Text of Kirstein Remarks at Chomsky-Endorsed Academic Freedom Forum at Northeastern Illinois University

Presented April 26, 2011 at a Committee for Academic Justice teach-in at Lech Walesa Hall at Northeastern Illinois University in Chicago.

Let me welcome you to the real America. The America born out of genocide of the indigenous peoples, followed when they were all killed off by two and a half centuries of slavery, followed by another century of Jim Crow. We are the nation of atomic genocide in Hiroshima and Nagasaki, responsible for creating the nuclear arms race and the war crime and racist mass murder in Vietnam. We are the nation that gave the world My Lai, war criminal presidents but never a prosecution. We were told for decades we were the leaders of the free world when African-Americans and whites could not eat together. We are still the world’s superpower in the denial of human rights and its chief violator of both international humanitarian law and the laws of war. I was in Washington DC two days ago and I have to say what are we thinking when we build monuments to slave-owning racists such as Washington and Jefferson: what are we thinking or are we thinking at all to immortalise and revere those who hold others in bondage?

And this is the nation we pledge allegiance to? This is the country that demands our children stand and declare their loyalty to a flag that represents death, racism, colonialism, constant war and growing distance between rich and poor where “the share of wealth held by the top 1 percent of households has risen to 35 percent from 21 percent since 1979, while their share of income has more than doubled to around 20 percent.”  (NYT, April 23, 2011 David Stockman)

I can’t pledge allegiance to this and I won’t. I am a citizen of the world and look beyond borders and militaries and checkpoints and wars on terrorism, wars on Islam, wars on language where we don’t even use the word “poverty” anymore as one out of seven Americans are on food stamps. I was a student of Howard Zinn, the great progressive people’s historian and one of the great revisionist scholars in American history. I am here tonight inspired by him who was fired from a tenured position in the beginning of his career to test academic freedom and demand it for faculty such as Professor Capeheart who are willing to cross the line; if enough people, if enough people crossed the line, we can eliminate the line and the forces of elite rule and capitalistic greed that are slowly destroying this nation for everyone but themselves.

I have nothing against Northeastern Illinois University. In fact for several years my dean was Larry Frank, the current provost here, when he was dean of Arts and Sciences at St Xavier University. I had differences with him by the time he left in 2002 but this stuff is never personal. For me to be effective as an advocate for academic freedom and the right to challenge authority whether it be governmental or academic administrations, I have to be informed, stick to principles and avoid ad hominem attacks.

Yet as the Spanish philosopher Miguel de Unamono said: “Sometimes to be silent is to lie.” The academy, the professoriate, higher education in general must stop lying in order to remain the only relatively free component of American intellectual and social life that can challenge illegitimate authority and the lack of moral integrity of this nation in a world desperate for peace and justice.

NEIU on its website proclaims that it is ranked “the most ethnically diverse university in the Midwest” by U.S. News & World Reports. It states it is:
– 49% Caucasian
– 25% Hispanic
– 12% African American
– 10% Asian
– 4% Other

That is something to be proud of but I don’t see data on faculty ethnic diversity and frankly when universities claim to be diverse it only tells part of the story. It is not an insignificant part of the story but incomplete nevertheless. Does it also respect diversity in thought and action? Does it validate antiwar faculty who oppose imperialism, mass murder and racism. I did and was suspended and reprimanded in one of the most controversial academic freedom cases of this century by former St Xavier President Richard Yanikoski, an air force veteran. I fired off an antiwar email response to an Air Force Academy cadet’s polite request that I recruit students to attend a conference there. He was not a student of mine nor associated in any manner with St Xavier. I don’t recruit for war, for violence, for the professionalisation of killing that so debases and demeans our planet’s demand for justice. I won’t do it. I stand here tonight and say I reiterate my commitment to the ethical and moral premise if not the entire tone of the email and my right to denounce war and adhere to my pacifist, non-violent ethical code. I could have been more polite but here is the email that aroused the military all over the world and the Wall Street Journal twice attacked as unprotected speech and worthy of my being removed from my classroom in the fall semester of 2002.


“You are a disgrace to this country and I am furious you would even think I would support you and your aggressive baby killing tactics of collateral damage. Help you recruit? Who, top guns to rain death and destruction upon nonwhite peoples throughout the world? Are you serious sir? Resign your commission and serve your country with honour.

“No war, no air force cowards who bomb countries without AAA, without possibility of retaliation. You are worse than the snipers. You are imperialists who are turning the whole damn world against us. September 11 can be blamed in part for what you and your cohorts have done to the Palestinians, the VC, the Serbs, a retreating army at Basra.

