Group Cites Increasing Threats to Academic Freedom After September 11

By NICOLE FULLER, Chronicle of Higher Ed, 2/7/03

The climate for academic freedom has worsened severely since September 11 because of a mix of new government policies and decisions by university administrators, the American Studies Association said in a statement this week. The group cited restrictions on scholarly research and intimidation of students who protest a potential war in Iraq as evidence of an environment restricting free speech on American college campuses.

Amy Kaplan, president-elect of the association and an English professor at the University of Pennsylvania, said the group had been discussing the issue since the fall and had released the statement in the hope that academics and students will "work to keep intelligent debate open and alive."

"There's a danger in equating the questioning of the administration with being un-American and antipatriotic," Ms. Kaplan said.

The statement, "Intellectual Freedom in a Time of War," warns that legislation such as the USA Patriot Act, which gives law-enforcement officials more tools and authority to track suspected terrorists, and Immigration and Naturalization Service rules that require colleges to track all of their international students, endanger the intellectual freedom inherent in a democracy.

The association argues that such laws and federal rules impede scholarly endeavors and intimidate many international students, especially those of Middle Eastern descent.

"Free and frank intellectual inquiry is under assault by overt legislative acts and by a chilling effect of secrecy and intimidation in the government, media, and on college campuses," the statement says. "This atmosphere hinders our ability to fulfill our role as educators: to promote public debate, conduct scholarly research, and most importantly, teach our students to think freely and critically and to explore diverse perspectives."

Glenn Ricketts, a spokesman for the National Association of Scholars, argued that the association's statement fails to cite specific instances of government-sponsored ideological suppression in its statement.

He called the American-studies group's response to antiterror-related legislation affecting colleges as a "kind of knee-jerk charge of McCarthyism." He also called on faculty members who agree with the association's statement to engage in "rigorous debate" in their campus communities instead of "name calling."

"It seems like these people don't like criticism," Mr. Ricketts said. "They respond by branding their critics as McCarthyites."

The American Studies Association's statement also criticizes Campus Watch, an online project sponsored by the Middle East Forum, a pro-Israel research organization based in Philadelphia. The association's statement says that Campus Watch equates "criticism of the government with being anti-American and anti-patriotic." Campus Watch has been accused of publishing lists of faculty members and students who are critical of U.S. foreign policy, although officials of the Middle East Forum deny doing that.

In an e-mail message, the organization's director, Daniel Pipes, wrote, "Campus Watch fully respects the freedom of speech of those it debates while insisting on its own freedom to comment on their words and deeds."