A course listed in Indiana University’s Health, Physical Education and Recreation Department entitled “Threats, Violence & Work Safety,” is being offered for the third time this semester at the university.
However, instead of it being a course on workplace safety--and how to prevent and avoid violence on the job--much of the course material last semester covered a history of the Middle East.
The class’ Senior Lecturer, Cheryl Holmes, who has an M.S. in Safety Management, has no formal training in the history of the Middle East. Indiana University’s website lists Ms. Holmes research interests as, “OSHA compliance, audits, and inspections; litigation assistance; ergonomic program development; ADA compliance; systems safety analysis; behavior-based safety program development; and construction safety.”
The course description for “Threats, Violence & Work Safety,” presented in the class syllabus, is as follows:
“This course is designed to introduce the student to the concepts associated with the New World Order, terrorism, and warfare involving conventional weapons and weapons of mass destruction. The ‘Who’, ‘Why’, ‘What’, and ‘How’ will be examined, including ‘Who’ are terrorists, ‘Why’ do they want to target us, ‘What’ can they do to us, and ‘How’ to protect ourselves. Political issues, including the role of the mass media, will be examined. National, [s]tate and local preparation initiatives will be discussed, along with personal safety plans.”
Considered a part of the University’s Health Sciences curriculum, the course is frequently taken by students at Indiana with majors in other fields as well to meet their breadth requirements. Since core classes fill up very quickly, many students enroll in the course to gain knowledge about something they normally would not encounter during their college years. The course ultimately had standing room only last semester.
One of the students in last semester’s class not only felt that a course on occupational work safety is not a place to be taught the history of the Middle East, he felt that the instructor was also using her class as a bully pulpit to teach a one-sided version of that history.
The student, who prefers to remain anonymous for his own protection so as not to harm his academic career, has identified himself to the Indiana administration in order to aid in the investigation of the course and its materials. He received an “A” for the class, so he has no axe to grind.
First, he contacted both Ms. Holmes and department Chairman Dr. Mohammed R. Torabi to air his complaints about the course material.
Ms. Holmes responded to the student by explaining that her curriculum was sound for a class on workplace safety, telling him if he didn’t like the content, he should drop the course.
In her response to the student’s complaint, she wrote, “The point was made that the United States has conducted operations in a variety of nations that can be interpreted as ‘terroristic’ acts, including assassinations, bombings, and killing civilian populations.” She continued, “I will not avoid discussing this conflict, because it is critical to understanding motivations for terrorism and conflict in our world. If you feel you would be more comfortable in another class, I encourage you to drop this one and take another.” She also stated she had the full support of her department chair, Dr. Torabi.1
Professors of geopolitical history would be expected to highlight differing views when teaching a course to college students; however, this student felt no alternative views were presented in a fair and evenhanded manner.
The student insisted most lectures and materials centered on blaming Israel and the U.S. for violence in the Middle East.
Despite being a course designed to deal with occupational work hazards, Holmes assigned her class study sheets with such questions as: 1) “What does the term Zionism mean?” 2) “After the partition, what did some Jewish terrorist groups do?” 3) “What did the Palestinians do in response?” 4) “After the Six Days War, how many more Palestinian Arabs were placed under military control?” and 5) “How does Ariel Sharon deal with the Palestinians?”
Another study sheet, titled, “9-11 And A Lack Of Presidential Leadership,” asked questions like: “1) What steps did the Clinton administration take to fight terrorism? 2) When Bush took office, what project became his obsession, rather than pursuing terrorist operations? 3) In about 100 National Security meetings in early 2001, how many were about terrorism? 4) What evidence existed that terrorist planned on using airplanes as missiles? 5) What warnings were brought to the Bush administration during the summer of 2001? 6) How did both Clinton and Bush fail the American people? 7) [Referring] to the table on page 25, how many imminent warnings did we have? 8) What are the two major concerns regarding the effectiveness of the Independent Commission which is investigating how much we knew before 9-11?”
While such questions might seem normal in the discourse of a political science or history class, they seem out of place in a course on workplace safety offered by the Health, Physical Education and Recreation Department.
The student said, “ I could not tolerate my parents paying . . . to go to a school where I was indoctrinated, and particularly with material totally unrelated to the course.”
An examination of the rest of Ms. Holmes history lessons, as presented in one of her power point presentations, demonstrates that she is teaching material unrelated to the course’s purported topic, and presenting a one-sided (and anti-American) view of terrorism.2
Among other things, Holmes presented Yasser Arafat as a moderate man of peace who is besieged by extremists and Ariel Sharon as the obstacle to peace, even blaming Sharon for the Intifada. She also made it clear that she believed President Bush, the United States, and Israel are the real terrorists, and the Palestinian Arabs and Iraqis just their victims.
The student asked, “What has any of this to do with a course on occupational safety?” He answered his own question, “Absolutely nothing.”