Rejoinder to Daniel Pipes: Fighting for Freedom of Speech

Culture Watch

Mr. Foner is DeWitt Clinton Professor of History at Columbia University. Ms. Gilmore is Peter V. and C. Vann Woodward Professor of History at Yale University.

"Why do American academics so often despise their own country while finding excuses for repressive and dangerous regimes?" So asks Daniel Pipes, self-appointed arbiter of acceptable speech and founder of Campus Watch, "a project to monitor, assess, and improve Middle East Studies in America."
Pipes recently included us in a list of six "Professors who Hate America." His column, published online at History News Network and in print in the New York Post, the Jerusalem Post, and other newspapers, reached millions of readers. Using us as examples of professors who voice "relentless opposition to their own government," Pipes called for "outsiders (alumni, state legislators, nonuniversity specialists, parents of students and others)" to "take steps to ... establish standards for media statements by faculty."

Were Pipes simply a crackpot who displayed a profound misunderstanding of academic freedom, there would be no cause for alarm. But his screed is symptomatic of a broader trend among conservative commentators, who since September 11 have increasingly equated criticism of the Bush administration with lack of patriotism. William Bennett, in his recent work Why We Fight, claims that scholars with whom he disagrees "sow widespread and debilitating confusion" and "weaken the country's resolve." The American Council of Trustees and Alumni (ACTA), an organization founded in 1995 by Lynne Cheney that calls on those groups to take a more "active" role in determining what happens on campuses, chastised professors who fail to teach the "truth" that civilization itself "is best exemplified in the West and indeed in America." Last year, ACTA posted online the names and affiliations of faculty members who in the wake of September 11 made statements it deemed insufficiently patriotic.

Pipes's call for outsiders to police the statements of faculty conjures up memories of World War I and the McCarthy era, when critics of the government were jailed and institutions of higher learning dismissed antiwar or "subversive" professors. Historians today consider such episodes shameful anomalies in the history of civil liberties in America. But Pipes is calling for a return to those dark days, with Campus Watch, administrators, lawmakers, trustees, and parents dictating what faculty may and may not say in speeches and opinion columns. Moreover, in equating opposition to government policies with hatred of our country, Pipes displays a deep hostility to the essence of a democratic polity: the right to dissent.

What did we say to inspire Pipes to advocate the abrogation of faculty members' right to express their views if they happen to differ with his? Our sin was (independently, in our universities' student newspapers) to oppose the Bush administration's assertion of the right to launch a preemptive war against Iraq. The same position has been voiced by numerous public figures, including members of the first Bush administration, former president Carter, and members of Congress like Senator Robert Byrd (who said that "an unprovoked attack on a sovereign nation" would alter our national character). It is the viewpoint of virtually every country in the world, including most of the longtime allies of the United States. Neither of us offered any "excuse for dangerous and repressive regimes." It is one thing to deem a regime repressive, quite another to believe that the United States has the right to assume the unilateral role of global policeman.

Pipes is disturbed that "professors of linguistics, chemistry, American history, genetics," etc., speak out on foreign policy. Putting aside the fact that "experts" are themselves sharply divided on the proper course to pursue in the Middle East, in a democracy all citizens, including faculty members, have a right to express their opinions on whether to send our sons and daughters, neighbors, friends, and colleagues, to war.

Pipes wants "outsiders" to bring faculty into line with "the rest of the country." Fortunately, the two of us teach at universities whose administrations understand and value academic freedom. There is little chance that Columbia or Yale would allow alumni, parents, or trustees to dictate what opinions are patriotically correct and therefore can be voiced by faculty members. But many institutions are less financially secure and more dependent on the good will of private donors and state legislatures. Their administrators may feel themselves under pressure to bend to demands that would seriously weaken freedom of speech. Faculty around the country should realize that Pipes's assaults are part of a gathering threat to the free exchange of ideas on American college campuses.

An abridged version of this article first appeared in the Los Angeles Times and is reprinted with permission of the authors.

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John Chapman - 1/16/2006


ThinkTank - 1/12/2004

and this campus watch is nothing more than a blacklist for anyone that doesn't toe party line.

Adam Orenstein - 2/10/2003

What Daniel Pipes has called for, contrary to what Mr. Foner writes, is more balance at our academies. He does not call for restricting academic freedom; in fact, he wishes to promote it. There is no real academic freedom when 95% of professors' opinions on campus are tilted to the Left (and I myself lean heavily toward the Left!). He is merely calling for those representatives of the teaching profession to better reflect the opinions of the population at large, which favor war by a slight majority. This change should occur gradually, through a balanced hiring process. There is no reason why the larger population should spend huge amounts of money to send their children to a private college for an elitist indoctrination, not an education, that runs contrary to their common, everyday values; their money, of course, pays the salaries of these non-real world, ivory tower folk.

neil rashba - 2/5/2003

I got this (half ) joke about French warfare. Are the general conclusions as to the outcome of these wars accurate?
Have you seen this yet?

