OP-EDS

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November 22, 2002

Faculty have ideologies

When 97 faculty members attacked Campus Watch, they claimed to be concerned with protecting political debate on campus. The faculty members wrote that pro-Israel forces want to stifle the free exchange of ideas on campus, correctly stating that "ethical charges are often mustered to occlude or preclude political debate, and there is no question that this has happened around the highly freighted issues of contemporary Middle East politics." ("Accusations on Campus Watch," November 7). This statement is problematic because political correctness is actually to blame for undermining real political debate on campus.

There isn't necessarily anything wrong with the "politicization" of the academy. After all, politics is a valid subject of study, and none of us can come from an apolitical perspective. But kudos to Talia Magnas for pointing out that if this politicization is to lead to a vibrant debate on campus, professors should be very careful to tolerate dissent ("Faculty Politicize the Classroom," November 15). In fact, if classrooms really are "politicized," professors should not be surprised when students disagree with them and express their own political views, for political matters are inherently contentious. But dissent is precisely what some professors often do not want—especially when the dissent is coming from a non-leftist point of view. As soon as real debate threatens to break out, some professors are the first to complain that they are left feeling "marginalized." If professors value their right to critique, they must also respect the students' right to critique. They should not be grading down or penalizing students who disagree with them.

Faculty intolerance in the classroom can fuel student intolerance. I was disgusted when conservative speaker David Horowitz came hereto discuss the topic of reparations for slavery. Students shouted him down and administrators called off the event before Horowitz was done speaking. That's political debate at its worst, no thanks to political correctness. Even if we don't agree with someone like Horowitz, we should still give the guy a chance to speak. It is ironic that some are accusing Campus Watch of wanting to silence debate when it is the disciples of political correctness who actually have a chilling effect on the free exchange of ideas.

The faculty letter states that "we consider the issue of anti-Semitism—indeed, of racism and bigotry in any form—to be a deadly serious matter." By this principle, it seems that faculty should be concerned with the careless labeling of people as racists. Yet statements that simply criticize aspects of the Arab world can be labeled as Orientalist or racist—and thus dismissed—on campus. I've also seen people who express support for Israel's peaceful existence dismissed as fascists or racists. Where is the faculty outrage about the casual labeling of others as racists? This kind of labeling discourages political debate in the worst possible way and therefore violates University values. We should rethink a facile multiculturalism that encourages critique of America and Israel while stifling critique of non-Western governments and practices. In fact, the very principle of academic freedom implies that the scope of our critique should not be limited to just one part of the world.

There is also another important factor that influences the tone of debate at the U of C: there is an ideological imbalance on the faculty. If the University is going to condone biased classes on one side, it should also commit itself to offering some classes that represent the other side of the debate. In Middle Eastern studies, there should be some classes that present the history of Israel from a Jewish or Zionist perspective. While there are many classes at the U of C that demonize Israel, there have recently been no classes on the history of Israel. If a student in the Near Eastern Languages and Civilization program wanted to do a project on "Middle Eastern Terrorism," it is not clear who would work with or support him. The problem is larger than this. It is not just that there are no pro-Israel politicized courses but rather that there are no centrists or conservatives on the faculty in some departments. This problem has immense effects: since so many classes are politicized, it means that students who do not share professors' ideological positions will sometimes find no one to support their ideas.

Given the current atmosphere of campus, it's hard to imagine that these 97 professors are the guardians of real political debate.