In April of this year, I began working as the Northern California Representative for Campus Watch, which, as many of our readers know, is a project of the Philadelphia-based think tank, the Middle East Forum.
Despite the hysterical claims of "censorship" and "threats to academic freedom" emanating from Middle East studies academics in the spotlight, Campus Watch's purpose, as made clear in our Mission Statement, is to review and critique Middle East studies in North America with an aim to improving them. My goal, as Northern California Representative, is to call further attention to Middle East studies academics in West Coast colleges and universities, a problematic lot if there ever was one (my archives can be found here and here).
But for those ensconced in their ivory towers and unused to withstanding scrutiny of any kind, Campus Watch constitutes a threat to be resisted at all costs. This paranoia has led to numerous smears against Campus Watch and, in some cases, outright falsehoods, a pattern that Campus Watch director Winfield Myers has devoted much time here at our weblog recently to correcting (read more here, here, here, and here).
What has Campus Watch, a project to critique and improve Middle East studies in the United States and Canada, achieved since it opened its doors this week in 2002?
Along with like-minded organizations – the National Association of Scholars, the David Horowitz Freedom Center, National Review, and the Manhattan Institute – it assesses what professors are saying and doing, thereby helping to challenge academia's status quo.
Critiquing professors is more revolutionary than it may sound, for academics have long been spared public criticism such as that directed toward politicians, business leaders, actors, and athletes. Who would judge them? Students suppress their views to protect their careers; peers are reluctant to criticize each other, lest they in turn suffer attacks; and laymen lack the competence to judge arcane scholarship. As a result, academics have long enjoyed a unique lack of accountability.
If Campus Watch, headed by Winfield Myers, has interrupted this charmed academic life by exposing what Martin Kramer of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy has termed the "failure of Middle Eastern studies in America," it is because we consider the work of these specialists too important to be left uncritiqued. We hover over their shoulders and remind them that their egregious statements might well end up ridiculed as our "quote of the month," or even cause them trouble when they try to win tenure or get a new job.
Academics criticized by Campus Watch generally respond by calling it names, caricaturing its purpose, and presenting themselves as victims, hoping thereby to render our work illegitimate. Remarkably, I recall not a single case when the meticulously documented and mildly presented work of Campus Watch has met with a serious and substantive rebuttal. So much for the marketplace of ideas.