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Oxford, but has enlisted him in the fight against terrorism.”
(That reference bears elaboration. The government of outgoing
Prime Minister Tony Blair had officially sought Ramadan’s
counsel by appointing him to a high-level committee
established to root out extremism in the United Kingdom. His
continued exclusion from the United States has thus become
all the more perplexing by stark contrast.)
Official lack of hospitality toward visiting scholars in the
U.S. seems, if anything, to have stiffened during the past couple
of years. In the spring of 2006, all 55 Cuban scholars who were
registered at a Latin American studies conference in Puerto
Rico were denied the visas they had informally been assured,
without any official explanation. In June of that year a noted
Greek scholar, JohnMilios, who had already received a visa
to attend an academic conference in the U.S., was detained
at Kennedy airport on his arrival and sent back to Greece—
apparently because he belonged to what was described as “a
pro-reform communist party.”
Similar treatment was inflicted a fewmonths later on
South African scholar AdamHabib, who was detained
upon arrival in the U.S. for visits at Columbia and City
College of New York, as well as for meetings with NIH and
CDC government officials. Informed that his visa had been
summarily revoked, he was sent back to South Africa. And
in April 2007 Riyadh Lafta, a prominent Iraqi academic
physician, was barred from attending a conference at the
University of Washington, apparently because he had co-
authored an article in a British journal which estimated that
some 650,000 of his countrymen had died as a result of the
U.S.-led invasion.
When it comes to foreign graduate students seeking U.S.
programs, however, the climate seems to have improved
markedly. The responsible federal agencies have sought
to expedite the processing of visa applications from such
students, and have relaxed requirements that
academic visitors must return to their home
countries during U.S. study. These more benign
policies, reinforced by more vigorous university
recruitment programs abroad and expanded
joint degree programs with foreign institutions,
have brought about a steady recovery in the
enrollment of international students, which
had so precipitously declined right after
September 11, 2001. A survey of graduate
schools in 2007 reported a healthy eight
percent gain in the most recent year, following
a twelve percent increase the previous year—
positive signs of steady improvement, though
still below levels in the last year unaffected by
anti-terrorism pressures.
Meanwhile, outbound American scholars
have encountered surprising barriers to
academic travel. A group of more than 400
Latin American experts brought suit in 2006
to challenge the constitutionality of a Treasury Department
ruling that had markedly tightened already cumbersome
restrictions on U.S. participation in academic programs offered
in Cuba by U.S. universities. In August 2007 a federal judge in
Miami upheld the restrictions, despite the conceded absence
of any compelling or critical national security interest in
barring such travel. There need exist only, ruled the judge, “an
important or substantial government interest.” In this case it
sufficed that the government sought, by banning all scholarly
exchanges, to “deny the Castro government hard currency”
and to “hasten Cuba’s transition to a free and open society.”
The judgment also rejected the scholars’ academic
freedom claims, since the challenged restrictions were, in
the view of the court, “content-neutral” and constrained
only the location of classes, not the subject matter of study.
A fewmonths earlier a state court had sustained, against a
comparable challenge, a Florida law that barred students,
professors and researchers at public universities from using
state or federal funds—or even private foundation grants
administered by the institution—for travel to Cuba or any of
the several other “embargoed” nations, however meritorious
(or even valuable to national security) the planned research
might be.
At least one other state has entered an arena that has been
primarily the focus of federal legislation. In the spring of
2006 the Ohio General Assembly enacted its own Patriot Act,
which imposed (among other unfamiliar burdens) a unique
requirement that every applicant for public employment—
including new faculty and even graduate teaching assistants
at the state’s public universities—must satisfactorily answer
six questions the likes of which had not been seen since the
McCarthy era. Applicants must declare that they have never
“solicited any individual for membership in an organization
on the U.S. Department of State Terrorist Exclusion List
(citing some 53 groups, many of which lack any Middle
Eastern connection);” that they have not “used any position
of prominence…to persuade others to support” such an
organization; and that they have never “committed an act that
[they] knew, or should have known, affords material support
or resources to any such organization.”
Given the undefined nature of most of the law’s key terms,
and uncertainty about the consequence of a conscientious
refusal to respond, the wonder is that more potential Ohio
college teachers have not been deterred by this apparently
unique exaction. (California lawmakers considered, but
have not adopted, a strikingly similar law, also evocative of
McCarthy days.)
In at least one important respect the past couple of years
seem to have brought about a more hopeful prospect for U.S.
scholars and their universities. Although legislation that would
mandate “balance” in curricula and faculty hiring, and would
target political “bias” in the classroom, has been introduced
in nearly twenty states, no such proposal has actually become
law. Indeed, legislative hearings that addressed such proposals
have typically highlighted the frailty of the case offered in
support of these extreme measures.
Pennsylvania, probing more deeply than other states,
created a special legislative committee on “Academic Freedom
in Higher Education,” designed to determine whether students
on public campuses were subject to unacceptable bias or
imbalance in courses or curricula. After extensive hearings
around the state, the committee concluded late in 2006 that
few such problems existed, that most institutions had well
publicized channels through which students could raise
The record on the
vital academic
freedom dimension
of faculty personnel
matters remains,
on the whole,
fairly benign.
There has not been
a recurrence of
McCarthyism.