Gallic Wars - Lost. In a war whose ending foreshadows the next 2000 years of French history, France is conquered by of all things, an Italian.
Hundred Years War - Mostly lost, saved at last by female schizophrenic who inadvertently creates The First Rule of French Warfare; "France's armies are victorious only when not led by a Frenchman."
Italian Wars - Lost. France becomes the first and only country to ever lose two wars when fighting Italians.
Wars of Religion - France goes 0-5-4 against the Huguenots
Thirty Years War - France is technically not a participant, but manages to get invaded anyway. Claims a tie on the basis that eventually the other participants started ignoring her.
War of Devolution - Tied. Frenchmen take to wearing red flowerpots as chapeaux.
The Dutch War - Tied
War of the Augsburg League/King William's War/French and Indian War - Lost, but claimed as a tie. Three ties in a row induces deluded Frogophiles the world over to label the period as the height of French military power.
War of the Spanish Succession - Lost. The War also gave the French their first taste of a Marlborough, which they have loved every since.
American Revolution - In a move that will become quite familiar to future Americans, France claims a win even though the English colonists saw far more action. This is later known as "de Gaulle Syndrome", and leads to the Second Rule of French Warfare; "France only wins when America does most of the fighting."
French Revolution - Won, primarily due the fact that the opponent was also French.
The Napoleonic Wars - Lost. Temporary victories (remember the First Rule!) due to leadership of a Corsican, who ended up being no match for a British footwear designer .
The Franco-Prussian War - Lost. Germany first plays the role of drunk Frat boy to France's ugly girl home alone on a Saturday night.
World War I - Tied and on the way to losing, France is saved by the United States. Thousands of French women find out what it's like to not only sleep with a winner, but one who doesn't call her "Fraulein." Sadly, widespread use of condoms by American forces forestalls any improvement in the French bloodline.
World War II - Lost. Conquered French liberated by the United States and Britain just as they finish learning the Horst Wessel Song-
War in Indochina - Lost. French forces plead sickness, take to bed with the Dien Bien Flu
Algerian Rebellion - Lost. Loss marks the first defeat of a western army by a Non-Turkic Muslim force since the Crusades, and produces the First Rule of Muslim Warfare; "We can always beat the French." This rule is identical to the First Rules of the Italians, Russians, Germans, English, Dutch, Spanish, Vietnamese and Esquimaux.
War on Terrorism - France, keeping in mind its recent history, surrenders to Germans and Muslims just to be safe.

Orson Olson - 1/8/2003

And yet the events came off!--no legislative blackmail ensued.

"Clearly the intimidation of Pipes and politicians is having its effect at places which are more vulnerable to outside pressure and punishment from the hands of state legislators than Yale and Columbia." Clearly not!

Tell me, Paul Harvey, just what is there about the story "Chicken Little," you don't understand?


Dave Livingston - 1/7/2003

Speaking of Columbia, wasn't that the place where recently a committee bent over backwards to award a prize to a politically correct, but factually defective work of fiction masquerading as history?

Not only should those on the Bancroft Committee be ashamed of themselves, so should most historians who blithely and unreservedly joined the "Arming America" cheering section.

The U.K. separated by a moat from the continent has some of the most strict gun laws in the world, but it is suffering from a terrible crime wave mounted by armed criminals, yet Liberals, the Labour government's, answer to the problem is to propose even more draconian gun laws. As usual, the Liberal response to the failure of one of its policies is to inflict more of the same upon an innocent public.

How is it that supposed rational men cannot face the objective truth? The U.K. had no such armed criminal problem before it outlawed the civilian ownership of handguns and the use of long guns in self-defense subsequent to WWII. Today in the U.K. if a man's home is invaded by felons with long criminal records armed with cricket bats and knives and he shoots one of the attacking armed invaders with his great grandfather's grouse gun he goes to prison, whether or no the invaders do too. Is that reasonable?

That is where gun control crazies would lead us here in the States, if we let them.

Walter Hearne - 1/7/2003

Please explain to me how Campus Watch threatens "people's jobs and their right to speak and be heard." Somehow I don't think that Foner, Gilmore et al. will be reduced to scribbling out their thoughts on toilet paper a la Solzhenitsyn. More likely, they'll stay right where they are, in their tenured positions, lecturing the rest of us from perches like the LA Times editorial page.

