I know the type. As a professor at a liberal arts college and then as an academic dean at a regional university, I saw too many, too often. They are anti-establishment professorial pied pipers who latch onto the latest cause celebr/I> to encourage disaffection and alienation among impressionable undergraduates and cynical graduate students. Some are subtle; some are flamboyant, but regardless of the style, they have made an art form out of the ideological seduction of their students, playing to the students’ egos, their quest for independence and their typical rebellion against authority. Egoists themselves, these professors excel in manipulating the egos of their students. With snake-oil-salesman-type rhetoric, they tell gullible students that they are the brightest young people ever; that they are far too intelligent to be bound by mere conventional wisdom and traditional values.
The latest in a long line of professorial propagandists is Nicholas DeGenova from Columbia University. The lowly assistant professor of anthropology perhaps seeking to pad his curriculum vitae hoping for promotion to associate professor spoke at a campus “teach-in” at the Low Library on the New York City campus. He even skipped his usual office hours in order to attend the antiwar function. The event characterized by descriptions of the U.S. War against the Saddam regime as “illegal,” “corrupt” and “murderous,” was attended by more than 3,000 students and faculty and lasted more than 6 hours. DeGenova declared that patriotism and support for the U.S. troops perpetuated American imperialism and racism. He called for a “million Mogadishus” and for a resounding defeat of the U.S. in Iraq. Mogadishu, made famous in the movie, Black Hawk Down, was the city where the Somalia Army ambushed and brutally slaughtered 18 American soldiers in 1993. DeGenova added to the controversy by saying, “The only true heroes are those who find ways that help defeat the U.S. military.” Not so widely reported are DeGenova’s words about the war being “criminal,” his calling the U.S. forces a “war machine,” and his assertion that “patriots” are “white supremacists.” Sadly, the professor’s remarks generated applause from the audience, firmly establishing him as a “Mogadishu mentor” and a hero to those with Marxist leanings.
Not surprisingly, this professor has been in hot water before for claiming that the Palestinians, not the Israelies, were victims of the Holocaust. Called Nick by his students, DeGenova is a champion of Mexican migrant workers and is an expert in “gangsta rap.” This time, though, DeGenova’s remarks just might have become the “tipping point” in academic-freedom-as-license. Even Columbia University President, Lee C. Bollinger has joined the outcry against DeGenova’s outrageous statements. Bollinger said that DeGenova has “crossed the line.” Columbia alumni are threatening to withhold donations because DeGenova’s presence “pollutes the educational atmosphere” on campus. The sponsors of the teach-in complain that DeGenova “hijacked” and “manipulated” their event with his “irresponsible” action. A colleague called the professor’s remarks “idiotic” while a student described him as a “shameless hatemonger.” The DeGenovas have received a barrage over 1,000 of negative phone and email messages. Typically, DeGenova whines that his remarks were “taken out of context” and some of his students staged a “sit-in” in the rain to protest the firestorm over his remarks.
The hate mongers of the radical Left from Angela Davis to Nicholas DeGenova spew their anti-American, anti-capitalism, anti-male, anti-WASP, anti-Christian screeds protected by the tradition of academic freedom and freedom of speech. They are aided and abetted by nae and idealistic elites whose ideology implies a necessity to coddle those who hide behind the shield of victimhood, no matter how imaginary their claims of oppression. Further, their invective provokes no outrage from their fellow travelers in the media. These skillful manipulators however well-meaning have blurred the distinction between legitimate dissent and treason. They have, in the words of President Bollinger, “crossed the line.”
All the talk in the 60s and 70s about “freedom of speech” has morphed into the politically correct and coercive speech codes of the 80s and 90s. Now, academic freedom serves only to constrain and is applied selectively; the hatemongers have free reign. When conservatives express themselves, they are censored. Campus newspapers ban conservative columns. Editors of campus newspapers have been required to apologize for voicing conservative ideology. Indeed, paid advertising, if considered “right-wing,” is rejected. Even more outrageous, serious people like David Horowitz and Ward Connerly who are prepared and willing to engage in a rigorous debate about the issues the very essence of what education should be about are persona non-grata. At Cornell University a couple of years ago, police had to step in to protect best-selling conservative author and lawyer, Ann Coulter, from physical attack by students who objected to her remarks; campus extremists compared her to Hitler. Routinely, conservative commencement speakers generate protests and boycotts of the commencement ceremonies.
There is a certain poetic justice to the firestorm of protest that followed DeGenova’s remarks; he sought the slaughter of American soldiers, the military men and women who gave him the right to express his opinions, however disgusting and repugnant. Now it’s time for universities to exercise the right and responsibility to determine the kind of instruction that is appropriate in academe and the kind of role model that is appropriate in the classroom.