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Does Daniel Pipes's Campus Watch Really Offer Students Helpful Guidance?

Historians/History




Mr. Erlich is an intern at HNN and a graduate of Dartmouth College.

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On September 18, 2002, Daniel Pipes, Director of the Middle East Forum, founded the website Campus Watch (CW) as part of his overall mission to influence U.S policy towards the Middle East. Campus Watch, which claims to "monitor and critique" Middle East Studies, has been broadly criticized by professors on the left as well as some on the right. On the pages of HNN, Pipes has defended CW, arguing that Middle East studies is riddled with people who receive federal subsidies for work that is of little use to policy-makers. Pipes has further argued that much of the work of scholars in Middle East Studies is in fact harmful to the aims of the U.S government and contrary to American values. In the meantime, Pipes's critics have contended that CW's mission and approach raise serious questions about academic freedom as well as the relationship between academia and politics.

CW aims to address five problems: "analytical failures, the mixing of politics with scholarship, intolerance of alternative views, apologetics, and the abuse of power over students." To that end, CW investigates, collects and publishes material on Middle East Studies across North America. When CW went online, it published eight dossiers on professors CW considered apologists for militant Islamism and Palestinian violence. However, on September 30, 2002, after a deluge of complaints that the website was encouraging a new McCarthyism and possibly abridging academic freedom, CW removed the dossiers from the site. In what he called a gesture of "goodwill," Pipes explained that he made the change because "now we hope they [the professors] will respond to the charges that we are raising."

The elimination of the dossiers prompted CW to reorganize the website. Visitors to the site can now find articles grouped by institution in a section entitled, "Survey of Institutions"; however, you can still search for articles on individual professors. CW currently monitors forty institutions, including thirty-seven colleges and universities, the Middle East Studies Association (MESA), and the American Association of University Professors (AAUP). CW also reports on the progress through Congress of House Resolution 3077, which would create an advisory board for federal funds allocated to universities' international programs. CW supports H.R. 3077, unlike many of the institutions it critiques.

On October 21, 2002, CW listed a hundred academics, who, according to CW, "requested to be listed on the site in solidarity with eight academics." Many professors did request to be listed in solidarity, most to show their support of academic freedom. Some professors maintain that they did not request to be listed in solidarity with the original eight--they merely wrote in to voice their objection to the dossiers.

CW has published a few investigative pieces with press-release style titles like, "CW Attacked in AAUP Report." Most of the analytic articles CW features are articles published elsewhere from ideologically similar print and electronic media. The site also features links to publications in which CW is mentioned as well as articles in university, religious, national and international newspapers. For example, CW republished or linked to twenty-two articles in 2003 on Georgetown University, one of the schools Pipes has singled out for criticism. Nine of these articles were from MartinKramer.org, National Review Online, or FrontPageMagazine.com. Eight of the articles were originally published by newspapers.

Though CW no longer maintains dossiers on professors, it does have a list of recommended professors. These professors, according to CW, "have neither asked to be included, nor have we asked for their authorization." Our research confirms this statement. Several of the professors HNN contacted didn't know that they were on the list. Some were upset when they found out. One recommended professor, Gregory Gause, who teaches political science at the University of Vermont, told us, "I might not agree with things said by colleagues of mine whom CW targets, but I dislike the remedy that CW proposes even more." Others, however, commend the website, as indicated on CW's "Endorsements" page. Professor Efraim Karsh, Head of the Mediterranean Studies Programme at King's College and Nachshon Visiting Professor of Modern Israel Studies at Harvard, praises CW for exposing and debunking "the pervasive partisanship and malpractice that has plagued Middle Eastern Studies in Western universities for quite some time."

Pipes claims, in a speech published on HNN, that CW "is a kind of Consumer Reports for students, parents of students, alumni, legislators, Department of Education, state legislators, and Congress." The analogy between a conservative think tank and a magazine that rates products raises the question: how does CW rate professors? It's hard to tell. CW's standards are vague. Recommended professors are simply described as those who are "thoughtful and balanced" in both research and scholarship. The recommendation page simply lists professors' names and titles as well as providing links to their faculty biographies.

