To the Editor:
Joseph Epstein’s “A Case of Academic Freedom” [September] is as devastating in its impact as it is disciplined in its appreciation of the politicization of scholarship in at least one major university. The article needs to be read and deserves to be internalized by the professoriate. But what prompts this footnote to Mr. Epstein’s article is the anonymity in which Provost Raymond W. Mack of Northwestern is shrouded. We find out much about the “credentials” of Barbara Foley, but precious little about “a man named W. Raymond Mack, a sociologist by training and, by all accounts, a liberal in politics.” Permit this brief, but under the circumstances appropriate, amplification of his background.
To begin with, his name is not W. Raymond Mack but Raymond W(right) Mack. He has been connected with Northwestern in a variety of academic and institutional capacities for thirty-three consecutive years, since 1953. He is the author or editor of books having lasting professional significance, including Race, Class and Power; The Changing South; and Prejudice and Race Relations. He served as the second editor of the American Sociologist, following Talcott Parsons in this post. He was on the front line of the 1960′s struggles for black political equality and urban economic growth. Thus, Mack’s outrage at the violation of campus free speech for the Nicaraguan opposition leader Adolfo Calero by Barbara Foley and others carries not just administration weight, but the full force of the academic excellence which Mr. Epstein perceives as sadly eroding.
Irving Louis Horowitz
New Brunswick, New Jersey
To the Editor:
Joseph Epstein states: “An economist who had served on the Council of Economic Advisers under Jimmy Carter allowed that he found Professor Foley’s views abhorrent, but felt she nevertheless deserved another chance; if she were to do something similar in the future, she should then be stripped of her tenure.”
From what I was reported or misreported to have said, that economist was clearly me. But I never served on the Council of Economic Advisers under Jimmy Carter. Was Mr. Epstein’s counter-factual assertion a bit of poetic license to bracket me somehow with the man with a “Swiss-German accent,” the “left wing sociologist,” the man with a “pageboy hairdo,” or the other sociologist reported to have asserted that “the morals of professors are lower than that of a snake”? In any event, for my reputation or Jimmy Carter’s, I should like the record to be corrected.
Of more substance, I did not allow that I “found Professor Foley’s views abhorrent,” as I did not think them properly the issue. I rather stated that repeated overt interference with the right of the members of the Northwestern community to hear an invited speaker should not be tolerated. Mr. Epstein should understand the difference. It is a pity that he does not also apparently understand, and writes so snidely of, the commitment of the Northwestern faculty to due process and academic freedom in matters of promotion and tenure.
To the Editor:
Joseph Epstein’s “A Case of Academic Freedom,” intended as an indictment of Barbara Foley, turns out to be an indictment of Mr. Epstein as well.
Mr. Epstein assails Professor Foley for her involvement in the suppression of a speech by the Nicaraguan contra leader, Adolfo Calero. Such suppression, Mr. Epstein notes correctly, is hardly a hallmark of good academic citizenship. However, he later notes that “most professors at Northwestern tend to be essentially in business for themselves. They teach, they publish, they apply for grants, they go to their mailboxes ever hopeful that they will have a job offer from Stanford or Michigan, or—O my God, can it be?—Harvard, Yale, or Princeton. Not much in the life of the university community outside their own interests arouses them.” There is no characterization of this behavior as bad academic citizenship. Professor Foley may have acted badly in a given instance, but she does not make a career of careerism as do her colleagues. Mr. Epstein appears to find persistent self-aggrandizement less objectionable than an occasional excess of passion about the oppressed.
Toward the end of his article, Mr. Epstein says that Professor Foley has “a goofy kind of integrity.” According to him, her integrity is “goofy” because she refuses to dissemble. It is hoped that Mr. Epstein’s friends remember this when they encounter him from now on.
President, American Association of University Professors
New Brunswick, New Jersey
To the Editor:
I am a Northwestern University undergraduate and I am one of those students who finds Barbara Foley to be the best professor I have ever had. I am not a member of InCAR [International Committee Against Racism], nor am I a revolutionary in any sense of the word. I was angered by Joseph Epstein’s article criticizing Professor Foley, but when I sat down to write a point-by-point refutation of this highly personal and biased diatribe, I discovered a certain lack of meaning in my arguments. Why was I so dissatisfied with my rebuttal? I looked over Mr. Epstein’s article and realized that it did not address a single important issue of the Foley case. These issues include the faculty’s right of self-governance, the question of due process, the right to tenure review based on merit, and the issue of academic freedom. Instead of tackling these difficult issues, Mr. Epstein dwells on matters that are irrelevant at this point in the case. His article is not a well-argued, rational discussion of the Foley case, [but] a nasty, extended insult intended to take advantage of the fears and prejudices of COMMENTARY readers. I realize that I cannot argue rationally against an adversary who is so emotional and who refuses to deal with the issues.
