[News] The McCarthyism That Horowitz Built
news at freedomarchives.org
Wed Apr 29 14:35:40 EDT 2009
The McCarthyism That Horowitz Built:
The Cases of Margo Ramlal Nankoe, William Robinson, Nagesh Rao, and
by Dana Cloud
Earlier this month, the jury in
civil trial against the University of Colorado found, in his favor,
that the university had fired him because of critical remarks he made
after the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. While Churchill
awaits a hearing on his ongoing employment at the university, this
victory is something to celebrate and replicate.
At the same time, however, the noxious weeds of the new McCarthyism
have begun to bear bitter fruit around the country. Reports are
coming in, not just about the better-known cases of harassment and
firing of <http://www.normanfinkelstein.com/index.php>Norman
Finkelstein (denied tenure at DePaul and banned from a speaking
engagement at Clark College) or <http://www.joelkovel.org/>Joel Kovel
(recently fired from his position as the Alger Hiss Chair of Social
Studies at Bard College). Many readers will know the horrific case
of <http://www.freesamialarian.com/>Sami al-Arian, the University of
South Florida professor jailed for five years without basis or
charges for the suspicion of ties to terrorism.
Fewer people will know the names of four other targets of the Right's
attack: <http://faculty.ithaca.edu/mramlal/>Margo Ramlal-Nankoe,
<http://www.tcnj.edu/%7Eenglish/faculty/rao.html>Nagesh Rao, and
Capeheart. All four face harassment, threats, or potential removal
from their jobs at their universities because they have criticized
Israel, defended multiculturalism, and stood up as organized
employees in defense of their rights as workers.
This rash of cases comes, not coincidentally, during an upsurge in
college activism, from counter-recruitment demonstrations to the
student occupation at NYU, from the struggle for gay civil rights to
the demand to <http://usacbi.wordpress.com/>boycott, divest from, and
sanction Israel. University campuses have always been spaces for
young activists and critical scholars to demand change.
This is why the Right is still holding on by its teeth to the flag of
academic freedom. In a recent attack on me in The Wall Street
Journal (whose editors clearly know who benefits from policing the
academy), right-wing attack dog
Horowitz condemned the recent protest of his lecture at the
University of Texas. Horowitz railed against me and other protesters
as "little fascists." He claimed, in a bit of over-the-top
self-aggrandizing drama, that because of his fear of people like me,
he traveled with a (rather attractive) bodyguard named Floyd. (The
only physical assault Horowitz ever "faced," so to speak, involved a
In his lecture, he spouted offensive nonsense: for example, that
racism and sexism were not barriers to achievement, that renowned
critical race scholars Cornel West and Michael Eric Dyson were
"buffoons" and third-rate intellects, that gender is entirely
biological (and therefore so is women's inferiority at math), that
Sami al-Arian is a terrorist, that support for Palestine is
anti-Semitic, and so on.
He also used the podium to attack me as an alleged indoctrinator of
students; when I rose during discussion to make the point that my
activism is separate from my teaching and that he should respect
students (about whom he is ostensibly so concerned) enough to know
that they can think for themselves. This intervention was met with a
diatribe, along with the accusation that my appearing so reasonable
is a consequence of my skill at manipulation and deceit.
The protest and Horowitz's column have garnered opprobrium from both
hard conservatives and liberals, who argue that confronting Horowitz
and those of his ilk is an act of censorship. But if Joe McCarthy
rose from the dead chanting "I have here a list" -- or in Horowitz's
case, three books and a website -- would they shout him down before
or after he ruined hundreds of people's lives and careers?
Those targeted by Horowitz, it seems, are expected to listen politely
to his lies and distortions. However, left unchecked, the chilling
climate that Horowitz and others have wrought is resulting in real
damage to the lives and careers of talented scholars and
His state-by-state campaign for his Orwellian-named
<http://www.aaup.org/AAUP/GR/ABOR/Resources/>"Academic Bill of
Rights" has prompted numbers of universities -- most recently
College of DuPage -- to adopt vaguely-worded and potentially
repressive codes of conduct that could be deployed arbitrarily
against faculty who teach from their own philosophical perspective or
bring political matters into classrooms, even when relevant. AAUP
President Cary Nelson called the decision
disaster for education in a democratic society."
Why, as the ground is shifting under the Right and the country moves
to the Left politically, are we seeing this proliferation of attacks
on academic freedom?
John Wilson, founder of the <http://collegefreedom.org/>Institute for
College Freedom, explained, "The Right lost so badly that its
representatives are looking for easy targets. They see the campus as
a place where they can retrench," he said.
