Another group to denounce the crack of dissent emerging on college campuses in the aftermath of September 11th was the American Council of Trustees and Alumni, or ACTA. Founded by right-wing culture warrior Lynne Cheney, the wife of then Vice-President, Dick Cheney, ACTA was already a leading part of the culture wars waged by the right. ACTA’s specialization was the universities, it expanded on the attacks on campus waged by the likes of Horowitz. It put out a report in November 2001, two months after the attacks, entitled “Defending Civilization: How Our Universities are Failing American and What Can be Done About It” (1). It was part of the launch of the Defense of Civilization Fund, and they stated “It was not only America that was attacked, but civilization” (2). ACTA was known before 9/11 for attacking supposed political correctness on campus, and with this situation it took the opportunity to impose patriotic correctness.
I will write about ACTA itself more in the next article. First we will take a close look at the report they issued, Defending Civilization. It is credited to Jerry Martin and Anne Neal.. Lynne Cheney is not an author, but is quoted extensively, and was reportedly close to the authors.
Here are some of the statements in the report from ACTA itself:
“Even as many institutions enhanced security and many students exhibited American flags, college and university faculty have been the weak link in America’s response to the attack. Proving a shocking divide between academe and the public at large, professors across the country sponsored teach-ins that typically ranged from moral equivocation to explicit condemnations of America.”
“Some refused to make judgments. Many invoked tolerance and diversity as antidotes to evil.”
“Rarely did professors publicly mention heroism, rarely did they discuss the difference between good and evil, the nature of Western political order or the virtue of a free society. Their public messages were short on patriotism and long on self-flagellation. Indeed, the message of much of academe was clear: BLAME AMERICA FIRST”
“Although most faculty presumable shared America’s horror and condemnation of the terrorist attacks, some did not.”
“The fact remains that academe is the only sector of American society that is distinctly divided in its response. Indeed, expressions of pervasive moral relativism are a staple of academic life in this country and an apparent symptom of an educational system that has increasingly suggested that Western civilization is the primary source of the world’s ills – even though it gave us the ideals of democracy, human rights, individual liberty, and mutual tolerance.”
The original version that was put out, now at (https://pantherfile.uwm.edu/sands/www/defciv.pdf), listed 117 quotes and citations of quotes of people connected to the universities that attempted to show that those institutions were not sufficiently patriotic or behind the consensus supporting the Bush Administration and the new “War on Terrorism.” A newer version was later put up, now at (https://web.archive.org/web/20020914060739/http://www.goacta.org/Reports/defciv.pdf), that took out two of the quotes, and some sentences in the introduction above (3). This was all part of their quest to prove that academia was a fifth column in the new Amerika. Yet their own methodology proves them wrong.
Lets take a closer look at the quotes. Of the quotes, only 40 come from actual faculty members. From the faculty, many are in fields such as physics or psychology, where their political views would rarely come up in classrooms. Others are from students, campus workers, and speakers invited from off campus to teach-ins. Others are protest signs and protest chants. (Such as “our grief is not a cry for war”) And overall, the majority of the citations speak of coming to an understanding of the events that just happened recently, and calls for a restrained and rational response (4). To supposedly live up to those American ideals that ACTA values so much. And others did have a logical response to the history of US imperialism. But those views were a minority of views even on the university. The fact that universities were not emitters of blind patriotism and jingoistic calls for blood, and was a place for dissent, is what really angered ACTA.
By their own data, support for the war was high, even on college campuses. In the report they printed polls taken on September 25th, 2001 to show the disconnect with academe and the general population. While it showed 92 percent of the general public saying that “Americans should take military action even if casualties occur, it was slightly different on some campuses. In a poll taken of Harvard students, 69 percent said “Americans should take military action, then at 28 percent when asked “America should take military action even if casualties occur.” For college students generally, 79 percent said “America Should Undertake Air Strikes,” while 68 percent said “America Should Use Ground Troops.” These polls show firm support for war on college campuses, but the higher percentage against on college campuses in contrast to the general public at the time showed a dangerous amount of dissent present, even if in a minority of popular opinion (5). ACTA attacked this divided consensus as not being conforming enough.
Many faculty, including those who were listed in the report, spoke out against the implications of it (6).
