Conservatives denounce dissent
By Patrick Healy, Globe Staff, 11/13/2001
Conservative academic group founded by Lynne Cheney, the wife of Vice President Dick Cheney, fired a new salvo in the culture wars by blasting 40 college professors as well as the president of Wesleyan University and others for not showing enough patriotism in the aftermath of Sept. 11.
''College and university faculty have been the weak link in America's response to the attack,'' say leaders of the American Council of Trustees and Alumni in a report being issued today. The report names names and criticizes professors for making statements ''short on patriotism and long on self-flagellation.''
Several of the scholars singled out in the report said yesterday they felt blacklisted, complaining that their words had been taken out of context to make them look like enemies of the state.
''It's a little too reminiscent of McCarthyism,'' said Hugh Gusterson, an associate professor of anthropology at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. He was named in the report for his comments at a campus peace rally where he made a connection between American suffering after Sept. 11 and the suffering in war-torn Afghanistan.
''This kind of document reminds me of the Soviet Union, where officials weren't satisfied until 98 or 99 percent of people voted with them,'' Gusterson said.
Lynne Cheney, who was a powerful voice for conservative intellectuals as chief of the National Endowment of the Humanities during the first Bush administration, is not an author of the new report. But it is peppered with quotations stating her views, and it was prepared by two close allies. She was until recently the chairwoman of the council, a private nonprofit organization based in Washington. Her agenda - to promote Western civilization and American culture as the bedrocks of US education - continues to guide the group's activities.
The report lists 117 comments or incidents as evidence that campuses are hostile to the US government and out of step with most Americans who, according to polls, support the war in Afghanistan. ''Indeed,'' the report says, ''the message of much of academe was clear: BLAME AMERICA FIRST.''
While there have been some campus antiwar protests recently - such as the burning of two American flags at Amherst College - these have been relatively rare, and most were criticized by college officials concerned about other students and alumni who lost loved ones in the Sept. 11 attacks.
Anne Neal, an author of the report and council official, said that while she is sure many professors and students support the US government, they are afraid that if they speak out, liberal colleagues might shout them down.
''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 non-tenured professors to speak up when there's such a chorus on the other side.''
Among the scholars named in the report, however, several said yesterday the council was carrying out its own political agenda: painting higher education as a bastion of political correctness and trying to silence any criticism of the Bush administration.
''These kinds of attacks will only discourage professors from speaking out and opening up dialogues about what's happening overseas, and why,'' said Kevin Lourie, a professor at the Brown University School of Medicine.
The council cited Lourie for writing, in a Brown news service opinion article, that the United States may be ''paying an accumulated debt for centuries of dominance and intervention far from home.'' Lourie said he was attempting to explain how other nations and societies may view the United States.
Douglas Bennet, the president of Wesleyan, was named for a Sept. 14 letter to the Wesleyan community. The letter condemned the terrorist attacks, but the council singled out one passage in which Bennet voiced his concern that ''disparities and injustices'' in American society and the world can lead to hatred and violence, and that societies should try to see the world ''through the sensitivities of others.''
Bennet complained that the report's authors took his comments out of
context. He said that he strongly supports the Bush administration's response
to the terrorist attacks and that an American flag has hung on the door
of his house since Sept. 11.
''I don't know where this group gets off extracting language from my
statement,'' Bennet said. ''They're trying to perpetuate cliches that belong
to an earlier era. I don't think it'll wash - we all have important, real
work to do as a nation.''
Patrick Healy can be reached by e-mail at email@example.com.
This story ran on page A7 of the Boston Globe on 11/13/2001.
Copyright 2001 Globe Newspaper Company.