Meanwhile, Pipes has been officially disinvited from at least two campus speaking engagements because of this charge of "McCarthyism." Somehow methinks that Foner and Gilmore won't be protesting in favor his free speech rights.


Oh, the irony.

Jesse E. Worley, II - 1/5/2003

I apologize for not editing my post and correcting my spelling. For my comments, however, I must stand by them. I am tired of the "conservative elite" disperaging the history profession on the the grounds that historians do not represent the "majority" view or more precisely their historic point of view.

Lewis Carroll - 1/4/2003

Besides the fact that Gilmore hasn't mastered a saying that falls within the intellectual range of the average 10-year-old Texan, what are we to make of those jangling metaphors -- an unclothed emperor who is all hat? And she holds the C. Vann Woodward chair at Yale? I heard it was tough to attract quality faculty to New Haven, but I didn't know it was impossible.

Clayton E. Cramer - 1/3/2003

I must have missed Bennett and Cheney arguing that slavery, racism, and oppression are irrelevant to U.S. history. One would think, however, from the way that some classes are taught, that all of these problems were invented in the U.S.

Slavery is the NORMAL state of mankind. What was abnormal was the way that British and American abolitionists took a bizarre idea, and relying on cultural imperliaism, made it the norm--that slavery was an immoral institution.

Richard Henry Morgan - 1/3/2003

You have to see things from Foner's perspective. Pipes' "standards" sound very much like the "speech codes" that the left has foisted on academia -- only with decidedly different political content, no doubt. I just finished reading Michael Graham's Redneck Nation: How the South Really Won the War. He hilariously details how the South's animus towards free speech has taken root among the academic left.

And while Foner professes to be unconcerned at Columbia (a supposed oasis in a desert of unfreedom), history would suggest otherwise. Nicholas Murray Butler didn't hesitate to show people the door when their politics became an impediment to him. Columbia folded like a cheap suitcase before the 60's brownshirts, and they continue in that mode to this day. In the mid-80's a Columbia student exiting Ferris Booth was assaulted by a group of thugs (the Columbia student was not flavor of the month -- the thugs were). Rescued by members of the Columbia football team, the victim was rewarded by Columbia with suspension (I guess his face hurt their fists). Unfortunately for Columbia, the guy's father was a litigator with a Wall Street firm. Just before trial, sure of losing on a civil rights complaint (how embarrassing -- losing a civil rights complaint to a white student), Columbia, having purchased a form of neighborhood peace, reinstated the student and sweetened the pot with a large settlement.

The law school at Columbia offers its own brand of insanity -- something beyond the parodic abilities of Mary McCarthy, Randall Jarrell, or David Lodge. Students having demanded that they be able to choose their own Commencement Speaker, Columbia relented -- until they chose Richard Nixon, when a new mob was duly formed to protest the results of the prerogative their prior protests had gained, and Columbia had a "do-over" (you know, from sandlot days, the way to keep the peace). The law school there even set aside places on law review for minorities, thereby ensuring that any minority who made law review there would be discounted as having achieved the position on other than meritocratic grounds.

The truth, at Columbia, always outstrips fiction. And Columbia, like a swinging door, has always moved to accomodate he who pushes hardest (they're like a windsock). That "gathering threat to the free exchange of ideas" has been gathering for 30 years or more -- what worries Foner is not so much the threat, but the change in wind direction.

Basil Duke - 1/3/2003

Where HAVE all these free speech leftists been the past few years? One would have thought that a group so putatively committed to the First Amendment would have been the first to bellow "NO!" when mobs of academic useful idiots were storming/stealing/burning newspapers who dared deviate from the fascist P.C. group-think line. One would suppose that such stalwart defenders of "the right to speak" would have fought to the last sinew against those same slobbering mobs when conservative speakers were literally being run off stage for, again, daring to speak the unspeakable. An optimist might also have fancied that the Foners and Gilmores of the world - so unnerved as they are by the merest whiff of speech supression - would have rallied their forces against that most in vogue of leftist tactics - the 'hate speech' code deployed as a means to smother any hint of political opposition to the collectivist tyrants that reign supreme in academia.

But no. Instead, we have heard nothing on those matters. And nor will we ever hear anything from Glenda and Eric. As we have clearly seen, the left and its foot soldiers live by a simple code: "free speech for me but not for thee." But don't say that in mixed company. We don't want poor old Joe Mac's bones being hauled across the pate table again, do we?

Richard Henry Morgan - 1/3/2003

I agree that it's a leap from what Foner and Gilmore said, to the conclusion that they hate their country. Foner's comment was couched in personal psychological terms -- what he feared most. And personal psychology varying as it does from person to person, who is to say he's wrong in his self-assessment? To some his comment may seem absurd, but he may later seem prescient. Twenty years from now we may look back at lost liberties and ask whether it was worth it.

