[The following appeared as a letter to the editor of the Chronicle of Higher Education on March 27, 2017.]
To the Editor:
Brian Leiter, in "Academic Ethics: Defending Faculty Speech" (The Chronicle, March 22), smears Campus Watch and mischaracterizes its mission.
Campus Watch, a project of the Middle East Forum, critiques Middle East studies by holding professors accountable for their work. It does not "police faculty speech"; how could it when it lacks any and all police power? It does not "inflame public opinion and incite harassment" of academics but engages in careful, multiple fact-checked analyses. Nor need it hide behind the law's "wide latitude to malicious speech," because it offers facts. Finally, it does not partake in "orchestrated" onslaughts against professors but engages in its own research according to its unique priorities.
Academics demand a unique immunity from criticism, one that politicians, actors, and athletes could only dream of. Sorry, but we have our First Amendment rights and will responsibly exercise them until Middle East studies repair and revive from their current state of embarrassment.
Director of Academic Affairs and of Campus Watch
Middle East Forum
[The portion of the article that mentions Campus Watch (the introduction) follows.]
In recent years, there has been a vigorous cottage industry of websites and publications (most but not all on the political right) trying to generate controversy about college professors who say or believe things outside the rather narrow mainstream of public opinion.
The Daily Caller, The Washington Times, Campus Watch, The College Fix, Breitbart, and College Insurrection, among others, devote themselves with some regularity to policing faculty speech, and then presenting it — sometimes accurately, mostly inaccurately — in order to inflame public outrage and incite harassment of academics who expressed verboten views. Because American law gives very wide latitude to malicious speech for partisan political ends, there is little legal recourse for faculty members subjected to such harassment. But we may still ask: How ought colleges and universities respond to these (often orchestrated) onslaughts against professors?