The idea of censorship in academia is not one many students consider today. We are, after all, living in the United States in the 21st century. Militant groups aren't burning books and fascist leaders aren't setting our curriculums from fortified compounds. The education we receive is supposed to be the result of consensus among specialists, though the tone is perhaps the prerogative of the individual professor. Historically, one of the most controversial topics fought over, all the way up to the Supreme Court, has been the teaching of evolution in classrooms. This legal battle has been going around and around since the Scopes v. State of Tennessee court case in 1925. Today the evolution case has cooled somewhat, but the policing of academia has taken a new direction in this globalized world. Today many are more concerned with what students are being taught about the Middle East than with what students are being taught about science.
In 2002, American political academic and author Daniel Pipes started a Web site called Campus Watch. The mission statement of this Web site reads, "Campus Watch, a project of the Middle East Forum (a pro-Israel think tank), reviews and critiques Middle East studies in North America, with an aim on improving them. The project mainly addresses five problems: analytical failures, the mixing of politics with scholarship, intolerance of alternative views, apologetics and the abuse of power over students." The site goes on to explain that "the Middle East studies professorate is almost monolithically leftist due to a systematic exclusion of those with conservative or even moderately liberal views. The result is that Middle East studies lack intellectual diversity." This statement, along with others throughout the Web site, requests submissions of examples of instances in which professors or authors are promoting these extremely "leftist" sentiments. What qualifies as "leftist" in this situation? According to those opposing the Campus Watch mindset, the Web site is targeting all those touting an anti-Israel belief set. When the Web site was first introduced, Pipes and others working on it collected dossiers on eight college professors considered to be too critical of Israel and therefore "hostile" to the American education system. Only a month after the Web site's induction, such controversy was raging over these selected professors and the McCarthy-esque aura surrounding the process that the site removed the dossiers section, but excerpts from those reports are still accessible on the Web site. Pipes and the Middle East Forum maintain their purpose is critical in assuring students are not being unduly influenced by their professors and are free to develop their own beliefs on issues, particularly those relating to the Middle East.
Obviously there have been strong proponents and opponents to this Web site and what it stands for. Respected political scientists John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt maintain this website is a "transparent attempt to blacklist and intimidate scholars," whereas those of the Middle East Forum maintain the mission of Campus Watch is of the utmost importance in keeping education in college "evenhanded." Frankly, I don't care if you are pro-Israel or anti-Israel. The question I would like to pose is this: do we support having our education monitored? Campus Watch would argue that their purpose is to make sure we are not being coerced into beliefs that are only the result of frighteningly liberal-minded professors. Those frighteningly liberal-minded professors would argue that it is their right to teach their world view, as long as their perspective does not taint the class to the point where objectivity is completely thrown out the window. The logic behind Campus Watch is sound, however, I feel their agenda is not. They are promoting their pro-Israel view to the point where many professors of Middle East studies feel the pressure of the silent watchmen; they avoid a truly rounded examination of some issues because they fear for their careers. Though Campus Watch and other organizations like it have no de facto powers in this arena, their constant lobbying may be detrimental to some independent-thinking professors, especially those who don't have tenure. I don't personally know where the line lies between altruistic monitoring for the sake of academic purity and monitoring to promote a certain agenda. I encourage my fellow students to peruse Campus Watch and see what it says in detail. I would like you to form your own opinions not only on the pro-Israel versus anti-Israel debate, but also on the greater matter of policing our studies and whether we support other people pulling these strings.