You are unworthy of my support.”

My suspension and violation of my academic freedom was the result of my challenging directly American power and its militaristic, murderous foreign policy. I stand by others who denounce war as Professor Capeheart has done. I should have been more civil but that was the fig leaf: the real deal was denouncing American imperialism and racism and St Xavier University knew that but so many there with a few exceptions chose “to remain silent and to lie.” I must say, however, because words travel rapidly that the current president, Christine Wiseman and her predecessor, Judith Dwyer, have not coerced me in any manner and have made no effort to restrict or limit my academic freedom. I would like to believe my case and my refusal to be cowed or intimidated and my work for academic freedom since then contributed to a somewhat more open and permissive environment for other faculty as well.

Universities that always claim to be diverse need to be also challenged whether they respect pro-union faculty who are willing to strike if necessary for basic rights including the right to organise collectively. St Xavier U. was one of the last private universities in the country to unionise before the NLRB v Yeshiva case in 1980. The Supreme Court ruled in that union-busting decision that faculty at private universities are managers not employees and, therefore, don’t have the right to organise. Tell that to faculty members on non-union campuses that have no rights, no shared governance, no effective recourse to challenge administration diktat. Tell that to a Norman Finkelstein, a Namita Goswami, a Mehrene Larudee who were or are at non-union DePaul. I did not feel like a manager when I was suspended in 2002. I did not feel like a boss when I was reprimanded. I did not feel like an employer when I was subjected to Gestapo tactics of abuse and intimidation from a nation clamouring to silence me and calling me as David Horowitz, an author and journalist, did in his book, The Professors, that I was one of the 101 most dangerous professors in the US. NEIU is a public university where faculty do have the right to organise and yet even a unionised faculty is not guaranteed basic rights of academic freedom, free speech, shared governance and the right to challenge arbitrary authority or illegitimate actions from an administration.

Let’s look at what academic freedom is or should be. Not much of it is left in this country because we do not have a national organisation that has both the progressive politics of ideological independence and the direct action, aggressive public challenging of the oppressive nature of academia. We have FIRE  (Foundation for Individual Rights in Education) which I love and they saved my job but they tend to be less than entirely committed to progressive values and radical critical thinking. But I admire their modus operandi and direct action tactics. AAUP is moderately liberal but far removed from reality and is basically a quasi-law firm that writes reports and little letters that rarely help more than a small percentage of faculty who need protection from the age of conformity and persecution. We need an organisation that combines both ideological progressivism with direct-action tactics. We have none, none and the situation is dire in academia. Absolutely dire as we move to a one-party classroom, a one-party campus where the avante garde, the radical, the daring is destroyed and persecuted in this so-called democracy.

Yet AAUP of which I am the VP of the Illinois branch and chair of its Committee A on Academic Freedom and Tenure, does provide a common law of sorts on the ethics and values of higher ed. But they need to enforce them and advocate them in action. They are failing to do so on the national level and it is here in the states, among the rank and file of either an AAUP union or so-called advocacy chapters where real work, real solidarity behind faculty can be found.

What is academic freedom? Or maybe I should ask what was academic freedom but I won’t be too cynical but to be candid it generally exists for those who don’t need it and is abandoned and violated for those who do: Like a Loretta Capeheart and a Namita Goswami, an assistant professor at DePaul who was subjected to an inquisition by the Philosophy Department in their recommendation she be denied tenure and promotion. Her persecution resulted because she was hired to teach literally outside the canon of white-European philosophy and was viciously attacked for frankly doing her job too well and with distinction. Only non-whites were denied tenure at DePaul.

Paragraph 3 on the Section of Academic Freedom from the 1940 Statement of Principles on Academic Freedom and Tenure states:
3.College and university teachers are citizens, members of a learned profession, and officers of an educational institution. When they speak or write as citizens, they should be free from institutional censorship or discipline, but their special position in the community imposes special obligations. As scholars and educational officers, they should remember that the public may judge their profession and their institution by their utterances. Hence they should at all times be accurate, should exercise appropriate restraint, should show respect for the opinions of others, and should make every effort to indicate that they are not speaking for the institution.”

Some revisions took place within weeks or months of the release of the iconic 1940 statement;

One of those early revisions were:
“If the administration of a college or university feels that a teacher has not observed the admonitions of paragraph 3 of the section on Academic Freedom and believes that the extramural utterances of the teacher have been such as to raise grave doubts concerning the teacher’s fitness for his or her position, it may proceed to file charges under paragraph 4 of the section on Academic Tenure. In pressing such charges, the administration should remember that teachers are citizens and should be accorded the freedom of citizens. In such cases the administration must assume full responsibility, and the American Association of University Professors and the Association of American Colleges are free to make an investigation.”