I don’t think these issues really bother Mr. Epstein. What does seem to bother him (besides a clear “abhorrence” of any form of radical politics) can be summed up in one word: fashion. . . . Mr. Epstein has a clear sense of what’s “in” in fashion these days. One can be “punkily dressed,” or wear “Ralph Lauren duds,” but one absolutely must not wear “rimless spectacles” or do one’s hair in a “pageboy.” Mr. Epstein spends much more time on the aesthetics of Barbara Foley’s supporters than he does on the ostensible subject of the essay: academic freedom. Because Mr. Epstein seems to find meaning in this name-calling, his article does not deserve to be dignified with a serious response. Therefore, I am writing this letter to thank Mr. Chipstein (Chipstein?—please!) for his guidance to this year’s ever-changing campus fashion scene. I’m throwing out my old leather jacket (it’s clearly a cliché) for some new “Ralph Lauren duds.”
Paul D. Perreten
To the Editor:
I have just read Joseph Epstein’s outstanding article on the Foley affair. I must say that it is quite gratifying now, a year and a half after the infamous Foley incident, to see a complete and unbiased account of the whole mess.
I have a particular interest in the matter, for, as treasurer of the Conservative Council at the time (I am a 1985 graduate of Northwestern), I was one of the organizers of the abortive lecture by Adolfo Calero which was disrupted by Barbara Foley and InCAR.
It may interest readers to know that the administrative action taken by Provost Mack and President Arnold Weber came only after very strong protest from the Conservative Council and the International Policy Forum, to the point of threatening a lawsuit. The university’s first (and I think unfortunate) reaction was to chide us for bringing a “controversial” speaker to the campus. As a fierce defender of free speech for everyone, and not just those holding preferred viewpoints, I find this notion unfathomable. . . .
I have only a few minor points to add which I think Mr. Epstein missed: (1) Professor Foley had a long record of disturbances on campus, including taking class time to deliver a blistering speech against the Northwestern Review and its staff and getting into a fistfight with a student. (2) Given the thoroughness with which Mr. Epstein treated the issue, I was surprised and disappointed that he did not cite the Northwestern Review, which published the most thorough accounts of Professor Foley’s antics, including the Calero incident. . . .
Finally, having had personal experience as a target of InCAR misbehavior and harassment, I commend Mr. Epstein for his courage in writing the article. I do not doubt for a moment that he will be (if he has not already been) the target of InCAR mischief. InCAR members do read periodicals carefully to keep track of their “enemies.”
It is a sad commentary on the state of affairs at Northwestern, and in the academic community at large, that the Foley business ever happened. It is sadder still that the university administration has so far lacked the courage to provide alumni (through the Alumni News) and students with a complete account of all this, as Mr. Epstein has so eloquently done.
T. Harvey Holt
To the Editor:
I found Joseph Epstein’s article a delight, a clearly-worded essay on morals in the academic world. How well I know the reluctance of academic colleagues to take a stand on academic freedom if the threat comes from the Left. When a right-wing group recently proposed the student monitoring of classrooms for leftist bias, the academy shook with outrage. Justifiably so. But when InCAR and other radical Left organizations regularly monitored and picketed classes in the 1970′s and early 80′s, at least here at Harvard, there was virtually no public response on the part of either the faculty or the administration.
I was especially pleased to hear something at last about InCAR, the brownshirts of Harvard Square, who used to make me one of their favorite targets (with bullhorn speakers calling for my dismissal). My sin, as readers might know, was to suggest that social behavior has a partial genetic basis. But sociobiology has recently become a popular and even favored subject in the socialist countries, including the Soviet Union, the DDR, Czechoslovakia, and China, and now I regularly get official invitations to visit and lecture. I am eagerly watching for some sign of how this will affect InCAR, and its mentor organization, Science for the People.
At Harvard, InCAR last surfaced this spring when it successfully used shouting to silence Richard J. Herrnstein and James Q. Wilson at a Cambridge Forum on criminal behavior. The meeting was finally able to proceed an hour late, after police removed several of the loudest demonstrators from the room. It was a fine example of academic discourse of the Barbara Foley kind.