As for Gilmore, she probably hates Bush, but his identification with the country would seem just as over the top as her comments. There is a potential threat in what Pipes said -- the devil is in the details. On the other hand, the suppression of speech is not unique to the right, and anyone who denies that has his head as firmly planted in the sand (or elsewhere) as those who would deny there is any potential harm that could emanate from Pipes' proposal. Some on the right don't have the luxury of losing jobs they never attained because of their politics. The disappointing fact is that a good proportion of the left has remained silent (at best) as their purportedly cherished principle of free speech has been trashed under their very noses, on their own campuses. The left and right perhaps have more in common than either would care to admit.

Ralph E. Luker - 1/2/2003

Professor Stanton makes the claim that "there are certain ideas that cannot be exchanged on American college campuses." I would like to know to what "ideas" he refers.

Arch Stanton - 1/2/2003

Eric Foner and Glenda Gilmore refer to a "gathering threat to the free exchange of ideas on American college campuses." What free exchange? does anyone believe that there now is a free exchange of ideas? Is there anyone, including Foner and Gilmore, who does not know that there are certain ideas that cannot be exchanged on American college campuses? Foner and Gilmore don't want "Campus Watch, administrators, lawmakers, trustees, and parents dictating what faculty may and may not say in speeches and opinion columns." That's because they are content with the present situation, in which academics and administrators with the right prejudices do it. If Foner and Gilmore had the courage to write on "What I hate about America is ..." they would deserve respect. But fundamentally dishonest pieces like this are as contemptible as the authors' academic world has become. DeWitt Clinton Professor of History at Columbia, and Peter V. and C. Vann Woodward Professor of History at Yale, indeed. As Sam Spade said in the Maltese Falcon, "The cheaper the crook, the gaudier the patter."

Gary Henrickson - 1/2/2003

As usual, our conservative critics miss the point. The McCarthy period was not about sending leftists to jail, excepting the few who committed perjury. McCarthy and his ilk went after people's jobs and their right to speak and be heard. This is exactly the tactic that Campus Watch is taking. You don't have to kill people or jail them to shut them up. Threatening their livelihood will do the trick for most.

Walter Hearne - 1/2/2003

Pray tell, where is this "Conservative reeducation camp"? Hillsdale?

Orson - 1/2/2003

As Jesse E. Worley, II, says, "Und Agreement mit der right-twing critics of our side musst not go UNPARODIED--or ellse Zee PC punishments shall never be zuspended!"

Whatever, Jesse.

Jesse E. Worley, II - 12/31/2002

I cuse we all need to go to the Conservative reeducation camp so taht we can learn how "great" America is and forget all those embarassing facts that Lynn Cheney and Bill Bennett deem irrelavent to US History.

Jesse E. Worley,II - 12/31/2002

The comments by the Colorado political extablishment remind me of a Jesse Helms political campaign. I guess they do not understand the point of education. Which is not surprising considering the time they are spending posturing for the cameras and spinning any incident for their own political gain.

mark safranski - 12/31/2002

From Andrewsullivan.com

"It is not enough for Bush to be President of the United States, he must become the Emperor of the World. This unclothed emperor is, as they say in Texas, all hat and no brains. In the years before us, I fear there will be causes worth dying for. There will be tyrants so unstoppable that we will have to fight them to preserve our own freedom. But that is not the case now. Instead of standing up against tyranny, we are bringing it to our own doorstep. We have met the enemy, and it is us." - Glenda Gilmore, professor of history, Yale University.

Now, assuming that Mr. Sullivan was as he usually is, accurate in his quotations, Professor Gilmore invites public criticism by making hyperbolic statements of this kind. She is entitled to her opinion but she is not entitled to blanket immunity from any and all negative commentary that foolish remarks tend to bring in their wake. The problem with the academic Left is that they seem to believe in some kind of divine right to control higher ed, shut off dissenting views, write fascistic speech codes and hire and tenure prospective professors on a basis of political devotion to " the cause ". ( see HNN 's coverage of KC Johnson's tenure denial and attempted dismissal based on his opposition to hiring incompetent femminists to satisfy departmental marxoid ideologues )

Now if all universities were private institutions like Yale critics like Dr. Pipes would have little room to complain but most of this sleazy politicking by the Left occurs at public institutions funded by the taxpayers who do have a say in how state universities should be run. Demanding some semblance of apolitical decision-making in university hiring practices and student activities funding is hardly unreasonable. As would be requiring respect for the free speech and due process rights of undergraduate and grad students as well as the untenured faculty.

