Eric Alterman mischaracterizes Campus Watch in his May 5 "The Liberal Media" column, implying that we worked with Paula Stern to deny tenure to Nadia Abu El-Haj. He is wrong on two counts: first, Campus Watch never coordinated our work with Stern. We operate independently of any external party, be it Stern or David Horowitz. Second, we do not take positions on tenure questions. We insist on our right to critique professors at any stage of their careers, but we did not call for the denial of tenure to Abu El-Haj.
Alterman also charges that Campus Watch "offers its kosher seal of approval for ideologically kosher academics while attacking all others." In fact, Campus Watch has no litmus test for professors. We critique for analytical failures, politicized scholarship, intolerance of alternate views and abuse of power over students.
WINFIELD MYERS, director, Campus Watch
New York City
Eric Alterman's May 5 column contains inaccuracies. (1) Scholars for Peace in the Middle East (SPME), in its online newsletter, reported but did not take a position on the granting of tenure to Professor Abu El-Haj. Despite numerous requests, SPME did not circulate the petition, precisely because SPME, as an organization of academics, supports "the time-honored tradition of politically disinterested tenure." (2) As an archaeologist, Alexander Joffe has standing to comment on the validity of Abu El-Haj's criticisms of Israeli archaeologists. However, he has no official association with SPME, nor does Daniel Pipes. (3) Although Alan Segal publicly opposed tenure for Abu El-Haj, his opposition focused on her scholarship, not her politics.
JUDITH S. JACOBSON, vice president, SPME
New York City
I stand by every word in my column. First let's note that neither letter writer points to a single error of fact. The problems they point out are either "implied" or not stated at all. However, with regard to Daniel Pipes's Campus Watch, I think readers would benefit from knowing more about Pipes and the kind of work in which he and his organization engage. According to my colleague Matthew Duss at the Center for American Progress:
"Pipes spearheaded a campaign against the Khalil Gibran International Academy in New York, a public school focused on Arab culture and language. The campaign eventually caused the resignation of the school's principal, Debbie Almontaser. Pipes based his hostility to the school on what he called 'the basic problems implicit in an Arabic-language school: the tendency to Islamist and Arabist content and proselytizing.' Needless to say, Pipes offered no evidence for that claim. In keeping with his stated belief that Arab- and Muslim-Americans deserve to be subjected to 'special scrutiny,' Pipes apparently thinks the question of whether Barack Obama practiced Islam as a child is so important to the future of the Republic that since December he has penned three articles on the subject, always making sure to apply a thin veneer of 'scholarly rigor' over what is in fact an attempt to smear by insinuation and innuendo" (see thinkprogress.org/wonkroom
Given their involvement in so many campaigns of this nature, it would have been irresponsible of me not to include Pipes and Campus Watch in my discussion of the tenure question.
With regard to SPME, I appreciate Judith Jacobson's efforts to clarify the work of her organization. It certainly does not deserve to be lumped with Campus Watch, which is why I avoided doing so. Universities have long-established processes designed to insulate the tenure process from the political passions of the day. Any interference in that process is contrary to the principle of academic freedom.