In addition, Wilson said that because state budgets are in currently
in desperate shape, administrators of state universities see
expendable targets in area studies (women's studies, labor studies,
Middle-Eastern Studies, Latin-American Studies, African-American
studies, and the like), roundly condemned by Horowitz as
non-scholarly indoctrination factories. In reality, these are the
programs fought for and won during the 1960s and 1970s that opened up
universities to the voices of the marginalized.
The coming to fruition of a decades-long assault on academic freedom
(in the name of academic freedom) is the context for the repression
faced by critical and activist faculty today. Faculty who have
spoken out against cuts in area studies, in defense of minorities and
activists on campus, or as part of their union or other organizations
are particularly at risk today, as are critics of the state of Israel.
Opposition to scholars who expose and critique the treatment of
Palestinians by Israel has been front and center in the cases against
Ramlal-Nankoe and <http://sb4af.wordpress.com/>William Robinson.
Margo Ramlal-Nankoe is an assistant professor seeking tenure in
Ithaca College's Sociology Department. Her tenure process became a
struggle when a small number of influential faculty and
administrators began campaigning against her. She became a target of
their negative campaign because she spoke out against sexual
harassment within her department and challenged students and
community members to think critically about US and Israeli policy in
the Middle East. Ithaca College's Board of Trustees has denied
Professor Ramlal-Nankoe tenure and she is scheduled to be fired on May 12th.
A tenured professor in her department revealed racism behind their
decision as well: "We had little or no expectations of her; she is
after all a woman of color," he wrote in a letter to the Sociology
Tenure and Promotion Committee at Ithaca College in 2005.
Despite the campaign being waged against her, Professor
Ramlal-Nankoe's tenure review file is full of glowing letters from
her students and colleagues. The Chair of the Sociology Tenure and
Promotion Committee summarized the content of the numerous letters of
support Professor Ramlal-Nankoe received from her students: "Most
students tell us that working with Dr. Ramlal-Nankoe has transformed
their views, their life, and/or their plans for the future." The
letters of support Professor Ramlal-Nankoe received from her peers
also note her excellence. A typical faculty letter states that
Professor Ramlal-Nankoe provides a, "superior example of pedagogy and
of the teaching of traditional sociology."
With the evidence of such support, Professor Ramlal-Nankoe has
concluded, "I believe the underlying basis for the violations against
me stem from a discriminatory bias towards me, especially in regards
to my political views on the Israel-Palestine conflict. Violations
of human rights and the subjected condition of the population in this
area of the Middle East have long been a matter of concern in my
teachings and other work. Faculty reactions to my involvement in
activist organizations, such as Students for a Just Peace in Israel
and Palestine and Ithaca Finger Lakes Interfaith Committee for a Just
Peace in the Israel/Palestine Conflict, have been extremely negative
and problematic, both inside and outside of the Sociology Department."
Professor Ramlal-Nankoe's supporters have established a Facebook page
for her case at
Please write in protest to <mailto:President at ithaca.edu>President at ithaca.edu.
Professor William I. Robinson, a Sociology and Global Studies
professor at the University of California, Santa Barbara, has been
attacked by the Anti-Defamation League and two of his former
students. In January of this year, he forwarded an email condemning
the Israeli attacks on Gaza. The email was an optional read for students.
Within a week, the ADL wrote him a letter charging him with anti-
Semitism and sundry violations of the Faculty Code of Conduct. The
Academic Senate Charges Officer then notified him that two of he
students in the class to which he circulated the email had filed
complaints against him. Acting for all intents like a co-complainant
of the students, the Officer fabricated additional charges not raised
by the students.
The case against Williamson rests upon the assumption that any
critique of Israel is evidence of anti- Semitism and that the
Israeli-Palestinian issue should not be discussed in a class on
globalization. These are nonsensical; a critique of Israel does not
impugn Jewish people or Judaism, and of course the conflict between
Israel and the Palestinians is a matter of concern for everyone
interested in economic and political globalization. Proceeding with
these charges serves only to sanction politically motivated attacks
on academic freedom, including the freedom to criticize Israel. This
case alongside others may chill those who wish to present
controversial and critical subjects.
The charges have reached the Committee on Committees, which is now in
the process of convening a committee to assess the complaints.
The campaign for Professor Robinson urges readers to 1) email the
UCSB Chancellor and responsible authorities on campus to register
your protest, and 2) sign the petition. Information and links are at
<http://sb4af.wordpress.com>sb4af.wordpress.com. Contact the
Committee to Defend Academic Freedom at UCSB at
<mailto:cdaf.ucsb at gmail.com>cdaf.ucsb at gmail.com.