Academic freedom does not exist by and large on university campuses except for already tenured professors - if they as a body wish the public to continue to respect that tradition they had better begin respecting the rights of others....and develop a thicker skin when entering public debate

Carl Davenport - 12/31/2002

Thank you, Mr. Hearne! I was just going to say "Bullshit" to the article, but you said it ever so much more elegantly!!

William H. Leckie, Jr. - 12/31/2002

You may be right about Berlin, but schooled in contextualist notions a la Pocock and Skinner, my sense is that a pop-will-to-power came to predominate--especially after (or was it a symptom?) Burckhardt's Civilization of....

You're right on about the cult of the Straussians, and, finally, the mention of bow ties (which I love to wear, by the way) was a jibe at what for awhile seemed to me an Inside the Beltway fashion from which George Will has either not recovered or he was ahead of his time?

Richard Henry Morgan - 12/31/2002

I guess the Straussians only came into view in the Reagan years because they had been so thoroughly dispensed with by academia before then -- witness the case of the Straussian at Princeton who, when up for tenure, the department there changed the standard needed such that he was evaluated not against his peers as to age and experience in other leading departments, but against the leaders (tout court)in his field. It ain't hard to send them packing when you stack the deck. Fortunately, he landed on his feet at Toronto, where he has had a nice career all the same.

As to de Maistre's influence, I suspect it has been exaggerated by Isaiah Berlin's extensive treatment of him (but that's just a guess). There are still some colorful if not significant vestiges of de Maistre's influence in Paris: because of Maurras, who was much influenced by de Maistre, to this day no right-thinking (or should I say correct-thinking?) Parisian would be caught dead in the Cafe de Flor, with the possible exception of that famous bibliophile Karl Lagerfeld, who drops in there after visiting the great bookstore almost next door.

And I will agree with you somewhat about the Straussians, and their doctrine of secret knowledge. They approximate a cult. And what's up with those bow ties? It fails as a secret sign of membership. Are they just in fashion thrall to Harvey Mansfield?

Walter Hearne - 12/31/2002

Bleeach. If you wanted to write a parody of the contemporary American humanities professor, you could scarcely do better than this. The authors' main points are:

(1) Pipes's criticism is emblematic of conservative complaints about academe, and thus being conservative is inherently illegitimate.
(2) Criticism equals censorship.
(3) Calling attention to what professors freely say and write is McCarthyism.
(4) Pipes's little website Campus Watch is a totalitarian threat to academic freedom.
(5) Pipes wants to put "dissenters" in jail ("calling for a return of those dark days").
(6) No constraints on free inquiry and discussion are to be currently found on campus; the only imaginable restrictions would be imposed on academe from the outside by loathsome right-wingers. Speech codes, the theft of conservative campus papers, shouting down conservative speakers, indoctrinating "orientation" sessions, and the overwhelming dominance of the left on the faculty do not count.
(7) Only professors have the right disagree and criticize; they may not be disagreed with or criticized themselves. Professors are a special class of citizens. Any notions to the contrary are McCarthyism. End of debate.

Silly, silly, silly. Intellectually dishonest too. Foner and Gilmore aren't willing to engage Pipes's substantive arguments about the bias of the academy. They just use bogeymen to shut down debate, attempting to make people feel guilty for having the temerity to bring up the subject at all.

After 9/11, Foner willfully disclosed that he couldn't decide whether the he was more frightened by the terrorist attacks or the nonexistent "apocalyptic rhetoric" coming from the White House. Gilmore wrote an op-ed concluding that "the enemy is us" (while misstating a common Texan expression "all hat, no cattle" as "all hat, no brains"). Now Foner is a distinguished if decidedly biased historian (I have two of his books on my shelf). Gilmore is much less consequential, and would be unheard of but for her insipid comments on current affairs. All in all, the comments of Foner and Gilmore show that brilliance (or mere competence) in an academic field does not guarantee even minimal intelligence on other, especially political, matters.

William H. Leckie, Jr. - 12/31/2002

I ought to add that when I whip things out before the first morning coffee I should pause, wake up, and catch my slips made in haste!

But I worry about the "obscurity" issue still: I think we'd have a better purchase on the ideological wars if we paid more attention to "obscure" thinkers whose influence--if not more than a matter of style--is greater than many imagine. I recall the great surprise at the surfacing of Straussians in the Reagan years; Strauss is surely "obscure," deliberately so! But Behind every bow tie I saw on the tube, well, perhaps there lurked a would-be "true philosopher" (or at the very least a Glaucon?) who dared to stare into the abyss and then whisper sage counsel into the ears of gentlemen in power?

Now for some coffee!

