Since Campus Watch opened its virtual doors in September 2002, the press and others have dismayingly often misunderstood its purposes, given that the mission statement is short and sweet, and that it is prominently posted on the Campus Watch homepage. Here are some responses to those mistakes.
The Economist of London: In response to a mention of Campus Watch, I sent the following letter, which the magazine chose not to run, lowering its credibility in my eyes.
To the Editor:
In "Why are conspiracy theories so popular?" (Dec. 21, 2002), you approvingly quote a paragraph from my book, Conspiracy: How the Paranoid Style Flourishes, and Where It Comes From, then add this gratuitous sentence: "Mr. Pipes does good work in skewering anti-Jewish conspiracy theorists, but his recent founding of ‘Campus Watch', a website devoted to ‘outing' pro-Arab academics, emits a whiff of burning books."
Outing pro-Arab academics, burning books?
Had The Economist bothered to visit www.Campus-Watch.org, it would find a mission statement there explaining that Campus Watch "monitors and critiques Middle East studies in North America, with an aim to improving them. The project mainly addresses five problems: analytical failures, the mixing of politics with scholarship, intolerance of alternative views, apologetics, and the abuse of power over students. Campus Watch fully respects the freedom of speech of those it debates while insisting on its own freedom to comment on their words and deeds."
This does not sound to me remotely like the Campus Watch of your correspondent's slightly fevered imagination.
(December 21, 2002)
The Globe and Mail of Toronto:
To the Editor:
Sarah Richards' article ("U.S. Watchdog Group Hounds Middle East Scholars," Jan. 8) on Campus Watch, an organization I founded, demands response.
With regard to Tariq Ramadan, Richards writes affectingly about his personal circumstances but ignores the mounting evidence for why the Department of Homeland Security revoked his via. I pointed out (in "Why Revoke Tariq Ramadan's U.S. Visa?" New York Sun, 27 August 2004) some possible reasons for Ramadan's exclusion from the United States and then, over recent months, more information has since come out – none of it reflected in Richards' article. For example, the Washington Post on Dec. 15 quoted State Department spokeswoman Angela Aggeler to the effect that his visa denial was a "prudential revocation" based on regulations that bar terrorists and their associates as well those who incite others to violence.
The same applies with regard to Columbia University. Richards raises various irrelevancies (e.g., that New York City has the largest Jewish population in the country) but provides no reason why Columbia's critics are so upset with Middle East studies at that university. Campus Watch has been at the forefront of researching this topic and collecting what others have done; those interested in more can find all they would wish to know at http://www.campus-watch.org/survey.php/id/16.
Most unpleasant to us is Richards quoting a discredited and extremist professor saying that Campus Watch is "shutting people up," without any inquiries into what such a statement might mean. For the record, here is the real situation:
Campus Watch reviews and critiques Middle East studies in North America with an aim to improving them. The project mainly addresses five problems: analytical failures, the mixing of politics with scholarship, intolerance of alternative views, apologetics, and the abuse of power over students. Campus Watch fully respects the freedom of speech of those it debates while insisting on its own freedom to comment on their words and deeds.
Following what scholars write and say and criticizing what we believe is politics masquerading as poor scholarship, is not censorship, it is the very essence of scholarship. And at another, more practical level, it is simply consumer awareness.
Campus Watch provides something that every professor wants: it pays attention to their work. But unlike students, who protest only at risk of their careers, Campus Watch talks back, and this is precisely what has enraged some professors, who have grown a bit too accustomed to deference.
This demand that no one should question their work also extends to their use of taxpayers' money. Campus Watch endorses proposed amendments to federal legislation for some oversight of the use of those funds – just like every other taxpayer-funded program. The demand that one tiny area, international education, should be exempt from any oversight flies in the face of what is standard practice everywhere else. Why should academics and not other interests, from farmers to the military, be exempt from having their use of tax dollars examined?
