Campus Watch, launched over the Internet in September, has begun monitoring faculty members and professors who teach in Middle Eastern studies departments throughout the country to check their work for bias. The group consists of American academics interested in strong ties with Israel and in maintaining a stable, low-price supply of oil from the Middle East.
"Campus Watch seeks to stifle certain approaches to the Middle East," said Deborah Wheeler, a professor in the Near East languages and civilization department. "Its motivation is a concern that discussion sympathetic to Israel is waning."
According to its Web site, Campus Watch exists because "academics seem generally to dislike their own country and think even less of American allies abroad." The creators of the site feel that many scholars on American campuses present terrorism and militant Islam in an apologetic, friendly manner.
"When studying the Middle East, my goal is to provide as accurate a representation as I am physically able," said Wheeler. "As professors, our goal is to open minds, and it is in that spirit that data and history are presented. Our goal is not to bash Israel or attack Jews."
Campus Watch also claims that Middle East studies departments "have become the preserve of Middle Eastern Arabs, who have brought their views with them."
Wheeler points out that most of the Near East languages and civilization department at UW does not consist of professors originally from the Middle East. "Most of those who are [from the Middle East] are outspoken about their liberalism and secularism."
In order to alleviate the problem that bias causes, Campus Watch has created a network of students and faculty members throughout the country who report back to the organization. An online form, entitled "Keep Us Informed," asks University affiliates to provide Campus Watch with information on any Middle East-related lectures, demonstrations or classes that should be monitored.
According to Campus Watch, professors who should be watched closely have been compiled into a list that has caused much controversy at some academic institutions. Professors at campuses throughout the nation, including Stanford University, University of Chicago and Yale University, have been investigated for possible bias.
"What is said can always be taken out of context. My former professor, Rashid Khalidi, is on the list. I took his class and I know that the reasons he is on the list are a distorted version of his beliefs," said Wheeler.
John Esposito, professor and director of the Center for Muslim-Christian Understanding at Georgetown University, has been targeted by the site for condemning President George W. Bush's description of terrorists as evil. Esposito argues the president's diction requires Americans to decide if they are either with the good, America, or the evil, al-Qaida, and allows no room for middle ground.
Wheeler uses Esposito's book, The Oxford History of Islam, in her Islamic civilization class.
"I see the University as a balancer for what is perceived by faculty members as a media environment in the United States that doesn't present much positive in the Islamic world," said Wheeler. "Campus Watch can do a lot more to help the Palestinian-Israeli conflict by constituting civil dialogue and looking at what motivates people to violence on both sides."