Michael Rothschild, dean of Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs at Princeton University: “many of the comments and questions being raised by professor are actually healthy for the country.” He was quoted in report saying () and said it was accurate, that “I was worried about a rush to judgment.”
Walter Daum, professor of mathematics at City University of New York’s City College: found it odd that a quote by him would be an example of academe’s response, as most of his colleagues in academy disagree with his critiques of US foreign policy, and saying he wasn’t trying to justify the attacks, just explain them.
Kevin Lourie: professor at Brown University School of Medicine, said “these kinds of attacks will only discourage professors from speaking out and opening up dialogues about what’s happening overseas, and why.” Said from the quote in the report that he was attempting to explain how other nations and societies may view the United States (7).
Douglas Bennett, president of Wesleyen, named for a letter Sept. 14, complained that the report’s authors took his comments out of context. He said he strongly supports the Bush administration’s response to the terrorist attacks and that an American flag has hung on the door of his house since Sept. 11. “I don’t know where this group gets off extracting language from my statement. They’re trying to perpetuate clichés that belong to an earlier era. I don’t think it’ll wash – we all have important, real work to do as a nation.”
Hugh, Gusterson, professor of anthropology at MIT, gave a fuller critique. He said, “At this particular moment in time, it seems there is a crying need to understand the culture and history of the people who attacked us.” He also said it is not anti-American to know about the rest of the world. He knew of other professors who have received hate mail for their views, and wondered if the council’s listing of him in the report was meant as a form of intimidation.
Many critics mentioned the term blacklist to describe the list, and compared it to the McCarthy era. Gusterson also compared it to a Soviet mentality, stating “It’s a little too reminiscent of McCarthyism. This kind of document reminds me of the Soviet Union, where officials weren’t satisfied until 98 or 99 percent of people voted with them.” He also called ACTA “belligerant nannies” who want to restrict what people can learn. Also said he wonders why they are so worried about professors, as “all my students are conservative.” David Price also saw similarities to the McCarthy era, but said it was not a surprise, for the Right has been attempting to rehabilitate McCarthy.(8) Gonzalez saw the doublespeak inherent in ACTA’s calls for academic freedom while putting out what was essentially a blacklist, saying “The targeting of scholars who participate in civic debates might signal the emergence of a new McCarthyism directed at the academy. Before it escalates into a full-blown witch hunt in the name of ‘defending civilization,’ faculty, students and citizens should speak out against these acts of academic terrorism” (9)
Many of the critics also had a different vision than ACTA of what the university is in reality and what it should be in a democratic society. Again from Gusterson:
“But also more generally I’d like to make a point that universities are not adjuncts of the American government. The role and the purpose of the university in America is not to cheer-ead for whatever the chosen policy of the American government is. The role and purpose of the university is to pursue knowledge and to encourage people to think critically. And in my speech at the peace rally I was encouraging students and anyone who was listening to think critically about American foreign policy, about the fact that Americans have not only been victims of violence, but that Americans have often inflicted violence on people in other countries – in El Salvador, Nicaragua, Panama, Vietnam, for example – and the people in those other countries might see US actions as being terrorist actions in their own way.”
He also comments on the political correctness myth reigning supreme on American campuses, and pro-US government opinions being intimidated, saying that people who’ve criticized military action are a minority of the recorded statements from this time. (10)
And from Gonzalez, who reported that ACTA claimed that it contributed $3.4 billion to colleges and universities last year, making it “the largest private source of support for higher education,” that it “condemns those who have attempted to give context to Sept. 11, encourage critical thinking, or share knowledge about other cultures. Faculty are accused of being ‘short on patriotism’ for attempting to give students the analytical tools they need to become informed citizens.” Furthermore, he states that it functions “to extend control over sites of democratic debate – our universities – where freedom of expression is not only permitted but encouraged,” and that as “a microcosm of society, the university is a place where people of different ethnicities, religions, generations, and class backgrounds exchange ideas and opinions.” The accusations of anti-Americanism to intimidate and silence some voices is not patriotism, according to Gonzalez, but fascism. ACTA was “inaccurate and irresponsible” and that“critique, debate and exchange – not blind consensus or self-censorship – have characterized America since its inception.” Furthermore he states “our universities are not failing America…they are among the few institutions offering alternatives to canned mainstream media reports,” and called for action against a full-blown witch hunt (11).
