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American Association of University Professors: Lobby for the Left By: Nathan Giller
FrontPageMagazine.com | Wednesday, June 04, 2003


There are lots of trade groups in Washington. While most trade groups lobby on behalf of their members' economic interests (more than often to protect market distortions, such as subsidies and monopolies), few make explicit intellectual goals the cornerstone of their activities. The American Association of University Professors (AAUP), which claims to represent around 45,000 "academic professionals" (including librarians) at the nation's institutions of higher learning and whose official motto is "Academic Freedom for a Free Society," is a notably significant exception. And for a good reason: the AAUP is the Beltway voice of the tenured, Left-leaning academia and its principal defender in the court of public opinion against attacks by conservative critics, be it on the issues of patriotism, political bias, or affirmative action.

While the AAUP has fought to ensure the continuance of its members' monopolistic status -- to preserve tenure (making the AAUP the OPEC of higher ed), to prevent market-oriented management of universities, to encourage unionization and "equity" in compensation of non-tenured faculty, as well as to uphold racial preferences in university hiring and admissions (in the Bakke case, it filed an amicus brief supporting the University of California's quota system) -- the 88-year-old group's raison d'être is the defense of academic freedom.

The underlying creed of AAUP's policy on this issue is its 1940 Statement of Principles on Academic Freedom and Tenure. In light of the more radical stance the AAUP has assumed today, the 1940 Statement is decidedly moderate in tone. While its authors contend that academics should be entitled to "full freedom in research and in the publication of the results" as well as in the classroom discussion of the subject material, they also caution instructors against introducing "into their teaching controversial matter which has no relation to their subject." The Statement also cautions professors to be ever mindful of their status as "scholars and educational officers," given that " the public may judge their profession and their institution by their utterances." "Hence," the Statement continues, " 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."

Does today's AAUP stand true to these principles? One would be hard pressed to say so, and certainly not since 9/11. A case in point is the AAUP's attack on the University of South Florida (USF) over USF's disciplinary action and eventual dismissal of Dr. Sami Al-Arian, a tenured professor of computer science and engineering, who is currently under federal indictment for being a leader of the terrorist organization, Palestinian Islamic Jihad and specifically  for fundraising, policy-making, and co-ordination (via front groups) of the North American activities of the organization. PIJ has for years taken responsibility for scores of homicide bombings and other terrorist attacks against the State of Israel, most of which were deliberately targeted against innocent civilians, including Americans. Despite the wide public knowledge of the allegations against Prof. Al-Arian (popularized by journalist Steven Emerson as far back as 1994), from the moment the Al-Arian scandal broke out in full after the professor's September 26, 2001 appearance on the O'Reilly Factor and up until the federal indictment against him was issued in February 2003, the AAUP claimed that the University of South Florida was punishing the professor for what amounted to an "active extramural interest in Palestinian and Islamic developments." This "extramural interest" included founding an Islamist "think tank," which sponsored two leaders of Islamic Jihad, a set of videotaped speeches in which al-Arian referred to Jews as "monkeys and pigs" and proclaimed "Death to the Jews" and "Let us Damm [sic.] America," all the while teaching at USF, full-time.

So, how do these pronouncements square with the AAUP's Statement of Principles' warnings to faculty members about "controversial matters" and "exercising appropriate restraint?" On the contrary, after an investigation, an AAUP committee determined that Prof. Al-Arian did not violate any norms of professional conduct in his extra-curricular behavior. In a report published in the May-June 2003 issue of "Academe," the AAUP's bimonthly magazine, the committee stated that "nothing the committee reviewed suggested that [Al-Arian] had presumed to "speak for 'the faculty,'" much less for the administration or the university in general." Furthermore, the committee found that Prof. Al-Arian was not required by professional ethics rules to preface his remarks with a disclaimer dissociating his public statements from any status as official positions of the University. This should rank as an extreme example of academic hair-splitting.

While the point certainly has merit (otherwise all academics would have to commence public appearances with lengthy disclaimers), it is also clear that, even discounting the allegations of terrorist ties, Prof. Al-Arian's bigotry put his employer, a publicly-funded institution, into the most negative light and severely damaged its reputation. Were Sami Al-Arian employed by any reputable private business, he would be terminated as soon as such allegations became public knowledge; however, Al-Arian cleverly employed his tenure as a shield to protect not only his bigotry but also his bloodstained extra-curricular activities. Instead of attacking this misuse of tenure and academic freedom, the AAUP -- tenure and academic freedom's premiere defender -- chose to join the side of a terrorist and a hate-monger.

