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mild sanctions, if any. In that sense, to this day there has not
been a recurrence of McCarthyism—no witch-hunting or red-
baiting designed to expose or humiliate unpopular political or
social organizations. Indeed, a plea for tolerance of professorial
outbursts has come from a wholly unexpected quarter.
On three widely separate occasions, no less improbable a
champion than Fox News’ Bill O’Reilly has defended academic
freedom principles in dealing with such matters. Days after
Columbia anthropologist Nicholas De Genova issued his
call for “a millionMogadishus,” O’Reilly told his heavily
conservative audience: “If I were [Columbia’s president], I
wouldn’t fire this guy…because you’ve got to tolerate this kind
of speech.”
Several years later, lest his earlier comment seem an
aberration, O’Reilly reaffirmed his position. Though he could
easily have avoided the issue of Ward Churchill’s faculty
status during a segment on the “little Eichmanns” essay and
its aftermath, the Fox News host relished an opportunity to
declare his position: “I don’t think he should be fired. That
would send the wrong message to the rest of the world.
America’s a strong enough country to put up with the likes of
professor Churchill. Punishing him further would just make
him a martyr.”
Finally, to remove any lingering doubt, Bill O’Reilly early
in 2006 insisted on protecting Northwestern’s Holocaust-
denying engineering professor Arthur Butz, after Butz had
praised the virulently anti-Israel statements of Iran’s new
president. When a renowned Holocaust scholar on his
program suggested that maybe “the guy (Butz) shouldn’t be
allowed in the classroom and…shouldn’t be near the students,”
O’Reilly challenged her: “Wouldn’t that be a violation of some
kind of academic freedom?”When his guest demurred,
O’Reilly pressed on to remind her that “you teach at a
university and you knowwhat the university is—that it’s a
place where all views, even abhorrent views, are tolerated for
the sake of expression. You don’t want to inhibit anybody.”
A skeptic or cynic might point out that all three of these
controversial professors who evoked O’Reilly’s sympathy had
spoken out on one side of the Middle East and U.S. policy
debate; the critical test would be whether he would have been
equally forceful in defense of an extreme Holocaust affirmer
or ardent defender of Israel. Yet for the moment, lacking such
a counterweight, so persistent a defense of academic freedom
from an unlikely quarter is notable.
Thus, while the picture on campus remains somewhat
mixed—the Joneses, al-Arians and a few others have fared less
well than they and their supporters would have wished—the
current state of public opinion differs dramatically from that
which in the late 1940s and early ’50s served to energize and
even legitimize vicious attacks on liberal academics by Senator
McCarthy and his allies. If one contrasts the recent O’Reilly
statements with those of Walter Winchell, Westbrook Pegler
and Dorothy Kilgallen (among other pundits of red-baiting
days), the preference for Senator Levin’s benign view gains
further credibility. The current situation is certainly not all
good, but it could be far worse.
The experience of politically controversial foreign scholars
seeking to enter the U.S. has, however, been substantially
more troubling. Some academic invitees have been barred
altogether on inescapably ideological grounds; others have
encountered protracted delays and bureaucratic hurdles
that have effectively denied them admission; while a few
prospective visitors have waited patiently and have eventually
prevailed. The latter path brought about the belated issuance,
in July 2007, of a long-sought visa to professor Waskar Ari, an
internationally acclaimed Bolivian scholar who for more than
two years found himself unable to accept a faculty position at
the University of Nebraska-Lincoln because he was apparently
persona non grata to the Department of Homeland Security.
Despite intense pressure fromU.S. academic groups,
and the university’s lawsuit against the federal government,
Homeland Security persistently refused to reveal its
objections to Ari’s entry, though continuing to order the State
Department to deny him a visa. Eventually, though again
without an explanation, federal officials relented, making it
possible for Nebraska students finally to benefit fromAri’s
wisdom in fall 2007. The protracted delay has never been
explained, nor has there been any redress or even apology for
the heavy burden imposed on the University of Nebraska.
And the ultimately favorable outcome does not reassure
scholars who might be bound for campuses less aggressive
than were the Cornhuskers in going to court to vindicate the
rights of valued foreign visitors.
The case of Tariq Ramadan exemplifies the darker side
of the access issue. Perhaps Europe’s best-known scholar
of Islam, Ramadan eagerly accepted a position as Henry
Luce Professor in the University of Notre Dame’s Joan Kroc
Institute—hardly a place where, as a
Chicago Tribune
editorial
quipped, one would expect to find a dangerous radical. Yet
Ramadan’s grandfather had founded an organization some
considered “terrorist,” and he had published
some thoughtful anti-American and anti-
Israeli views.
At the eleventh hour, with his furniture
already in South Bend and his children
enrolled in local public schools, Ramadan
learned he would not receive the promised
visa, even though he had lectured frequently
and without incident on many U.S. campuses.
Despite persistent pleas fromNotre Dame’s
administration and many others, neither State
nor Homeland Security would offer even a
hint of the reason why Ramadan was deemed
a person who “endorses or espouses terrorist
activity”—the basis for the visa denial. Several
U.S. academic groups supported Ramadan
in federal court, seeking either access or an
explanation.
In response to an impatient federal judge’s order, at the end
of 2006 the State Department offered—on the very last day for
such a filing—the barely credible rationale that Ramadan had
contributed roughly $800 to two European nonprofit groups
that provide humanitarian aid to Palestinians. The irony of
Ramadan’s treatment was highlighted by the scathing rebuke
of an incredulous federal judge: “While the United States
has not granted Ramadan a visa to enter the country, Great
Britain, its one staunch ally in the battle against terrorism, has
not only admitted him into England so that he may teach at
Most professors
who have evoked
official wrath
by speaking out
on Middle East
or other foreign
policy issues have
incurred only mild
sanctions, if any.