Richard Henry Morgan - 12/31/2002

Yeah, that explains my use of the word 'perhaps' in connection with Foner, as I would guess by his age and experiences that he just might have memories of the politics of the time, as opposed to just their ill effects, which he could not forget. I will read the book, as I'm only vaguely familiar with the case. And no, he neither signed the petition, nor did I assert he had. My offer stands though. As an inducement, I promise never to check the footnotes of the first historian (from among those who signed the petition) that can quote that purported passage where the Framers explicitly restricted impeachment to official acts. As evidence that such expertise is regularly evoked and proclaimed on behalf of professors (or by professors themselves) one need look no further than the NY Times editorial and letters section. A professor offering his opinion on a constitutional issue (even if he is expert only in the sociology of teenage music choices) is regularly identified as a professor -- but when was the last time you saw such a letter on a constitutional issue from Joe Sixpack, which identified the author as a junior marketing executive at, say, Proctor & Gamble? I also note with amusement the recently revealed fact that Clinton, when Governor of Arkansas, signed into law a bill honoring the "Confederate" flag. Who would have guessed that he had advanced his career by appealing to segregationists? Who also would have guessed that the recent Republican Governor of South Carolina broached and supported the idea of bringing down the "Confederate" flag from the statehouse -- and that he thereby lost his re-election bid to the Democratic candidate who steadfastly refused to take a stand on the issue. The world would seem far more complex than Mr. Leckie's Manichean vision would allow (or his preoccupation with the right wing). As I said, I wouldn't be surprised if much nonsense propounded is politics-neutral. I remember distinctly when the ubiquitous Jonathan Turley, on this occasion a hero to the Republicans, offered at the impeachment hearings that Madison had deemed "maladministration" as too "ambiguous" -- rather, Madison said it was too "vague" (not at all the same thing). Interestingly, after getting his way with the Constitutional Convention in rejecting maladministration as too vague, Madison then turned around and argued to the ratifying convention that impeachment included maladministration. Another Republican-friendly professor, a legal historian, claimed that Clinton's transgressions were precisely among what the Framers had in mind when they contemplated the impeachment clause -- but, again, he couldn't supply a quote to that effect. Perhaps my political slip is showing when I say the best moments of opera buffa were provided by Cass Sunstein, Karl Llewelyn Professor of Jurisprudence at the University of Chicago Law School. He offered a canon of statutory construction to interpret the impeachment clause (an example not of statutory language, but constitutional language). Then to top it off, he claimed that nobody had ever asserted that Reagan should be impeached for Iran-Contra. If my memory serves me right, sitting not ten feet from Sunstein when he made that claim was Laurence Tribe, who had spent the better part of a half-hour on national TV (on Nightline) expressly advocating what Sunstein denied anybody had. Perhaps my memory is playing tricks with me, but I seem to remember Tribe shifting uncomfortably in his chair on the occasion of Sunstein's assertion. My proposal would, of course, also extend to testimony in courts and before Congress. I remember distinctly the baby-shaking/nanny case in Boston, where a professor took the stand and quite explicitly contradicted her prior statements on the matter in question as they had appeared in both the peer-reviewed literature, and her recent textbook (without a retraction or correction in the meantime). Lawyers and lawmakers, I'm afraid, bear responsibility for this particular brand of nonsense. When the Federal Rules of Evidence were codified from common law precedents in the mid-70's, the Frye rule was dropped -- a big, sloppy, wet kiss to the plaintiff's bar, and a source of much income to some professors. And yes, LeMaistre is as obscure as Oakshott, but hardly as obscure as de Maistre and Oakeshott. Perhaps there's hope yet?

William H. Leckie, Jr. - 12/31/2002

If LeMaistre's that obscure, we're in bigger trouble than I ever imagined. When I bay at the moon, I usually allude to Strauss and Oakshott, maybe even throw in Eliot's dissertation on Bradley.

Were I that boring, I wouldn't have had the delight of your reply! So appalled by the US right I have become, that I enjoy jeering at it, taunting it brings solace, and I wish more authentic conservatives and progressives would pick on it, too. After all, that'd only be turning its own methods on it.

Happy New Year!

Reader - 12/31/2002

FYI: Read Foner's new Who Owns History and you'll see that he witnessed first-hand the effects of McCarthyism. His father was axed from CUNY as a result. And by the way, he didn't sign that petition.

Richard Henry Morgan - 12/30/2002

Reading your response, Mr. Leckie, I feel the dilemma of the mosquito in the nudist colony -- where do I begin? Unlike Buridan's Ass though, the equal ease of access to equally juicy targets won't paralyze me.

I do find the self-dramatization of academics risible, though perhaps I should have stuck to WWI, no doubt, but with cloning and all that in the news, who am I to venture the opinion that Foner and Gilmore don't have debilitating memories of WWI also? Then again, perhaps the conjured memories of Foner and Gilmore shouldn't be criticized as improbable or impossible, just cliche.