Also notable in the post-9/11 environment is the AAUP's opposition to the First Amendment freedom of college students (and outside observers) to bring to public attention the biases of their professors. While this stance by the group hearkens back its 1980's campaign against Accuracy in Academia (which is accused in the latest issue of AAUP's magazine of attempting to "enlist student snitches)," the hostility to conservative watchdogs has become more pronounced during the latest academic year following the launch of Campus-Watch.org and NoIndoctrination.org. These two websites document and encourage students to report anti-American and left-wing political bias espoused by classroom instructors, which is published on-line, often accompanied by rebuttals. While Campus-Watch.org focuses almost exclusively on the field of Middle Eastern studies, NoIndoctrinaiton.org broadened its oversight to other academic subjects, as well as freshman orientations and diversity training by universities. Regarding Campus-Watch.org, the AAUP's general secretary Jordan Kurland said, "Obviously, it is a menace to academic freedom, and we are taking it very seriously. It reminds us of Accuracy in Academia, a group that emerged in the mid-1980s with a call to patriotic students to monitor their professors for indications of Marxism in their teachings. The academic community greeted Accuracy in Academia with disdain, the public was not taken in, and it never really got off the ground."

How exactly does Campus-Watch.org threaten academic freedom as defined by the AAUP's 1940 Statement of Principles? Does reporting bigoted public statements or biased scholarship to public criticism damage "full freedom in research and in the publication of the results?" Does it interfere with the freedom of classroom discussion? Unless university lecture halls are locked down by administration orders, classroom pronouncements (as well as those at academic conferences and "teach-ins") are matters of public record. The AAUP's own Statement of Principles advises "restraint" in public pronouncements. To prevent a media outlet from reporting on such issues would make a travesty of the First Amendment that, after all, with certain well-known limitations, protects the professors' extra-curricular speech making from government prosecution.

While the ethics of its reporting might be debated, the service provided by Campus-Watch.org carries especial importance at state universities, where the tax-paying public is both consumer and an employer. Citizens have a right to stay informed as to who is hired in their name and as to who says what in their name. Just like any other public employee, a professor teaching in a classroom of a public college is after all acting in an official capacity. 

Most of the professors whose names appeared on Campus-Watch.org complained to the AAUP of being "immediately subjected to massive spamming of their e-mail addresses." In this day and age, anyone who posts an email address (or a name) publicly or whose address is posted inadvertently ought to expect to get spammed. Does this, as is alleged in the latest of the AAUP's magazine, have a "chilling effect on individual professors?" Preliminary evidence does not suggest so. For instance, while Campus-Watch.org has extensively documented the bias in the Middle East and Asian Languages and Cultures (MEALAC) department at Columbia University over several years, yet, this did not prevent the university from recently hiring Rashid Khalidi, a controversial pro-Palestinian history professor, as the director of its Middle East Institute or from holding a symposium honoring Edward Said, another apologist for Palestinian radicals.  Even though these examples highlight the limitations of the approach used by Campus-Watch.org to effect change in the academia, they ought to lay to rest the AAUP's fears of constraints on the freedom of research and classroom discussion.

If anything, the cases of the AAUP's attacks against Campus-Watch.org and the University of South Florida highlight the organization's myopic fear of any outsider (including student) input into the management of academic instruction – so long as that input is not from the left (Islamic Jihad’s influence at the University of South Florida was evidently not of any concern). In the final analysis, the AAUP appears as just another trade group that wants to protect its members' monopoly rents. Only in this case, the rents may not be purely pecuniary. Law and economics theorists hypothesize that, in their decision-making, life-tenured judges maximize "the promotion of their values and preferences, thus their extreme sensitivity to being overturned." Tenured professors, the members of the AAUP, can be viewed under similar criteria: they wish to maximize "the promotion of their values and preferences" and are quite sensitive when outsiders attempt to hold them to principles that respect intellectual diversity and real academic freedom.




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