Setting The Record Straight

Campus Watch corrects false allegations made against it.

Response to:

Colleges Face Ominous New Pressures on Academic Freedom
by Robert M. O'Neil
The Chronicle of Higher Education
February 8, 2008

False allegations of suppressing free speech

Campus Watch Responds:

[The following letter was sent to the editor of the Chronicle of Higher Education, but not to published. It appears here in its entirety.]

To the Editor:

Robert M. O'Neil's essay ("Colleges Face Ominous New Pressures on Academic Freedom," The Chronicle, February 8, 2008) grossly distorts the mission and actions of Campus Watch.

O'Neil claims that "to some observers most ominous of all, is an array of new threats to academic freedom from private sources."


Such threats are potentially more ominous than traditional attacks on academic freedom. They affect the classroom directly. Moreover, such attacks by private groups are typically immune from any legal recourse. Professors who are vilified on a burgeoning array of Web sites and blogs, such as and Campus Watch, clearly may not assert First Amendment claims on their behalf. Nor, save in the most extreme circumstances, may an embattled professor whose views are distorted on such a Web page sue for libel; typically such a person would need to prove actual malice to get a defamation claim beyond the threshold of court.

Given such trends, what actions might provide better protection for academic freedom in the future?

First, academe should be substantially more aggressive in seeking legal protection for the vital interests of free inquiry and scholarship.

O'Neil engages in precisely that which he bemoans: the vilification and distortion of others. Without offering a shred of evidence, O'Neil issues a blanket condemnation of groups who, in exercising their own First Amendment rights, fulfill their missions by turning a critical eye toward academe.

Campus Watch, contrary to O'Neil's claim, does not vilify professors, nor do we distort their views. Rather, we critique Middle East studies with an aim to improving them.

But one suspects that O'Neil's true gripe is with the attention that Campus Watch brings to contemporary Middle East studies. Like so many of his peers, he adheres to an absolutist vision of academic freedom wherein academics are free to say whatever they desire about any subject extant, while being shielded from extra-university critiques, lest they be forced to defend themselves. Free speech, in this view, applies only to professors.

The ominous development that O'Neil's article portends is not that academics, like members of every other profession, must contend with critics. Rather, it is that the former president of a prestigious public university who now heads a private, nonprofit institution dedicated to protecting free speech and named for Thomas Jefferson seems to desire a legal remedy to the inconvenience of the First Amendment's protection of speech he dislikes. In so doing, O'Neil reveals that it is he, and the academics whose desires he voices, who would curtail the freedom of speech he ostensibly defends.

Winfield Myers


Campus Watch

Middle East Forum

Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

(Posted by Winfield Myers)