Edward O. Wilson
To the Editor:
Joseph Epstein’s article is special first of all because unlike everything else I’ve read on academic outrages, the article is entirely particularized, describing who did and said what and when, and because it is about the author’s own school, indeed his own department. . . . As I need remind no one, some amazing things take place in the university, and they are never made public—no, I mean never made palpable. That silence is understandable (people have to live with one another, etc.), but the net effect is public ignorance about the actual climate in higher education.
University of Michigan
Ann Arbor, Michigan
To the Editor:
. . . One should not be surprised by what happened at Northwestern—at least no one like myself who has spent his entire life at one university or another—but still I am: can virtue be as bankrupt in academe as the tenure vote at Northwestern regarding the Barbara Foley case seems to indicate? It may not be much to hold onto, but we can take heart at the fair-minded urbane prose of Joseph Epstein’s article and at his own courage in writing it.
Robert O. Evans
To the Editor:
In his article, Joseph Epstein describes how one of his younger colleagues at Northwestern has dogmatically intruded her Marxist-Leninism into the classroom. He goes on to remark: “I do not say that such views are dominant at Northwestern, or in the American university at large, but they do nowadays crop up with a fair frequency, and not in English departments alone.”
Mr. Epstein’s statement is exceedingly mild and greatly underrates the gravity of a steadily worsening situation. In leading departments of humanities and social sciences all over the country the Marxist-Leninists are not only becoming important voices, but assuming positions of power. They punish undergraduates who do not hold their extreme Left views and they deprive graduate students of financial aid if the latter do not toe the political line the Marxists hold. They also use every academic opening as an opportunity to campaign for recruitment of those who share their views.
As a result, the leftists have come to occupy positions of great prestige and patronage in the academic profession as a whole. . . . They control one of the best endowed history institutes in the country—at Princeton. They dominate completely a state-funded sociological institute at Binghamton. . . . They have taken over the history department at NYU. . . . And one could go on and on.
Mr. Epstein’s article, while interesting and valuable up to a point, misses the fundamental issue. The problem is not with a handful of radical young hotheads, as the article might lead one to believe, . . . but is of a much different order of magnitude: the approaching domination . . . of the American academic profession by the Left, and the repression and exclusion of anyone who does not comply with Marxist theory and international socialist policy. This is a problem that won’t go away, and by diminishing and indeed trivializing it, Mr. Epstein detracts from its capacity finally to penetrate the consciousness of both liberals and conservatives.
Of course, any effort to evoke the gravity of the current situation, becoming worse with each passing year on the campus, is met with cries from the Left about academic freedom and McCarthyism. But academic freedom has never in history been more threatened on the American campus than it is today by the powerful and entrenched forces of the Left. What they lost in 1968 on the barricades they have won in 1986 in the classroom and the seminar.
Norman F. Cantor
New York City
To the Editor:
. . . There is probably nothing new about the conformist character of a majority of academics; nor has the strict insistence on acceptance of prevailing views, especially political views, diminished in the last decades. Those few who have the fortitude to stand up against the opinions accepted by the bulk of our colleagues in the academy . . . expose themselves to condemnation, at best, and more extreme sanctions, including material penalties, at worst. Joseph Epstein’s article makes it clear that he knows this, which makes his willingness to take a public stand against most of his fellow Northwestern faculty members particularly impressive.
There are those among us who would maintain that people like Barbara Foley show fortitude and what it pleases some to call “idealism” in their political crusading, but the risks such “idealists” run are rarely serious and the accruing benefits, as in Professor Foley’s case, are often quite real. The propounding of totalitarian political views (only of the sort that are styled “leftist,” of course) is often probably not even a conscious Machiavellian strategy for gaining tenure, promotion, and general preference. But I have seen it succeed far too often in my long career not to note its effectiveness. . . .
Perhaps the most depressing thing about the situation at Northwestern is the seemingly unwavering conformity of the faculty. When I was a boy, we thought of the American Legion as the citadel of mindless chauvinism and the Legionnaires as hopeless captives of their unexamined ideology. Cases like the one Mr. Epstein describes . . . convince me that the academy is not far behind the Legion as we viewed it decades ago. The intolerance, the acceptance of almost any action if it serves a “true” cause, and the refusal to consider the possibility that a true believer could do anything that was basically wrong or harmful (“ill-advised” perhaps, even “extreme,” but not “really” wrong) are precisely what we expected of the Legionnaires. . . . Finding these traits among those who are fulltime scholars and, sometimes, intellectuals, is especially painful. . . .