In 1970, AAUP revised the 1940 statement more comprehensively with Interpretive Comments. This is one of them:

“Paragraph 3 of the section on Academic Freedom in the 1940 Statement should also be interpreted in keeping with the 1964 Committee A Statement on Extramural Utterances , which states inter alia: “The controlling principle is that a faculty member’s expression of opinion as a citizen cannot constitute grounds for dismissal unless it clearly demonstrates the faculty member’s unfitness for his or her position. Extramural utterances rarely bear upon the faculty member’s fitness for the position. Moreover, a final decision should take into account the faculty member’s entire record as a teacher and scholar.”

The courts are trying to silence us or worse are indifferent to ideological cleansing that is sweeping higher-education in a manner not seen since the McCarthy witch hunts of the 1950s.:

In Garcetti v Ceballos the shameless if not illegitimate Supreme Court, that literally stole the 2000 presidential election from Democratic Vice President Al Gore, has basically ruled that public officials cannot criticise their employers. They can only address matters of public concern whatever that means in the police state of America! The 5-4 majority ruled that speaking as a citizen with First Amendment rights of free speech does not count when an employee is speaking in the course of carrying out his or her public duties. Even if one observes and denounces illegal actions such as an improper search warrant, see Garcetti, she or he can face retaliation and punishment for voicing an objection. This decision was egregiously cited by the Capeheart-case judge as an example of virtual censorship, despite the decision’s non-mandatory application to university professors. Judge Blanche M. Manning aggressively imposed her subjective ideological bias against a United States citizen seeking relief. Not even a jury trial with her peers was allowed: another de facto evisceration of the Constitution which is silent concerning summary judgments that are summary executions of the Constitution when applied in this manner. Why are not the right-wing strict constructionists denouncing a legal system where judges can determine when a case can go to trial? True, one can appeal a summary judgment decision but the burden falls heavily on the complainant in this instance who dared to cross the line and to denounce war, racism and administrative obloquy.

We cannot allow government employees to be silenced and learn to shut up at taxpayer expense and we should deploy all available means of non-violent direct action to insist that Constitutional rights do not end at the employer’s door. Justice David Souter’s dissent in Garcetti warned that stripping public employees of their free-speech rights might encompass public-university professors who dare defy the canon or illegitimate authority:

“This ostensible domain beyond the pale of the First Amendment is spacious enough to include even the teaching of a public university professor, and I have to hope that today’s majority does not mean to imperil First Amendment protection of academic freedom in public colleges and universities, whose teachers necessarily speak and write “pursuant to . . . official duties…” {In} Keyishian v. Board of Regents of Univ. of State of N. Y., 385 U. S. 589, 603 (1967) (“Our Nation is deeply committed to safeguarding academic freedom, which is of transcendent value to all of us and not merely to the teachers concerned. That freedom is therefore a special concern of the First Amendment, which does not tolerate laws that cast a pall of orthodoxy over the classroom. {In}Sweezy v. New Hampshire, 354 U. S. 234, 250 (1957) (a governmental enquiry into the contents of a scholar’s lectures at a state university “unquestionably was an invasion of [his] liberties in the areas of academic freedom and political expression—areas in which government should be extremely reticent to tread”).

Yet listen to how Judge Manning ruled in the Capeheart case:

“However, when the plaintiff is a government employee, her speech made pursuant to her\ professional responsibilities is not protected by the First Amendment. See Garcetti v. Ceballos,\547 U.S. 410, 421 (2006). Thus, “when public employees make statements pursuant to their\official duties, the employees are not speaking as citizens for First Amendment purposes, and the\Constitution does not insulate their communications from employer discipline…Accordingly, Capeheart’s speech regarding military and CIA recruiting on campus and the university’s treatment of student protesters is not protected under the First Amendment…

“In conclusion, Capeheart has failed to establish evidence that the defendants retaliated against her for exercising her rights to free speech under the First Amendment. Accordingly, because she cannot establish actual success on the merits of her retaliation claim, she is not entitled to a permanent injunction and the defendants’ motion for judgment on Count I is granted.


DATE: February 14, 2011 __________________________________________

Blanche M. Manning

United States District Judge

It is time for us to recognise the present danger and to act on it before it is too late.

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