An Internet site invites college students to cite the names of Middle Eastern studies professors who criticize Israel or in their view offer "biased" views or make "biased" classroom remarks about the Middle East, Islam and foreign policy issues.
The Web site — www.campus-watch.org — so far cites eight professors and 14 universities. The site was created by the Philadelphia-based think tank Middle East Forum "in defense of U.S. interests on campus, which includes the continued support of Israel."
The cited professors include two from Columbia University and one each from Georgetown University, the University of California at Berkeley, Northeastern University, the University of Michigan, the State University of New York at Binghamton and the University of Chicago.
Muslim-American groups and the American Civil Liberties Union say the Campus Watch site is an assault on academic freedom and amounts to a blacklist of professors and threatens to suppress discussions about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Others, including the Philadelphia-based Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, say the list is a "wholly protected exercise in freedom of speech."
"Professors and college administrators are like any citizens, open to public criticism," says Thor Halvorssen, the foundation's executive director. "Nothing is stopping anyone from taking issue with any fact, criticism or analysis they believe is flawed. Or for that matter, people who oppose Campus Watch can start their own Web site."
ACLU officials argue that the site encourages "citizen informant" behavior like the government's scuttled Operation TIPS program, which would have invited utility workers and mail carriers with access to private homes to report suspicious activities to the Justice Department.
"What we're concerned with is this climate of turning people in," says Rachel King, a legislative counsel for the ACLU. "People shouldn't be keeping lists or monitoring people's behavior."
Nearly 100 professors, to show support for those named on the site, have asked the forum to add their names to the list.
Ibrahim Hooper of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, which has supported radical Islamist groups, calls the exercise a blacklist. "Any time you take these actions designed to chill academic freedom, we all lose, whatever our views on the Middle East are. I can only imagine what would happen if the shoe were on the other foot and Muslim Americans were calling for students to report pro-Israeli professors."
The director of the Middle East Forum is a journalist and scholar, Daniel Pipes, who has argued that Americans have not paid sufficient attention to militant Islam.
The forum's site includes short biographies of the professors and reprints of articles written about them or letters to the editor and essays they wrote. Some of the notes include the professors' photographs, e-mail addresses and office telephone numbers.
Mr. Pipes, author of the book, "Militant Islam Reaches America," says the work of academics is important because it sets the tone for much of what is read, taught and learned about the region and that as a result it has an extensive influence on the way Americans see the Middle East.
Mr. Pipes says academics should teach about the Middle East in a "more balanced and more correct" way. The site does not threaten academic freedom nor blacklist anyone, he says. "Blacklisting implies that a government is behind it. All we're doing is opening up a dialogue with these professors. It's all about the battle over ideas.
"How can we be threatening academic freedom? We're a tiny organization. No one is trying to stifle what these professors are saying, but we think the people have the right to know what's going on on college campuses."
Martin Kramer, editor of the forum's Middle East Quarterly, says the failings of the country's Middle East scholars have become more apparent since September 11, which spurred the U.S. government to allocate millions of dollars for Middle Eastern studies, an academic discipline that Mr. Kramer says failed to prepare the country for the possibility of a terrorist assault.
The Web site, he says, is designed to make sure taxpayers' money is well spent.
"The scholars are getting another chance," Mr. Kramer says, "but who will make sure that the American public gets a fair return on its new investment? Academe needs freedom, but it also deserves the same critical scrutiny as government and the media."
Tensions have grown on campuses over developments in the Middle East. The site first appeared Sept. 18, a day after Harvard University President Lawrence H. Summers described calls for colleges to divest investments from Israel were anti-Semitic.
The divestment movement, which has spread to more than 40 colleges and universities, condemns only Israel for human rights abuses and calls on schools to sell their investments in several companies with operations in Israel.
Abraham Foxman, national director of the Anti-Defamation League, says the targeting of Jewish students for violence or intimidation on college campuses is a problem, but the best way to deal with such acts is to reach out to campuses and professors individually, not list them online. "I wouldn't have done it," Mr. Foxman says. "Such a list could tarnish reputations of good people."
Many of the professors listed don't belong on the site, says Sarah Eltantawi, who attended Berkeley and Harvard and now works with the Muslim Public Affairs Council. "Some of these professors are brilliant scholars who teach their subject in a fair and balanced way," she says. "This is just ridiculous."