Multicultural curriculum and diversity are at issuein the case of
<http://defendrao.wordpress.com/>Nagesh Rao, an assistant professor
and postcolonial scholar of English at The College of New Jersey
(TCNJ), a public liberal arts institution. The English department's
personnel committee rejected his tenure application and has
recommended that he be denied reappointment. Those close to the case
believe that there are multiple political factors involved in
dismissing a fine teacher and researcher who was meeting all stated
requirements for promotion.
Since arriving at TCNJ four years ago, Professor Rao, who has a Ph.D.
from Brown University, has taught courses that exposed students to
world literatures and postcolonial studies. His students have
consistently appreciated his classes for exposing them to knowledges
that they would not otherwise have encountered. He is much respected
and loved by his students for challenging them to think in new ways.
Similarly, Professor Rao's publication record has matched or exceeded
the output of previous, successful applicants for tenure in his
department. He arrived at TCNJ four years ago with an established
record of publication and has since published two articles in
peer-reviewed journals, edited a book of interviews with the late
Indonesian novelist Pramoedya Ananta Toer, and developed a detailed
book proposal. His review letter the previous year praised his
accomplishments and put him on track towards tenure if he published
another article in the following year. He did so. Yet, the English
Department's Personnel Committee voted unanimously to deny tenure to
The background for this decision is a dispute inside of the English
department over the status of a multicultural literature course in
the curriculum. Professor Rao chaired a group of faculty defending
the course in a deeply divided department. The TCNJ student body is
significantly diverse, but this diversity is not represented fully in
the curriculum. Also troubling is the fact that Professor Rao is one
of the few people of color on the Department of English faculty, and
the only South Asian in a state with a significant South Asian
population. The fate of the multicultural literature course, along
with his career, hangs in the balance of this politically charged dispute.
Professor Rao seeks the appointment of a new, independent, and
transparent committee to review his case. There is a petition in
support of Professor Rao at
For more information: <http://defendrao.wordpress.com/>defendrao.wordpress.com.
If conservative administrators can't get away with openly firing
critics of Israel and defenders of multiculturalism, they have
another tactic at their disposal. Some university leaders are
attacking outspoken faculty on the grounds that university employees
have no free speech rights when it comes to criticizing their own institutions.
This argument epitomizes Northeastern Illinois University's
harassment of justice studies Professor
who has been targeted by her administration for her outspokenness for
workers' rights in a 2004 faculty strike, her activism against the
Iraq war, her defense of student protesters, and her arguments for
increased representation of minority scholars at NEIU. In
retaliation, she was denied merited awards and an appointment to
chair of her department -- a position to which she was elected. NEIU
Vice President Melvin Terrell publicly defamed Professor Capeheart,
accusing her, without grounds, of stalking a student.
Professor Capeheart is suing Terrell for defamation, alongside NEIU's
President and Provost for retaliation and violation of her
constitutional right to free speech. Incredibly, the administrators'
response argues that Professor Capeheart, as a state employee, may
not sue the University or its officials, contravene their positions,
question their conduct, or speak as a faculty member on matters of
Unfortunately, the administration has frightening legal precedent,
according to the AAUP. The Supreme Court's 2006 decision in
Ceballos held that state employees are not afforded first amendment
protection if they are speaking on subjects relevant to their
professional duties. When UC Irvine
Juan Hong angered University administrators by opposing the
replacement of tenure-track faculty by term lecturers, he was denied
a merit salary increase. The Court ruled against Hong, citing Garcetti.
In March, the U.S. District Court Judge of the Northern Illinois
District agreed to hear Loretta's case, despite the university's
arguments that it was "futile" for her to claim any right to free
speech. She awaits this hearing.
Supporters of Professor Capeheart ask that readers sign the petition
supporting her at
Please include your email in your signature comments for updates on the case.
From the 1964 free speech movement to today's anti-occupation
organizations, campuses have always been places where struggles for
justice break out. This potential might explain why, losing ground
in politics and the economy, the Right seeks to maintain its grip on
outspoken faculty and students. David Horowitz, Laura Ingraham, the
Association of College Trustees and Alumni, and the like have played
their assigned roles in fostering a new McCarthyism that has given
rise to a series of witch-hunts against both prominent and emerging
critical scholars and activists.
We cannot allow Zionism, racism, the attack on area studies and
multiculturalism, or the violation of labor rights on our campuses to
stand. We must call to account the administrations of Ithaca
College, UCSB, The College of New Jersey, and Northeastern Illinois
University. Professors Ramlal-Nankoe, Robinson, Rao, and Capeheart
need your support. Their cases represent only a few of the many
breaches of academic freedom coming to light in this moment. And we
must fight on each and every one.
<http://uts.cc.utexas.edu/%7Edcloud/>Dana Cloud is Associate
Professor of Communication Studies, University of Texas, Austin
522 Valencia Street
San Francisco, CA 94110
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