and university officials” (1)
At the City University of New York, a teach-in held there was attacked by the trustees and in the New York Post, which had a headline “Once-Proud Campus Now a Breeding Ground for Idiots,” while also saying it was rethinking their support for increased funding at the school because of the teach-in. Barbara Bowen of the Professional Staff Council there noted that there was not the same reaction at other elite schools. “Our students are working class, immigrants, people of color, and there’s this idea out there that they have less right than elite students to be exposed to a wide range of opinions.”(2)
Another incident happened with professor of journalism Robert Jensen of the University of Texas at Austin. The day after the attacks, Jensen wrote an op-ed criticizing US foreign policy, saying “My anger on this day is directed not only at individuals who engineered the September 11 tragedy but at those who have held power in the United States and have engineered attacks on civilians every bit as tragic.”
Jensen immediately became a target of rightists. In response, UT president Larry Faulkner attacked Jensen’s intellect, but held off demands that he be fired. Jensen responded in an op-ed the next month (3):
“Many accuse me of being ‘anti-American,’ but ironically it is their call to limit political debate that is anti-American, for it abandons the core commitment of a democracy to the sovereignty of the people and the role of citizens in forming public policy.”
“So, my correspondent’s real objections cannot be that I am political, but instead that my political ideas are unacceptable to them. That means their actual argument is that in times of crisis, certain analysis and ideas are not acceptable and certain views should be purged from public universities, which sounds pretty anti-American.”
“…the foundation of the US system is (or should be) an active citizenry; being a citizen should mean more than just voting every few years. We have the right – maybe even the obligation – to involve ourselves in the formation of public policy, and in that process no one can claim that some proposals cannot be voiced.”
The university as a center for critical thought even in times of crisis was once again under attack. One of the main attack dogs was an ex-leftist turned rabid right winger David Horowitz, which I will explore in the next article.
- Wilson, Robin and Cox, Ana Marie. “Terrorist Attacks Put Academic Freedom to the Test.” Chronicle of Higher Education. October 5, 2001. http://www.chronicle.com/free/i06/06a01201.htm (accessed January 16, 2002). All quotes and facts before this are from this article also.
- Glenn, David. “The War on Campus.” The Nation. December 3, 2001.
- Jensen, Robert. “The ‘Patriotic’ Attack on Democracy and Higher Education.” http://www.commondreams.org. October 22, 2001. I respected Robert Jensen for being serious about creating a radical analysis for organizing democratically, and his analyses of oppressive institutions of power, including the universities. Recently he has come under fire from the Left due to his lack of acceptance of the transgender movement, sharing a position with many radical feminists who have been labeled TERF’s, or Trans-Exclusive Radical Feminists. But hey, no one’s perfect, and I never was into his anti-porn feminism either, but everything else he said on race and foreign policy is solid.