American studies scholars in the US have warned that the Bush administration and the media are creating a "chilling effect of secrecy and intimidation" on campus around the country.
A statement due to be published in the American Studies Association's (ASA) March newsletter, which was agreed by the organisation's council, speaks of a "deep concern" about a "storm of attacks" on intellectual freedoms. The ASA has 5,000 members, made up of teachers and lecturers in disciplines relating to American studies, including history, politics and cultural studies.
The statement says: "Free and frank intellectual inquiry is under assault by overt legislative acts and by a chilling effect of secrecy and intimidation in the government, media and on college campuses. This atmosphere hinders our ability to fulfil our role as educators."
The statement includes a list of events the ASA says represent an attack on academic freedoms since September 11. They include the new laws governing foreign students - government contracts for scientific research now specify that international students be excluded from funded projects - and a new Freedom of Information Act, which it says makes it harder to access government documents.
The ASA is calling for universities to resist "pressures" to silence staff who take "unpopular political decisions".
The statement goes on to condemn organisations that "monitor" academic views, and names Campus Watch, a website that publishes details of faculties and academics critical of US foreign policy.
The ASA statement says Campus Watch "represent a broad trend among conservative commentators, who call for the censorship of faculty dissent and equate criticism of the government with being anti-American and anti-patriotic".
Campus Watch was set up last September, and is funded by the Middle East Forum, a pro-Israel research group. According to its website, it is designed to "monitor and critique" Middle East studies in America. The website includes a survey of institutions with news events relating to the opinions of individuals and departments on the politics of the Middle East.
It also asks readers to keep them informed of "Middle East-related scholarship, lectures, classes, demonstrations and other activities relevant to Middle East studies".
Daniel Pipes, from Campus Watch, told EducationGuardian.co.uk: "They [the ASA] don't understand what Campus Watch is about. We respect everyone's freedom of speech, as long as they respect ours.
"It's typical that these academics aren't doing their research properly and looking at what we actually do. It's repeating a misconception. We are openly criticising other people, and being criticised. Why shouldn't academics be scrutinised?"
He conceded that academic freedoms, more generally, were being curtailed, particularly in relation to the restrictions on foreign students.
"Clearly this is a time of war and that means there should be some curtailment of freedoms. That always happens. And this is particularly difficult because the enemy is not always clear cut. If this requires some limitation of civil liberties, so be it. That is the cost of being at war. When it ends these restrictions will be lifted," he said.
The ASA's statement concludes: "Intellectual freedom - the freedom to ask questions, to uncover facts, to speak independently without fear - is the foundation of our democracy and remains of critical importance, especially in a time of crisis."
No one from the ASA was available to comment.