You ascribe to me the view that my proposal would apply to "political matters" only, or especially, though I made no such assertion (though I would admit that most of my examples lie in that direction). Much as I enjoy your hunches as to my proclivities, it would be nice if you could restrict your divining instincts, and limit your comments to what I actually say -- though your specualtions about "the low road" do have a certain entertainment value, coming as they do from your pen.

It was my impression that Foner and Gilmore were making a general point -- in fact their article is filled with expansions to general points -- as opposed to restricted to whether only discussion of foreign policy after 9/11 is threatened. In fact, I conceded by implication that some things which might fall under Pipes' proposal would be objectionable. I don't think I can therefore be rightly accused of shifting the ground when the question raised is a general one.

You probably aren't aware of this (certainly nothing you have written has indicated that you are), but Prof. Gilmore is herself a signatory of the historians' ad -- I didn't drag it in from left field therefore, but I also didn't feel the need to publicly rub her nose in it. However, I do stand ready to be enlightened by you as to where exactly (quotes would be nice), the "Framers explicitly reserved that step for high crimes and misdemeanors in the exercise of executive power" (to quote the ad). By the way, the ad begins with an invocation of professional expertise, and an implicit argumentum ad verecundiam -- it begins "As historians..." (that's the 'qua' you have so much fun with).

You assert: "Lurking somewhere in all this is the notion that scholars ought to restrict themselves to their fields of 'expertise.'" Again you misread me. I welcome all people of all stripes to the conversation, even "scholars", however soi-dissant. I simply believe that professors who identify themselves as such in their public pronouncements implicitly invoke their expertise. By all means, I encourage them to speak out on any issue. I persist in the notion that where they invoke that expertise, they be responsible for their comments in their professional setting. As I said, their comments would be part of their professional assessment -- by custom carried out not by the public, nor the right-wing that haunts the dark recesses of your mind, but by their institutions and colleagues, as it is now. Experts will not be unanimous in all their views, but that is not a justification for propounding demonstrably false views, however they might dovetail with their politics. It's unfortunate you didn't have anything intelligent to say about my proposal.

Reading your post, however, has been quite illuminating in its way. The broad brush of "right-wing sophistry" is quickly deployed, and then (quite hilariously given the preceding broad brush) the charge of ad hominem. And the animadversions against the Federalist Society -- in another day, the Masons or the Illuminati would be the target, no doubt. It's rather disappointing in its lack of originality, though. But it is a step up from the faux reference to LeMaistre and "the hangman" -- I take it you meant Joseph de Maistre (you'd know that if, like me, a good part of your education took place in Europe, where I suffered the instruction of French Jesuits). Please leave the obscure references to the professionals, as they are dangerous in the hands of amateurs. You're as bad at them as you are boring.

William H. Leckie, Jr. - 12/30/2002

Richard Henry Morgan seems to be of the ilk that engages in a commonplace form of right-wing sophistry when it comes to the public role of academics, shifting the ground from criticism of administration foreign policy after 9/11 to that Great Satan of the "conservative" chatterati, Bill Clinton, and his impeachment specifically. He precedes this with another typical ploy, an ad hominem, directed at the ages of his targets and its assumed relevance to their use of the memory of Joe McCarthy.

The next step in the argument seems to be that public utterance by academics ("qua")on political matters should be part of professional assessment if they identify themselves as "qua." Lurking somewhere in all this is the notion that scholars ought to restrict themselves to their fields of "expertise." Unfortunately, experts "qua" experts disagree--as they do, by the way, on the meaning of all the articles of the Bill of Rights as well as such provisions of the Constitution 1787, impeachment included. They are also citizens. If professional historians should disagree with Lynn Cheney, say, how would Morgan come down on the issue?

My hunch is that he would take the low road, follow the right in its smugness, and if he had his way make academic jobs subject to right-wing political correctness, which is to say, expertise is a matter of ideology and its legitimacy determined by power. Morgan would find good company among those once- and perhaps still-fashionable post-structuralists, those who held and for all I know still do that native American creation myths are as valid for explaining the cosmos as quantum theory; in fact, slithering beneath his rhetoric is another assumption common on the right, that of the hegemonic (liberal) narrative. It's but a short step to the jaded victimological cries of the right. Authentic conservative narrative is a form of resistance?

Now, I've always thought those ideas--whether in postcolonial theory or on the Federalist Society circuit--were derived from the same 19th century reaction that led to fascism. I've also long thought and argued that the contemporary right was grounded in radical epistemological skepticism, the political response to which could only be authority (in LeMaistre's case, the hangman, in Morgan's case legal scholars "qua"). Come clean Mr. Morgan--just say that for the sake of order folks who disagree with the right should shut up or teach triumphalist platitudes, or clear out their desks.

