Stanford is among 18 universities targeted for "anti-Israel bias" by a watchdog organization that many in academia perceive as a threat to freedom of expression.
The stated goal of the new organization, Campus Watch, is "to improve Middle Eastern studies in North America" by targeting "anti-Israel and anti-American bias" in academia.
"Stanford students are getting a very poor interpretation of the Middle East, an extremist viewpoint that doesn't tolerate other viewpoints . . . Stanford students should be concerned," said Campus Watch founder Daniel Pipes.
Since its inception this year, Campus Watch has been awash with controversy, as a large number of students and professors oppose the organization's policy of naming and "monitoring" suspect universities, professors and student activists.
Stanford Prof. Joel Beinin, who was one of the professors Campus Watch originally posted a dossier on, said, "This sort of McCarthy-style list- making and ‘monitoring' has no place in university life, as its purpose is to intimidate people from expressing their views and to set boundaries on permissible speech."
The Campus Watch Web site states, "American scholars, to varying degrees, reject the views of most Americans and the enduring policies of the U.S. government about the Middle East."
Pipes said that this problem was brought to the surface last year with "the publication of Martin Kramer's book, ‘Ivory Towers on Sand' . . . [which] lays out the case that Middle East studies are seriously flawed." Pipes also pointed to the anti-Israel campus demonstrations of last spring as impetus for starting Campus Watch.
Campus Watch's Web site says, "This bias [in Middle Eastern Studies] seems to stem from two main causes. First, academics seem generally to dislike their own country and think even less of American allies abroad . . . . Second, Middle East studies in the United States has become the preserve of Middle Eastern Arabs, who have brought their views with them."
"It is not so much bias we are interested in [examining] so much as shoddy work, apologetic claims, extremism and intolerance in the curriculum," Pipes said.
But almost as soon as Campus Watch was launched, so was concerned and vocal opposition. Judith Butler, a UC-Berkeley professor, decided to "turn in" her own dossier to Campus Watch and asked to be named on the Web site.
In the letter Butler wrote to Campus Watch, she said, "I have recently learned that your organization is compiling dossiers on professors . . . who oppose the Israeli occupation and its brutality, actively support Palestinian rights of self-determination as well as a more informed and intelligent view of Islam than is currently represented by the U.S. media . . . . I would be enormously honored to be counted among those [professors]."
Similar letters from professors and students asking to be listed have been pouring in over the last few months, said Pipes and others.
"[We] no longer have dossiers monitoring professors on our Web site. There was a large amount of criticism about the dossiers, so in a gesture of cordiality, we withdrew them," said Pipes.
Even some who do not agree with Butler's views on the Israel-Palestine conflict say that Campus Watch's methods seem to be aimed at discouraging freedom of expression.
"I support freedom of speech, and so I'm glad to be in the company of those other professors, but it's bewildering that they have put me on this list," Juan R. I. Cole, a professor of history at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, told the Chronicle of Higher Education.
Cole, who says he is "an outspoken hawk in the war on terror," also noted that he has written very little on the subject of the Israel-Palestine conflict.
"It is ludicrous that Campus Watch could inhibit anyone's freedom of speech," Pipes said in response to such criticism. "We are a tiny little think tank. We're not the F.B.I. It is typical of academics to try to shut [Campus Watch] down with this argument instead of responding to the issues we raise."
But Beinin and others claim that their opinions are already available to the public.
"The best way to determine what bias I might have is to read my published work or listen to my lectures," Beinin said.
David Weddle, a Religious Studies professor at Colorado College who was also named on the site, expressed a similar sentiment in an interview with the Colorado Springs Independent.
"Viewpoints I have on the Middle East are publicly available . . . . I am more than happy to make them public," Weddle said.
Regarding Campus Watch's influence on Middle East discourse, Beinin said, "It is already difficult to have a serious discussion of Middle East issues, and the range of opinion expressed in the mass media is very narrow. But that was already the case before Campus Watch appeared."
"Daniel Pipes has been making crude and defamatory statements about people he disagrees with for years," he added. "Campus Watch is only the latest of his efforts."
As to how Campus Watch will effect freedom of expression at universities, Beinin said it "depends on the actions of each university administration."
Beinin expressed confidence that Stanford, however, will not be affected by Campus Watch's accusations.
"Campus Watch will almost certainly have no impact at Stanford," he said. "The University in general and the History Department in particular have an excellent record of upholding academic freedom on Middle East issues.
"Stanford people are too sophisticated and principled to take something like this seriously."