[News] The McCarthyism That Horowitz Built

Anti-Imperialist News 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 
Loretta Capeheart

by Dana Cloud

Earlier this month, the jury in 
<http://mrzine.monthlyreview.org/yates030409.html>Ward Churchill's 
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.soc.ucsb.edu/faculty/robinson/>William Robinson, 
<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 
cream pie.)

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 
conscientious teachers.

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 
Professors <http://ithacacollegeinjustice.blogspot.com/>Margo 
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 
Professor Rao.

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 
<http://www.petitiononline.com/j4lc/petition.html>Loretta Capeheart, 
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 
public concern.

Unfortunately, the administration has frightening legal precedent, 
according to the AAUP.   The Supreme Court's 2006 decision in 
<http://www.oyez.org/cases/2000-2009/2005/2005_04_473/>Garcetti v. 
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

Freedom Archives
522 Valencia Street
San Francisco, CA 94110

415 863-9977

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