There is some reassurance to be drawn from the fact that the contemporary situation has not deteriorated to any very noticeable extent over the past few decades, and from the fact that political developments outside the academy have not encouraged the transfer of political power to those who enjoy the seemingly endless support of the academic majority. But for this, no thanks are owed to that majority, which, while not in most cases actively supporting totalitarian governments, nevertheless “understands” the “idealism” of the Foleys and insists that they be protected from the consequences of their antidemocratic and illiberal activities.
It is heartening to be reminded that there are still men and women in the academy who both stand for democratic, liberal values and have the courage to do so publicly. Few have done this with the wit, temperance, and good humor Mr. Epstein displayed in his article.
Marc J. Swartz
University of California, San Diego
La Jolla, California
To the Editor:
. . . As a college teacher, I too have been irritated, angered, sometimes astounded, and occasionally saddened by the remarks I hear while passing other classrooms. Just this week a biologist teaching conservation was “knocking” the SDI program (I have always been mystified as to why everyone seems to be so against the first weapon in history that only kills other weapons); another professor was telling his class why we should not support the contras in you-know-where; and yet another—a physics teacher—was denouncing our use of the atomic bomb against Japan.
One of our geography teachers told his class that the Gadsden Purchase of 1853 was the moral equivalent of the Soviet takeover of Estonia and Latvia. Another suggested that the U.S. had invaded Lebanon (I guess the other ten nations which sent in troops as part of the UN delegation did the same), and so it goes, on and on.
I feel (and am sure many others share my sentiments) that there is a desperate need for well-written articles such as Joseph Epstein’s to provide at least the start of a balance in the continuing war of words. Keep up the good work!
Dwight G. Smith
Southern Connecticut State University
New Haven, Connecticut
To the Editor:
As a staff member at Northwestern, I have followed the Foley case closely and with a great deal of interest. While I agree with Mr. Epstein in his support of the provost’s right to hold the position he does, I believe Mr. Epstein has not been sufficiently thorough in his analysis of the case and, more generally, of academic freedom. . . .
Throughout his article, Mr. Epstein makes light of the position, “I find her views abhorrent, but. . . .” In so doing he is making light of a position that is not only perfectly reasonable in the context of a university, but is, in fact, a cornerstone of the concept of academic freedom that he seems to be defending. I believe that where Mr. Epstein loses clarity is in his understanding of the second part of this statement. The position, fully stated, goes something like this: “I find her views abhorrent, but I support her right to hold them.” Surely Mr. Epstein cannot be questioning the value or legitimacy of this position.
The position only becomes problematic when it is expanded along the lines of: “I find her views abhorrent, but I support her right to hold them and to incorporate them into her teaching when it is relevant to the subject matter.” In considering this position, Mr. Epstein seems to question the validity of a Marxist analysis of literature, and finds Professor Foley’s infusion of politics into her English classes to be artificial and inappropriate. While I have not the same familiarity with the field as Mr. Epstein, I must still observe that this seems an unusually narrow view of the analysis of literature. It therefore seems reasonable to find her views abhorrent (and I do) and still support her as a university professor.
There is, however, an even more expanded position that might be offered, namely: “I find her views abhorrent, but I support her right to hold them and incorporate them into her teaching when it is relevant to the subject matter, and to act on her beliefs”; it is on this point that Professor Foley cannot reasonably expect the support of the university community. Her beliefs include the notion that certain people do not have the right to free speech, and her choice to act upon these beliefs amounts to the denial of a principle that is basic to academic freedom. For a university community to support such a position seems inconsistent, at the very least. . . .
In my estimation, Professor Foley’s willingness actively to deny others’ free speech, and the statement this makes about her academic citizenship, weigh heavily enough to offset her other qualities, and to recommend the denial of tenure. There may be disagreement about this, but it is at least within the context of a balanced evaluation. That Provost Mack employed such an evaluation one can only hope; but what is clear is that the boundaries of fair evaluation do allow for the denial of tenure.
The controversy that has surrounded this case is not surprising; it is to be expected where matters of personal beliefs and civil liberties are at issue. And certainly such matters must not be considered lightly. We must be very careful, in criticizing and reprimanding actions we find inappropriate and unacceptable, not to censor the free expression of the beliefs underlying these actions.
