The following is a response from York University professor David Dewitt to Howard Adelman's article. Dewitt is the director of the York Centre for International and Security Studies
Thank you for sharing with me the draft of your article for the Canadian Jewish News. You won't be surprised to read that I disagree with you, just as I'm not surprised, given our earlier and ongoing discussions, that you were disappointed with the decision reached by the York Centre for International and Security Studies (YCISS) to cancel its academic co-sponsorship of the recent talk at York University by Daniel Pipes.
Let us be clear: YCISS did not argue against Pipes speaking at York. His academic work, though controversial, can and should be debated. Our only decision was to withdraw co-sponsorship when a significant majority of YCISS colleagues concluded that his association with Campus Watch compromised the academic character of the event. Had we been aware of Pipes' involvement with Campus Watch when we were approached to co-sponsor, we would have rejected the invitation.
Although I have made it clear that my personal preference would have been a different outcome - indeed, the one you also preferred - our difference is that I do think that the decision reflects a serious and honest effort to engage what Pipes has written and done, and to ask some tough questions about how that fits with issues of academic freedom, institutional responsibility, and what our research centre is called on to do. I don't believe that colleagues acted out of intimidation, although I acknowledge that there were moments throughout this time that individuals felt very uncomfortable; some from those supportive of Pipes, some from those critical. In the end people tried, as best they could, to separate that from the core issues at hand, including academic freedom.
I don't think that the decision taken by YCISS was either "cowardly" or "unworthy of academics" as you've stated. Yes, it was and remains contentious. Yes, some of us stood on the other side of the decision. And yes, we certainly may continue to disagree about the extent to which Pipes' involvement in Campus Watch should shift the balance against his claims on the academy to provide him a forum. That noted, I don't think your statement is entirely a fair representation of the quality of our discussion, perhaps a result of your inability to attend either of our two centre meetings.
Moreover, I think it is important to remember that just as it was not incumbent on YCISS to agree to co-sponsor, it was not incumbent on us to continue once the ground had shifted in terms of our more complete knowledge of Pipes, notably his connection to Campus Watch and, notably, the fact that this was hidden when we went to his Web site. Co-sponsorship was not problematic when the record was scholarship alone, however contentious his work might seem to some. His academic writing was worthy of serious engagement, though with the introduction of the Campus Watch factor, suddenly we also faced the blurring of co-sponsorship with endorsement, something that clearly we were not prepared to assume.
It is the interpretation of Campus Watch which leads to our differences and, as you know, the majority of our colleagues at the centre were sufficiently disturbed by Pipes' opaque use of the Internet to encourage the types of activities, including reporting and listing of campus activities, that would engender silencing. They concluded it would be inappropriate to continue co-sponsorship of someone involved in creating an intellectual chill.
Whatever the decision, there inevitably would be differences of opinion. As you know well, I had wanted to operate on the basis of providing the platform and then having him be engaged and challenged, and I maintained that position even as we discussed Campus Watch. However, as director of the centre, it was my view that any decision should emerge from a thoughtful and honest discussion, ensuring that all involved understood the issues and the consequences of any decision. I know that you and I differ on that. I remain proud of the efforts undertaken by all our colleagues at the centre - faculty, students, staff - including you who provided the first thorough analysis for us of Pipes' academic writing, his journalism, as well as Campus Watch. And in your excellent analysis, which is part of our publically accessible Web site record, you indicate support for the process that I undertook.
I recognize, as we've discussed, that there is a larger problem of intellectual and political intolerance all too evident on our campuses. This is worthy of careful and serious discussion and perhaps we'll all learn from the Pipes' incident how better to handle these things in this strained environment. I also admit that YCISS stumbled into the midst of all this, perhaps naively but nevertheless honestly, after having made an initial decision based on what we thought was appropriate information but which, in hindsight, turned out to be seriously incomplete. Ironically, of course, the centre and I are now a target of Campus Watch, having suddenly appeared on their Web site, and thereby now labelled as anti-Israeli and anti-American by association, something utterly absurd and insulting, as well as being factually wrong.
I am puzzled by your ability to shrug off Pipes' article, Something is Rotten in Denmark as merely offensive. Recently at York you, I, and other colleagues took strong exception to a visiting professor who wrote and spoke of the "nazification of Israel." We challenged this as offensive and bad scholarship but also as crossing the line of what was acceptable under the norm of academic freedom. We questioned the appropriateness of his association with York University. For some, aspects of Pipes' work, including Campus Watch, are viewed in a similar way.
As ever, David