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Campuses Need True Free Speech
By Joshua Wiznitzer
Originally printed in the 11/25/02 issue of the Brandeis Free Press

"Without free speech no search for truth is possible... no discovery of truth is useful... Better a thousand fold abuse of free speech than denial of free speech..." Charles Bradlaugh

In the November 15th, 2002, edition of the New York Sun, the paper ran a story about CUNY- Brooklyn College History Professor Robert David ‘KC' Johnson, who is regarded by his students and peers as a brilliant scholar and also had just been denied tenure by his university. Why was his application for tenure rejected? Not on the basis of scholarship or teaching ability, but rather on the basis of a new invented category of "collegiality."

What is "collegiality"? That's a good question. Professor Johnson and his supporters say that the only offenses against "collegiality" were objecting to a one-sided college-sponsored panel following the September 11th attacks (a panel that included no known supporters of either American or Israeli government policies) and suggesting that a search that seemed predetermined to pick a woman, instead of being conducted on the merits of academic ability for an open university position, in need of "therapy" (a direct quote from the university official's memo).

Should Mr. Johnson's allegations be true, he will be one of the latest victims of the new form of discrimination on college campuses across the country— discrimination based on one's opinions. Who are these victims? It is most often those who express a viewpoint that is not liberal or progressive.

In his November 19th column for the Boston Globe, Jeff Jacoby wrote that conservative students at Tufts and Amherst have had their publications stolen and set ablaze and have become the victims of vandalism, verbal and physical harassment…but yet, their respective Universities have turned a deaf ear to these students.

The incidents of discrimination that Jacoby highlights are not isolated. On campuses across the country similar events have occurred from here at Brandeis to University of California-Berkley. Why can't a student express his opinion without fear of reprisal? One need not agree with the opinion being expressed, yet one should at least respect this individual's right to free speech.

Colleges and universities are institutions of higher learning. However, how can one actually learn when they have only heard one side of the story, and they are not allowed to challenge it? Our Universities should be filled with true intellectual debate discourse…for such activities help us obtain knowledge. For example, one of the most important works in American political theory and philosophy, The Federalist Papers, came out of an intellectual argument between Hamilton, Madison and Jay.

Earlier this year, the Philadelphia based Middle East Forum and notable scholar Daniel Pipes launched a site called "Campus-Watch.org," whose stated mission is to monitor and critique Middle East studies in North America, aiming to improve them. The project mainly addresses five problems— "analytical failures, the mixing of politics with scholarship, intolerance of alternative views, apologetics, and the abuse of power over students."

Instantly, professors who were critiqued by the site decried it as an act of McCarthyism, impeding on their right of free speech. Yet, freedom of speech does not mean that one is free from critique and criticism. The purpose of the site is to "monitor and critique with the aim of improving them" and at the same time, to spark discussion about what is being presented in our institutions. Campus Watch is a site that encourages a search for the actual facts and the truth. In fact, aren't those who have denounced the site as an act of McCarthyism in fact practicing McCarthyism themselves by attempting to silence opposing viewpoints, by censoring free speech, and by doing masks the truth?

CampusWatch.org should be commended for its actions, as it shines a light on the controversies and biases that exist on college campuses, which otherwise may never be seen. As Justice Brandeis once said "Sunlight is the best disinfectant." The authors of Campus Watch should be commended for doing just that— disinfecting the bias, which currently infects many campuses and current scholarship and simultaneously promotes the quest for the truth.

The current state of America's universities is perhaps best summed up in Alan Keyes and Harvey Silverglate's book The Shadow University. The book is about the decline of liberty and free inquiry on college campuses. "All that the social engineers of diversity mean," Keyes wrote, " … is the appreciation, celebration, and study of those people who think exactly as they do..."

One can only hope that this trend does not continue into the future. Students and professors of all opinions should be able to exercise their right of free speech—and in the process, we should strive to make our institutions of higher learning the forums of free speech and the exchange of ideas.


Copyright 2003--United We Stand, Brandeis University