---------- Forwarded message ----------
Date: Fri, 23 Nov 2001 17:15:21 -0800
From: radtimes <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Subject: Report declares Wesleyan U. president, student unpatriotic
Report declares Wesleyan U. president, student unpatriotic
Tue, Nov 20, 2001
By Miriam Gottfried
The Wesleyan Argus, Wesleyan U.
(U-WIRE) MIDDLETOWN, Conn. -- The president of Wesleyan University, Doug
Bennet, recently was cited in a report released by the American Council of
Trustees and Alumni that aimed to demonstrate institutions of higher
learning "have been the weak link in America's response to the attack."
A quotation from the Sept. 14 letter written by Bennet to the University
community was used as evidence for the organization's claim that college
and university faculty have not shown enough patriotism in the aftermath of
Bennet, and many of the others singled out in the report, said his words
were taken out of context to suit the political goals of the organization,
a conservative academic group co-founded by Lynne Cheney and Sen. Joseph
"This organization seems to be concerned about where I stand on terrorism,
but they left out the sentence condemning terrorism," Bennet said.
The council omitted the segment of his letter stating, "The world community
is now drawing together in condemnation of the terrorists, making defense
against future terrorism more feasible."
Instead, the council cited Bennet's concerns about "disparities and
injustices" in American society and his advocacy to move past prejudices
and to view the "complex world through the sensitivities of others."
"I absolutely stand by the statement cited by the council in its report,
but I believe the report uses distorted quotes in an attempt to discredit
the academy," Bennet said.
Responses to the report within the University coincided with Bennet's
statement that the group was trying to further its own political aims.
"It's funny that they even call it a study. They started with an agenda and
then found facts to fit," Director of University Communications Justin
Harmon said. "It's a diatribe with quotes inserted."
Professor of English Khachig Tololyan echoed this sentiment, adding the
council is contemptuous of education and wants to make the university a
training ground for people to pursue economics.
"Anything that smacks of independent thought, to them, is to be
suppressed," Tololyan said.
He denounced "trained obedience" and "thoughtless patriotism," calling
Bennet's statements, which he classified as "thoughtful patriotism,"
"anathema" to the goals of groups such as the council.
The council's current mission is to raise money for the "Defense of
Civilization Fund" to further the study of American history, civics and
The report also criticized the addition of new classes at many universities
dedicated to the study of Islamic and Asian culture.
"To say that it is more important now [to study Islam] implies that the
events of Sept. 11 were our fault, that it was our failure that led to so
many deaths and destruction," Cheney, a former council chairwoman, said in
a speech Oct. 5. "Students need to know the ideas and ideals on which our
nation has been built. If there were one aspect of schooling to which I
would give added emphasis today, it would be American history."
Bennet acknowledged the council should be allowed to air its views, but
added its members were detracting from his statements and from more
important discussions coming out of universities.
"The council has every right to be heard, but this is a time when the
country needs a realistic assessment of the very great strengths of higher
education," he said.
Also included in the report was a quote from Wesleyan student Sarah Norr,
one of the 116 other students, faculty and guest speakers from universities
across the nation whose statements were cited.
Norr commented on the council's right to free speech, noting she also saw
the report as going too far.
"The right wing has the right to express its opinion too, and it's not
actually a blacklist unless you chose to look at it that way, but the fact
that President Bennet was included does give it scarier implications. It
shows that they're not just going after the anti-war movement; they're
going after anyone who wants to have an open debate and look at more than
one side," she said.
The report cited Norr, a member of the Peaceful Justice group, in a Sept.
21 Los Angeles Times article:
"For this to turn into an excuse to have war and kill more people, it
seemed like it would just be too horrible," Norr said to the Times reporter.
"I was flattered to be included among the list of famous subversives," she
said. "In a way it's encouraging because it shows that the peace movement
is having a real effect on people, because it's being seen as a threat. I
don't think they would bother to attack it if they didn't think it was
Anne Neal, a council official and an author of the report, said in the
Boston Globe professors and students who support the U.S. government are
afraid to speak out because of their more liberal colleagues' outspoken views.
"For the most part, public comments in academia were equivocal and often
pointing the finger at America rather than the terrorists," Neal said.
"It's hard for nontenured professors to speak up when there's a chorus on
the other side."
Harmon stated the council spoke without being properly informed about what
was happening at colleges and universities.
"They didn't actually visit any campuses. If they had, they would find that
there is a range of views," he said. "Colleges and universities have a
valuable role to play in terms of creating an environment on campus to
allow students to explore the issue for themselves, because they are the
ones who will be leading."
Tololyan recognized some truth behind Neal's statement but added the fear
of expressing one's opinion is not a characteristic of a specific
university nor of academia in general.
"The environment at Wesleyan has its shortcomings: On some issues, some
groups are allowed to be publicly hysterical and denunciatory while others,
even when circumspect and thoughtful, are denounced. The only consolation
is that this is largely true of all American universities, and of the
U.S. as a whole," he said.
Associate professor of religion Jeremy Zwelling mentioned the forums the
University had held since Sept. 11, initiated by Bennet and organized by
Vice President Judith Brown, as evidence against Neal's claim that opinions
were being silenced.
"I thought the forums were a fine example of real exchanges of views in
which persons felt comfortable disagreeing with one another," he said.
Bennet said since the attacks, the University has demonstrated its
dedication to educating students to think critically about the issues.
"At Wesleyan we are deeply committed to our scholarly and educational
mission. The issues in the terrorist attacks and the war are being
addressed thoughtfully in our classrooms by serious scholars and serious
students. I'm sure this is true at other colleges and universities," he said.
Zwelling also said the role of the University is to promote discussion and
education and not to promote political stances.
"The university is stronger as a place for critical thinking about how one
can act responsibly as a citizen of this country and as a citizen of this
globe than it is a place for accomplishing things politically," he said.
Tololyan explained the University's educational role is to transmit and
"What this means is that there is no specific mission that can be assigned
to the University as such, either to cheerlead our government and troops
or, for that matter, to condemn those actions. These are matters of
individual political conscience," he said.
A further concern of Bennet and Norr was the right to free speech.
"This kind of learning requires academic freedom and freedom of speech,
whether it's my views on the war, different views, or even clichs and
incomplete thoughts. In general there is a lot of rigor in the give and
take of a university. These freedoms are robust, academic freedom and
freedom of speech, but they also deserve forceful reassertion as our nation
goes to war against global terrorism," Bennet said.
"I hope it shows people how important it is to protect free speech. Once
you start censuring people, you can start censuring everyone," Norr heeded.
Zwelling criticized the council's attempt to control the expression of
"This university has been a place in which we have exercised our American
freedoms, and that includes the freedom to express dissent, freedom to
persuade one another, freedom to think about international matters in a
much more global way," he said.
Whether the findings of the report will result in any consequences for
those included did not seem to be a question on many minds.
"They have no authority. All they really hope to do is embarrass colleges
and universities," Harmon said.
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