Tracking individual professors is difficult on the site. Many of the articles posted on the page listing institutions do not include the professor's name in the title--and if you don't know which professor you are looking for, you have to scroll through all the articles.

The failure to provide a clear list of criteria undermines CW's stated goals. It would be far better if the site adopted clear standards, perhaps on the model of Consumer Reports, judging professors and institutions by approachability, fairness in grading, knowledge of material, and the presentation of different viewpoints-to suggest a few. In addition, there is no written analysis of professors' skills. The site certainly provides little evidence helpful to students, teachers, and governments.

II

As an "antidote" to CW, Situation Analysis, a liberal journal focused on critical theory and international affairs affiliated with the University of Nottingham in England, sent the professors on the 'solidarity' list a survey asking them six questions:

  • What made you sign up to the 'solidarity' list, particularly if you are not associated professionally with the discipline of Middle East Studies?

  • Does the kind of 'solidarity' you have expressed on that list contradict or consolidate the 'solidarity' you feel with the American nation?

  • Do you agree that the 'mixing of politics with scholarship' cited by Campus Watch is a problem, or indeed that it is possible to avoid?

  • How have so-called 'campus politics' evolved over the period of your involvement with academia?

  • Should we be careful about treating the university classroom as an ideological soap-box?

  • What role does pedagogy play in generating informed debate about, for example, the situation in the Middle East?

Over a third of the professors on the list answered the survey. The result is an almost 50-page single-spaced document. In this document, the professors question whether CW provides a service to consumers. Many of the professors believe that the only goal of CW is to ensure that academia's positions do not seriously diverge with those of the U.S. government's-especially with regard to Israel. This leads many of the professors who responded to believe that CW's true mission is to extirpate dissent from universities through political means. However, in their discussion of dissent and political freedom, the professors' answers to CW's charges also bring sharply into focus the serious problems of academia's relationship to the U.S. government.

Indeed, most of the academics that claimed solidarity with the eight original professors did not take issue with CW's claims that teachers shouldn't abuse their power over students. Most of these professors also decried the absence of alternative perspectives, and they condemned what they saw as CW's scare tactics to curtail, rather than accept, different viewpoints, as claimed in the website's mission statement.

Many professors deferred to Max Weber, one of the founders of the social sciences. Weber argues that the primary responsibility of the teacher is to teach students how to make their own choices. The purpose is not to advocate choice A or choice B. In the Weberian vein, Robin Poulton, Visiting Professor in the Department of Political Science at Virginia Commonwealth University, explains that he wants his students to "know before you read any article, who is the writer and where does she come from, and what bias does this bring to the table?" This principle, agreed upon by most, was not shared by all. For example, James Faris, Professor Emeritus in the Department of Anthropology and Middle Eastern Languages at the University of Connecticut, explicitly embraces a bias. He wrote that when he taught courses on the Middle East, he always stated that he "was not going to deal with European colonial settler states, but talk about the people of the Middle East…. My winter scarf is a kafeeyia, so in taking it off when entering the class, it was obvious where my political sympathy was."

CW's assertion that the mixture of politics and scholarship needs to be combated incurred the most wrath of the site's critics. Some professors asserted that CW's claim was duplicitous because Pipes's scholarship, as well as his conservative colleagues', is also political. Many professors, again citing Weber, argued that politics and scholarship cannot be divorced, nor should be.

In fact, political convictions drove many professors to endorse the free speech movement and Palestinian rights. Wendy Brown, Professor of Political Science at UC Berkeley, perhaps flippantly, wrote in answer to the question posed by Situation Analysis-- "Should we be careful about treating the university classroom as an ideological soap-box?" -- responded: "Sure. Classrooms are different from one's research and other academic activities though." Political activity outside the classroom, like the kind of activity Brown supports, is CW's primary focus and, perhaps, raises the most concern for the United States.

The case of Professor Mustafa Abu Sway, a recent recipient at Florida Atlantic University of the Worldwide Fulbright Scholar-in-Residence program, raises the question of the limits of academic partisanship that Professor Brown supports. At first, glance, Sway, a widely published scholar, appears like a prime candidate for the Fulbright award, which celebrates mutual understanding across cultures. However, Pipes, who says that he received the information from the Israeli government, asserts that Sway is a member of Hamas. Furthermore, Pipes claims that Sway publishes academic articles that support Hamas's political and religious positions. Hamas is listed as a terrorist organization by the U.S government and condones the murder of Israeli citizens. Hamas recently celebrated the martyrdom of their first female suicide bomber. If Pipes is correct about Sway's affiliation with Hamas, does his behavior cross the line of academic freedom?