To the Editor:
In “A Case of Academic Freedom” Joseph Epstein incisively depicts the hypocrisy (or is it cowardice?) of those members of the Northwestern College faculty who voted to recommend Barbara Foley for tenure. Mr. Epstein’s excellent article was the subject of an editorial in the Wall Street Journal of September 3, 1986. The editorial found reason to hope that a “correction is starting” in academia’s close-minded attitude of not allowing speakers to espouse non-Left viewpoints on many of our finest campuses. . . .
I do not share the optimism of the Wall Street Journal. Mr. Epstein points out that Barbara Foley continues to teach at Northwestern and that groups are even now lobbying to have her granted tenure. I fear that Provost Mack’s courageous action may be atypical. For example, Harvard University recently disregarded custom in not offering an honorary degree to President Reagan. . . . By contrast, supporters of totalitarian leaders like Gorbachev, Castro, and Ortega are welcome on college campuses. Never mind how many innocent victims languish in their gulags!
Of immediate concern are the patent violations at universities like Harvard and Northwestern of academic freedom, free speech, and the right of students to hear both sides of issues. But for the long term, I am troubled by other questions: why is the cream of academia so intolerant of conservative and non-totalitarian viewpoints; how many impressionable, malleable young college minds and future leaders are influenced by these professors; what can be done to reverse this situation; as a parent who has been paying tuition so that my children may attend these very same institutions of higher learning, am I inadvertently supporting professorial assaults on liberty and democracy? Mr. Epstein’s article forces us to ask these and other questions. Unfortunately, he does not supply anwers.
Eli S. Lawrence
To the Editor:
Three cheers for Joseph Epstein and “A Case of Academic Freedom.” Students attracted to the political Left in the 1930′s knew little of the true nature of Stalin and his regime. Student radicals of 1986, who do not seem to have gotten the news yet, are therefore like their counterparts of the 1930′s in their ignorance of Stalin, but different from the earlier Left in their ignorance of history.
To the Editor:
I must congratulate Joseph Epstein for his well-written and (more important) courageous article on the Foley case at Northwestern. When one is comfortable—and by and large North American academics are a comfortable species—there is nothing easier than waffling or remaining silent about such barbaric abuses of the once-laudable concept of academic freedom. Mr. Epstein, who usually confines himself to literature, probably did not relish writing this article, any more than the George Orwell of, say, Coming Up for Air enjoyed immersing himself in the execrably written . . . doublethink of Communism and its variants. At some personal cost, I imagine, Mr. Epstein has done the right thing for his campus and for the contemporary academy as a whole by writing this fine article.
B. B. Singer
Victoria, British Columbia
Joseph Epstein writes:
Irving Louis Horowitz is quite correct when he writes that Provost Raymond Mack’s full name is Raymond W. Mack and not W. Raymond Mack. I am pleased to learn, from Mr. Horowitz’s letter, that his work as a sociologist is so well regarded by his colleagues. It makes his, Mack’s, own rather lonely stand in the Foley case seem even more impressive.
I wish to apologize to Robert Eisner for having incorrectly put him on President Carter’s Council of Economic Advisers. (He was, according to his entry in Who’s Who, a member of the McGovern Economic Advisory Group, 1971-72.) We are agreed, Mr. Eisner and I, that Professor Foley’s views are not “properly the issue.” Professor Foley’s actions are. Of those, Mr. Eisner in his letter has nothing to say. He affirms instead “the commitment of the Northwestern faculty to due process and academic freedom in matters of promotion and tenure,” but does not say how “due process” was violated in the Foley case. Perhaps Mr. Eisner will one day stop me on Northwestern’s campus to explain how this might have been so—or was even in danger of being so.
Kenneth Carlson’s letter is an extremely disappointing one, written as it is on the letterhead of the American Association of University Professors (AAUP). If the president of that organization cannot see any serious distinction between being actively against free speech and attitudes of private opportunism, then perhaps the seriousness of the AAUP, as an organization regularly called upon to make distinctions, is gravely in doubt. It is to be hoped that Mr. Carlson’s fellow officers of the AAUP will remember this when they encounter him from now on.
I am sorry that Paul D. Perreten cannot find any issues to deal with in my article. If he will drop by my office at Northwestern one day—Tuesdays and Thursdays, from 2:30 to 4:00, and by appointment—I shall be pleased to point them out to him. Meanwhile, I advise him to retain his old leather jacket as protection against those harsh winds that come in off Lake Michigan.
Finally, I would like to express my thanks to the many people who wrote offering corroboration, support, and praise of my article.