Other academics took ACTA in jest. The group Tattletales for an Open Society started on the pages of The Nation for those not on the ACTA list but wanted to be included (12).
ACTA was reported to announce that they would send the list to 3,000 trustees at colleges and universities. (13)
The blacklist attempted by ACTA was a sign of the growth of the right wing, especially in academia. But the history of dissent in universities was not something that was forgotten or given up easily, as this report was resisted on many fronts. It only went to show how an organization that was grown out of right wing battles on the intellectual front came to use the opportunity of the tragedy to put forward their agenda. In the next article I will explore the history of ACTA.
- “Defending Civilization: How Our Universities are Failing American and What Can be Done About It.” The report was also co-sponsored by the Randolph Foundation, the William and Karen Tell Foundation, and Jane H. Fraser.
- Inside Academe (ACTA newsletter). Fall 2001. Vol. VI, No. 4.
- Two of the quotes taken out included these gems: George Borts, professor of economics, Brown University:“If people have some patriotic fervor, they are going to have to work for the CIA, slitting throats in dark alleys; and Wasima Alikhan, Islamic Academy of Las Vegas:“[I]gnorance breeds hate.”)
- Some of the criticism right afterward: “most of the quotes are moderate in their view and tenor. In fact, one of the remarkable things about this pamphlet is how relatively tame or even common-sensical many of the quotes are.” Price, David. “Sketches for a New Blacklist.” Counterpunch. November 21, 2001. http://www.counterpunch.org/2001/11/21/sketches-for-a-new-blacklist/; and “…comments taken out of context and culled from secondary sources, are presented as examples of an unpatriotic academy.” Gonzalez, Roberto J. “Lynne Cheney-Joe Lieberman Group Puts Out a Blacklist.” San Jose Mercury News. December 13, 2001. posted at http://www.globalresearch.ca/articles/GON112A.html; and from Hugh Gusterson: “What the authors of the report did is that they very carefully selected only those comments that were critical of American foreign policy, and tried to pretend that those comments represented the entire range of debate at MIT. This is a complete distortion and fabrication.”
- ACTA turned out wrong. As the war expanded into Iraq, the anti-war movement grew, and the invasion by 2003 resulted in mass protests around the world, even by those it would have considered sufficiently patriotic.
- Blumenstyk, Goldie. “Group Denounces ‘Blame America First’ Response to September 11 Attacks.” Chronicle of Higher Education. November 12, 2001. www.chronicle.com/free/2001/11/2001111202n.htm (accessed December 7, 2001)
- Healy, Patrick. “On Campus, Conservatives Denounce Dissent.” Boston Globe. November 13, 2001.
Price said of previous eras of repression “the names of these individuals who’s lives were invaded and altered appeared somewhere, sometime on a list of subversives, and the FBI read these lists and opened investigatory files (or added to existing files) on these individuals…these individuals had taken public stands on unpopular issues such as peace, racial, economic or gender equality.” Price, ibid.
- Gonzalez, ibid.
- “And I have to say, looking around me at MIT, this is just complete junk. In their report, they cite five different quotes from people at MIT. Four of those quotes come from the peace rally where I spoke. There’s a fifth quote from Noam Chomsky, from a public lecture he gave. And you would think from reading their report that these are the only public statements that have been made about September 11th here at MIT. But it’s just not true. There was a whole series of panel discussions organized by the university administration. So, for example, the Center for International Studies did a panel within a few days of September 11th. There were four panelists, only one of those panelists in any way criticized American foreign policy. Two of the others called for assassinating Osama bin Laden, or for declaring war on Afghanistan. When that panel was repeated on two subsequent occasions, the person who had criticized US foreign policy was dropped from the panel. There was another panel discussion called “Technology and Terror.” there were six panelists including myself. I was the only one of the panelists on that panel who said anything critical about American foreign policy.” -“Q & A, Lynne Cheney’s Free Speech Blacklist.” Interview with Hugh Gusterson, conducted by Sharon Basco www.tompaine.com/features/2001/11/15/2.html (Accessed December 6, 2001).
- Gonzalez, ibid.
- https://www.thenation.com/article/tattletales-open-society/; https://www.thenation.com/article/tattletales-open-society-0/
- Scigliano, Eric. “Naming – and Un-naming – Names.” The Nation. December 13, 2001. https://www.thenation.com/article/naming-and-un-naming-names/