By muddling these issues, presenting so to inflame rather than inform, by quoting only my critics and not myself, and then topping it all off with a biased headline, Sarah Richards and the Globe and Mail have badly misrepresented Campus Watch and done a severe disservice to its readers. (Jan. 11, 2005)
Joan W. Scott: The Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, once famed as the home of Albert Einstein, now hosts one Joan W. Scott, a purported scholar who cannot get basic facts right – facts all the more easily checked because all of them available on the Internet. We are replying to her article, "Middle East Studies Under Siege," in the January-March 2006 issue of The Link, and specifically to her section titled "Campus Watch." We quote her mistakes about Campus Watch and correct them.
Scott: "The Campus Watch Web site is another example of outside interference in the workings of the academy,"
Campus Watch reply: This is no more "outside interference" than a movie critic interferes with the film industry, consumer assessments interferes with the car industry, or political reporters interfere with elections. In other words, criticism is legitimate. More than that, all of us can benefit from external assessments.
Scott: "[Campus Watch is] an attempt to bring extraordinary political pressure to bear in order to silence critics of Israeli policy."
Campus Watch reply: The Campus Watch website clearly articulates the goals of the project: "Campus Watch reviews and critiques Middle East studies in North America with an aim to improving them. The project mainly addresses five problems: analytical failures, the mixing of politics with scholarship, intolerance of alternative views, apologetics, and the abuse of power over students. Campus Watch fully respects the freedom of speech of those it debates while insisting on its own freedom to comment on their words and deeds."
Campus Watch's efforts to counter obsessive, one-sided attacks on Israel, such as Scott's, are one aspect, but only one aspect of a far broader effort. A glance at the Campus Watch web site shows that the project's last ten publications address topics as varied as the Muhammad cartoons, Georgetown University's taking $20 million from Saudi Prince Alwaleed, and government funded language instruction. And indeed, some of the publications address issues like the Middle East Studies Association's and Juan Cole's obsession with Israel. But defending Israel is not the focus or purpose of Campus Watch; encouraging academic integrity is.
Scott: "Pipes's own position was set forth in a May 2005 talk he gave in Washington, DC, to the Interfaith Zionist Leadership Summit Conference. In it he insisted that the path to Middle East peace will come through a total Israeli military victory over the Palestinians."
Campus Watch reply: Pipes has never spoken of a "total Israeli military victory over the Palestinians" but of an Israeli victory over the Palestinians. He points out that this victory could resemble the U.S. victory over the Soviet Union, and be much more non-violent than violent.
Scott: "Initially, the Web site listed individual scholars whose major crime was to deviate from the ‘one true' line on Israel that Pipes wants to promote. These scholars, once their names were posted, received torrents of hate mail. This included so much spam that it rendered e-mail accounts almost useless. It also included ‘spoofing,' in which identities of targeted professors were stolen, and thousands of offensive e-mail messages were sent out in their names. Some of the academics posted on Pipes's Web site, such as Professor Juan Cole of the University of Michigan, received telephone death threats."
Campus Watch reply: The allegation that faculty members initially mentioned by Campus Watch received "torrents of hate mail" has been made many times in the past and despite repeated requests for additional information no evidence has been forthcoming. Until evidence is provided, such claims must be regarded as exaggerated or apocryphal. That said, Campus Watch regards abusive communications directed to any individual as absolutely unacceptable and abhorrent. For an analysis of the most tenacious and repeated of faculty claims, see the article by Daniel Pipes, "A Prof [Hamid Dabashi] Tangles the Truth."
Scott: "The Campus Watch Web site also has a "Keep Us Informed" section that urges students to inform on their professors who "reject the views of most Americans and the enduring policies of the U.S. government about the Middle East"."
Campus Watch reply: This statement is false. The U.S. government is not mentioned on the "Keep Us Informed" page, nor is Campus Watch interested in whether or not faculty members support U.S. policy or not. Campus Watch is interested in whether criticism of U.S. government policy or other extraneous commentaries replace appropriate course materials.