Political speech, though its highly protected under our Constitution, has limits. The conviction of the radio broadcasters in Rwanda who inspired mass murder, suggests that people can and should be held responsible when their speech is responsible for crimes of massive proportions. The debate about the limits of political speech in academia cries out for an educated discourse. For the present, whether CW helps or hinders this debate remains an open question.


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John Edward Philips - 2/7/2004

Is anyone suggesting that Campus watch be forbidden from doing what they are doing? I thought the issue was whether it was necessary, or even a good idea.

There's a lot of space between saying someone has the right to say something and agreeing with their saying it.


Cynthia M. Frank - 2/6/2004

While in many cases of newly democratizing states limits on political speech, especially of the sort peddled in the former Yugoslavia and Rwanda, may be necessary in order to maintain stability, curb inter-communal violence, and prevent ethnic cleansing, the United States does not exhibit the volatility that would warrant further limitation of political discourse in order to avoid atrocities like genocide. In the American marketplace of ideas*, highly developed institutions, journalistic standards, and norms of appropriate political discussion work to prevent political debate from being dominated by extremist forces. Whether the effectivesness of such mechanisms has presently eroded may be a more pressing question than whether further limitations should be placed upon political speech.

As unsavory as Mr. Pipes' tactics and message may be, such voices must be allowed to engage in political discussion in order for members of this society to gain exposure to many viewpoints and make informed, conscious choices. Constriction of political expression channels due to the existence of viewpoints that are illiberal, chauvinistic, or do not coincide with popular sentiment would be anathema to principle pillars of democracy which call for the freedom of opposition groups to form, disseminate information, and engage in political debate.

Besides, it may be good for academics to stay on their toes and defend their positions, lest they get to comfortable in the safe confines of that "white tower".

*Snyder and Ballentine present compelling arguments on this issue in "Nationalism and the Marketplace of Ideas," International Security, Vol. 21, No. 2 (Fall 1996).


Aaron Erlich - 2/4/2004

There is a fascinating piece in yesterday's(Feb 3) Wall Street Journal about Bernard Lewis and his political connections. I found it quite provocative with regards to this debate.


Tim Rhea Furnish - 2/4/2004

Well, I'm on this "solidarity list" and no one sent me any sort of questionnaire.......My take would have been quite different from the one that the "Situation Analysis" seems to have discovered.


David Battle - 2/4/2004

That's what the Press does; and by the squirming the Bush administration is doing these days it looks like the Press is doing a more than adequate job.

And it looks like academia is doing some squirming of their own now.


John Edward Philips - 2/4/2004

CW aims to address five problems: "analytical failures, the mixing of politics with scholarship, intolerance of alternative views, apologetics, and the abuse of power . . ."

Sounds to me like CW should be investigating the Bush administration, not academics opposed to that administration's policies.


John H. Lederer - 2/2/2004

It seems that two questions are being asked.

The first is whther it is proper for anyone to describe a professors political and ideological beliefs and how they influence his teaching.

The answer to that question seems obvious to me. What astounds, is that one can infer from some of that quotes that at least some teachers do not believe that this is permissible to discuss.

The second question is whether the site fairly portrays the various teachers within some bound of reasonableness. I do not know the answer to that.


David C Battle - 2/2/2004

The debate about the limits of political speech in academia cries out for an educated discourse.

That would be like saying that a corporation's power to sell it's product has been limited by an educated consumer, i.e., an educated consumer may choose to spend his money elsewhere, therefore said corporation has been limited in it's power to sell.

Yes, I know a professor isn't "selling" a product, but indeed is he not?

Campus Watch, far from limiting the political speech of academia, merely informs the captive audience (or consumer) about what they're getting into. Does this limit the professor's speech? Not at all. Said professor can ramble on if he wants to--nobody is stopping him--but to an empty classroom rather than to an uninformed captive audience.