Columbia University Student’s: Bipolar Escape Blog Quotes Kirstein Article on Academic Freedom

I appreciate being quoted by Bipolar Escape Blog from an article I published in the UK on academic freedom and its attenuation during war. There were a couple of typos that I edited. This is the student’s article:

After the destruction of the World Trade Center, tensions ran high in the United States. Bumper stickers of the American flag were the hottest item available at the local convenience store. For months, whenever most people saw the American flag, goose bumps ran the length of their bodies. I remember seeing a picture of a corn field in the mid-west. The farmer had reaped his field in the pattern of an eagle, perched over the remains of the toppled buildings. Anger, sadness, and hope were the engineers of our nationalistic freight train ride. Questioning the “American way” was taboo. As far as the public was concerned, the United States was the infallible moral leader of the world. To initiate a debate over the cause of the attacks wasn’t in the best interest of an intellectual citizen.

Bill Maher, social satirist and host of the controversial television show, “Politically Incorrect,” was ostracized for his take on the inner strength of the terrorists who flew those planes into our buildings. He ultimately lost his highly rated show. Threatened censure isn’t the tool of American television networks alone. Nicholas De Genova, an assistant professor at Columbia University, called for the defeat of American forces during a speech protesting the Iraq War. On March 27th, 2003, he proclaimed, “I personally would like to see a million Mogadishu’s…The only true heroes are those who find ways to help defeat the U.S. military.” One hundred and four Republican congressional lawmakers demanded Columbia’s president, Lee Bollinger, to fire the professor. Citing academic freedom, President Bollinger refused to do so. He said the professor “was exercising his right to free speech.” “There are few things more precious on any University campus than freedom of thought and expression. That is the teaching of the First Amendment and I believe it should be the principle we live by at Columbia University.”

Edward Said, in his essay, “Identity, Authority, and Freedom: The Potentate and the Traveler,” says, “ a whole slew of controversial political issues like race, gender, imperialism, war and slavery have found there way into lectures and seminars. To this extraordinary, almost Copernican change in the general intellectual consciousness, responses have often been very hostile.”

Such pressure applied to academia is an every day occurrence in the post 9-11 world. Paul K. McMasters, a First Amendment scholar for Freedom Forum, a free-speech advocacy group says, “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 views.” The repression he speaks of isn’t a new phenomenon. The citizens of the United States have experienced it before via McCarthyism.

McCarthyism was an –ism used to describe a conservative ideology adopted as a result of frustration over the country’s inability to contain communism. United States Senator, Joseph M. McCarthy, became a crusader against communism in the 1950s. He regarded communism as a godless system and played on the fear of American Christians to join him in his witch hunt. He chaired a nationally televised congressional investigation into the possible infiltration of the Communist party within America. Being a member of the Communist party was not illegal. But Sen. McCarthy treated all accused as traitors to the United States, thereby ruining the present and futures of many law-abiding citizens. In his hearing room, the Bill of Rights didn’t exist. Americans allowed this out of paranoia and fear from what they knew nothing about, communism. At the time, Americans used the disregard of our Constitutional Rights as a way to protect our “freedom and liberty, our American way.” The blatant suspension of free speech at that time was the forefather of the threat to academic freedom today.

A child growing up in the 1950s, whose parents condoned the suspension of rights out of ignorance, accepted the consequences of the hearings as normal. George W. Bush, born in 1946, was a child of that era. He was the product of an ultra-conservative mother and father. His father, George H.W. Bush, was an ex-pilot in World War II, a then current C.I.A. agent, and later was elected the 41st President of the United States. Born in New Haven, Connecticut, George W. Bush spent his childhood in exclusive areas of Midland and Houston Texas, attended the affluent Philips Academy Preparatory School, and followed by Yale University and Harvard.

Although President George W. Bush is a product of that conservative era, lapses in moral judgment didn’t escape him as a young man (DWI arrest, AWOL from the Air National Guard, rumors of cocaine use). However, upon meeting his wife in 1977, he “found God.” He became a “Born Again Christian” and converted from Episcopalian Christianity to Methodism, thus cementing the ultra-conservative values he had grown up to. This solidification of radical- right political views, along with his fathers winning of the 1988 presidential election ensured him an easy win in his campaign for Texas governor in 1994. He became the golden buckle of the Bible belt. In 2000 he was elected as the 43rd President of the United States. He currently enjoys the luxury of a conservative dominated Congress, which has allowed Christian Doctrine to dictate his domestic and foreign policies. The United States of America is now being led by a man who grew up accepting McCarthyism as a necessary evil in a time of stress.

The New McCarthyism is a direct result of the stress felt by Americans in the years after September 11th, 2001. It has transformed itself . The communist enemy has now become the terrorist enemy. Just as the communist supposedly hated us because of our liberty and freedoms, so too, the terrorists hate us for them. President Bush, in his address to Congress on September 20, 2001 said, “…Americans are asking ‘Why do they hate us?’” “They hate what they see right here in this chamber: a democratically elected government. Their leaders are self-appointed. They hate our freedoms: our freedom of religion, our freedom of speech, our freedom to vote and assemble and disagree with each other.” His speech would have been just as effective in the 1950’s “communist” had been replaced by “terrorist”.

As a way of creating political support for his policy, the government of George W. Bush turned to New McCarthyism. Peter N. Kirstein, in his essay “Academic Freedom and the New McCarthyism,” explains. “New McCarthyism emerged from a sense of frustration and panic that America’s enemies had not been subjugated and that the empire could strike back. Since the largely unsuccessful wars against the Taliban and Al Qaeda in Afghanistan in October 2001, and the Anglo-American invasion of Iraq in March 2003, the United States has been in the throes of a militant-nationalistic crusade fueled by war.”

It was seen in 2003. In the fall of that year, the United States House of Representatives passed Resolution 3007. It would create an “Advisory Board” to oversee the teachings within accredited universities in the United States. The board would investigate all ideas discussed to ensure that they are in the best “national interest” of our country. In another noose-tightening, the U.S. Government has placed restrictions on the visas of international professors and students if he/she has views critical of United States policy. The result of the restrictions has turned out to be a reduction in the number of foreign born students and professors within the classrooms of our universities. The government has begun to politicize the classroom. A critical voice within the classroom has been silenced. The government has, in the name of “liberty and freedom,” attempted to destroy academic freedom. I believe they’ve, in a sense, shot themselves in the leg so the pain of a scraped knee wouldn’t hurt as much.

New McCarthyism can be witnessed beyond Capitol Hill. Accuracy in Academia (AIA) proudly proclaims its mission to be, “the reassertion of traditional academic ethics in our universities.” To reach their goal AIA publishes Campus Report. It “publicizes political bias within the academy.”

As a University student, I cannot condone the limits placed on academic freedom. Academic freedom is vital to our understanding of different cultures and the understanding of ourselves. It forces us to focus beyond our own agenda and is the key to dismantling ignorance throughout the world.

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