Richard Henry Morgan - 12/30/2002

I'm not surprised that "McCarthy" was so soon and easily thrown down as a trump card, though I doubt Prof. Gilmore is old enough to have any political memories of the period to be conjured up (perhaps Prof. Foner also). I would grant that taking steps to "establish standards for media statements for faculty" can be given an ominous reading, though it perhaps need not in all possible cases (as freedom of speech need not be implicated in all such possible standards). One standard I would propose has no such implications. When university professors make public statements qua professors (with accompanying identification of their positions and institutions) why are not such statements part of their portfolios for evaluation in cases of retention, tenure, promotion, and pay? After all, aren't they claiming for their assertions a professional expertise?

Consider this example. During the recent impeachment hearings over 400 historians (almost all of them professors of history), the great majority with no record of publication in constitutional or legal history, asserted (qua historians) that the Framers had explicitly limited impeachment to official acts of office. Curiously, given that the Framers had purportedly asserted this "explicitly", no quotes were given (as one might expect of an 'explicit' assertion). Prof. Thernstrom of Harvard rather undiplomatically labelled the historians' assertion "a lie". When you check Madison's Convention notes you realize why.

After adopting the "high crimes and misdemeanors" standard, Madison moved that 'misdemeanors' be removed because it meant that impeachment could be anything called a misdemeanor. Hugh Williamson replied that it was better to be too strict than too lax. The Convention then voted down Madison's motion. This hardly establishes why they so voted, but it does provide evidence that the Framers did not explicitly restrict impeachment to official acts.

Now what would propel historians to make a patently false assertion? One should not posit evil intent when incompetence would suffice as an explanation. Interestingly, two of the signees should have known better: Michael Kammen and Jack Rakove. And it must surely be a coincidence that Kammen should provide a blurb for Bellesiles' unfortunate work: "It is certain to endure as a classic work of significant scholarship..." (an unintentionally hilarious assertion, I'd say). Were that Kammen were alone. Before Arming America was even published, Rakove was citing it as support for his view of the proper interpretation of the Second Amendment. He could claim a special familiarity, as Bellesiles was a fellow at Stanford. But within Arming America Bellesiles claimed that San Francisco probate records supported his view. One would think that Rakove, as a professor of American history and a Bay area resident, would be conversant with the early 20th century fire and its effects (I'm reliably informed it was in all the papers).

I wouldn't be surprised if this sort of nonsense has a politics-neutral distribution. In any case, I think the world would be a better place if all statements and writings by professors qua professors (even blurbs, book reviews, and peer reviews) were included in the materials that form the basis of retention, tenure, promotion, and pay decisions. It would, I think, greatly decrease the pronouncements by professors qua professors outside their competence, and reduce statements which are just politics masquerading as professional opinion.

Paul Harvey - 12/30/2002

Professors Foner and Gilmore are absolutely correct about the effect of such pressure in Colorado, where it is indeed the case that "many institutions are less financially secure and more dependent on the good will of private donors and state legislatures."

Earlier this semester, the private college in my city (Colorado College, in Colorado Springs), and a student group at the University of Colorado, Boulder, invited in the well-known Palestinian Hanan Ashrawi to speak. The governor of the state as well as the Speaker of the House and Senate Majority leader (Bill Owens, Lola Spradley, and Mike Andrews, respectively)--politicians not normally known to express any opinion about higher education save that higher ed. is "flush" and needs no more state funding--severely chastised the college and CU-Boulder for their "inappropriate" invitation to a woman the governor all but called a terrorist. The ensuing controversy received coverage in the New York Times and elsewhere. Many public figures in the state publicly demanded that the college and university rescind their invitations. They made no such demand that the collge rescind its invitation to Daniel Pipes, who also appeared as part of the same symposium as Ashrawi, nor of its invitation to the writer Robert Kaplan or any number of other participants. As for CU-Boulder, where Ashrawi's appearance was funded as part of the student-funded speaker series, the governor and others insisted that this use of student funds (voted on by the CU-Boulder student representative assembly) was "inappropriate."

This particular controversy is part of a growing and very visible trend in my state for politicans and self-appointed arbiters of correct thought to demand control over what is and is not appropriate at both private and public universities. Shortly before Ashrawi appeared here, I heard the students in my classroom, before class, discussing whether they were going to appear at the protest over "that Muslim terrorist," referring there to Ashrawi's speech. Clearly the intimidation of Pipes and politicians is having its effect at places which are more vulnerable to outside pressure and punishment from the hands of state legislators than Yale and Columbia.