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Friday, October 21, 2005

Free Speech, Thomas Klocek And Anti-Semitism

I have been following the case of Thomas Klocek ever since I first read about it. FIRE is hosting an excellent National Review article about what happened to Klocek on its website.

Klocek had been teaching at DePaul University for fifteen years, and he was summarily suspended because he argued with a group of pro-Palestinian activists distributing anti-Israeli literature at the university:
Engaging the students in a discussion about their claims, “I reminded them that there were multiple perspectives involved here, including Christian ones,” Klocek says. “I also said that using the term ‘Palestinian’ is problematic because it was once a generic term referring to Jews, Muslims, and Christians who lived in the area rather than to a single ethnicity.” One of the students said that she was a Palestinian and that his remarks insulted her. “I told her it was nothing personal and that she could call herself whatever she wanted,” he says.

But by then there was no turning back. What might have remained a lively discussion grew into a heated argument. One student chimed in with a comparison that was as inevitable as it was irresponsible: The Israelis, he said, are treating the Palestinians the same way that Hitler treated the Jews. Ever the teacher, Klocek (who is Catholic) tried to suggest that there were important differences between these two cases. When he realized that he was battling not a reasoned opinion but an article of faith, Klocek decided to withdraw. Accounts differ as to what happened next: The students claim that Klocek threw his flier onto their table and made an obscene gesture; Klocek says he set down the material calmly and thumbed his chin, Italian-style, to indicate “I’m outta here!”
As the article notes:
He had taught at DePaul for nearly 15 years as an adjunct member of the faculty, and never in this time, according to the school’s administration, had anybody complained about his behavior. But now Dumbleton was finding all kinds of reasons to label him persona non grata. In a November 10 letter, for example, she accused Klocek of being “occasionally disoriented or unfocused,” perhaps owing to a “changing regimen of medication.” (Dumbleton’s Ph.D. is in English, not psychiatry.) She indicated that Klocek could teach one more class, but only if it were monitored — a condition that an increasingly desperate Klocek was willing to accept. Some time later, however, Dumbleton seemed to discourage it. “She told me she couldn’t guarantee the behavior of the students,” says Klocek. “She was basically threatening me with protests.” He decided against returning to DePaul, and in June he filed a lawsuit against his former employers. “This is one of the most brazen violations of academic freedom that I’ve seen,” says David French of the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, a watchdog group.

Klocek may be gone from DePaul, but Ward Churchill — the professor who became infamous for condemning the World Trade Center victims as “little Eichmanns” — remains a professor at the University of Colorado. (And he’s still making news: At a speech in Portland, Ore., this summer, he said that U.S. military officers deserved a “fragging” from their subordinates.) The administration in Boulder is giving Churchill every privilege of due process as a committee investigates him for plagiarism and other forms of “academic misconduct.” If the university offers Churchill a buyout, as some have advised, it will almost certainly take the form of a golden parachute, as opposed to the cold shoulder Klocek received from DePaul.
Klocek would not be considered a conservative by most people (he voted for Kerry, for example), but apparently he objected to some of the flagrant anti-Israeli rhetoric contained in the pamphlets. For voicing his criticism of their viewpoint he was apparently ousted. This did not occur in a classroom but in a public forum, and the groups handing out the literature were surely inviting such a response when they chose to do so. If you give out pamphlets alleging that Israel is a murderous apartheid regime, it is not surprising that some people will publicly dissent. Do college professors have no right to do so?

Free speech is in danger in our society, and it ought to be defended. I argued in several different places, including this blog, that Ward Churchill should not lose his position because of what he had said. Jane Christiansen, also, has raised the banner of free speech and academic freedom to defend her right to spread the most astonishing anti-American and anti-Semitic views on her website. Well enough, but then it must also protect Thomas Klocek's right to argue with activist groups on the campus of DePaul University.

We all know that Thomas Klocek would not have been suspended if he had argued with a group of Jewish students handing out anti-Palestinian literature. The only speech that's not allowed on college campuses and by college professors these days, it seems, is speech rebutting anti-Semitism.

This post should be mandatory reading.

As for the appropraitely named Dumbleton, one can only hope that she is held accountable for her defamatory words- and then some.
I remember first hearing about this case at a FIRE presentation. I'm surprised no one circulated a petition to present to the administration of the college to see how "democratic" they are.
I am surprised that this case is still going on. I would have hoped to see the results by now. He deserves to win his case.
SC&A, I DIDN'T EVEN NOTICE! Dumbleton! That's hilarious.

Irina, when I first read about the case I didn't even believe it. I still hardly believe it happened. Academic freedom is an important principle.

Gindy, he certainly does.
Hey! I'm David French's wife, was surfing blogs, and found your site. Thanks for bringing attention to cases like these. They are astonishing, aren't they?

Keep up the great work!
Nancy F
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