Scott: "More recently, [Pipes] has founded the Anti-Islamist Institute to target the legal activities of Islamic families.
Campus Watch reply: This is a fantasy of Scott's. Let her present a single activity of this non-existent institute.
(March 11, 2006)
Is Campus Watch part of a conspiracy? I deal with this claim by John J. Mearsheimer and Stephen M. Walt in their pamphlet, The Israel Lobby and U.S. Foreign Policy, at FrontPageMag.com today in "Is Campus Watch Part of a Conspiracy?" (May 12, 2006)
Did Campus Watch stop monitoring professors? I correct a mistake by Michael Massing in a weblog entry, "The New York Review of Books Discusses Campus Watch." (July 13, 2006)
The Boston Globe: Here is a letter to the editor fixing a host of mistakes:
To the Editor:
Neve Gordon makes several incorrect assertions about Campus Watch in "Using Lens of September 11, Authors Share Views of Academic Freedom," August 2.
For four years, Campus Watch has not posted dossiers of professors; that program lasted about one week in 2002, as Gordon could have learned from a cursory inspection of www.Campus-Watch.org.
We have never focused on professors who "criticize U.S. policy in the Middle East or Israel's treatment of Palestinians," a preposterous statement given how often I, in my own writings, criticize precisely U.S. policy in the Middle East and Israel's treatment of the Palestinians.
Neve states that the Campus Watch site includes "an invitation that encourages students to inform on any professor who deviates from ‘correct conduct.'" False. Placing the words "correct conduct" in quotation marks implies they are taken verbatim from the Campus Watch site, when in fact they are never used there.
Further, Campus Watch invites positive news: "don't assume the information need be negative; we are very interested in learning about professors and administrators who do credit to Middle East studies," reads the text at "Keep Us Informed."
Finally, Gordon charges that I "have cynically appropriated the liberal terminology of the New Deal and civil rights eras" in order "to justify the enforcement of a political orthodoxy that undermines these very values." Sorry, Gordon, what you call liberal terminology is in fact universal, and not anyone's preserve.
Threats to free speech on campus today emanate from the politically correct academic leftist establishment Gordon defends and proof can be found in the shrill reactions and mendacious allegations that flow from the pens of Gordon and his ilk when their views are challenged, for example by Campus Watch.
(Aug. 2, 2006)
The president of New York University: Another letter to the editor:
Letter to the Editor
2121 K Street NW
Washington, D.C. 20037
In "Halting the Race to the Bottom" (September 18), New York University president John Sexton airs his worries that American society no longer values a rigorous approach to learning. For example, he notes that support for research is fading and Americans are increasingly uninformed.
Sexton also bewails the existence of Campus Watch, a project of the Middle East Forum that I founded in 2002. Ironically, in a lofty analysis of how Americans don't know enough, this scholar gets his facts wrong about Campus Watch.
First, Sexton says Campus Watch "would exclude or punish certain views by silencing members of the university's faculty or other members of the community." Hardly. As stated in its mission statement, right on the Campus Watch home page, it "reviews and critiques Middle East studies in North America with an aim to improving them." Further, just in case anyone wonders, "Campus Watch fully respects the freedom of speech of those it debates while insisting on its own freedom to comment on their words and deeds."
Second, Sexton says that Campus Watch "keep[s] comprehensive lists of professors they deem biased and organize parental and student campaigns, both against specific faculty members and entire institutions based upon an asserted failure to meet a political litmus test." Campus Watch has no lists on faculty members and I challenge Sexton to produce any such. Several dossiers we drew up on professors were removed from our web side only two weeks after they were posted—back in September, 2002.
That John Sexton, president of a major American research university, cannot get such basic facts right suggests the depth of the crisis in this country's institutions of higher education.
(Sep. 21, 2006)
Corrections page at www.Campus-Watch.org: The Campus Watch website now has a page devoted to "Setting The Record Straight." Given the past record of mistakes, I expect it to grow quickly. (December 2, 2007)