Bush, "war of terror" and the erosion of free academic speech: Challenges for anthropology

Dean Saitta (University of Denver) is one of the four anthropologists in David Horowitz’s book The Professors: The 101 most dangerous academics in America. The reason? His involvement in a debate on the erosion of free public and academic speech in the US.

In his guest editorial in the August edition of Anthropology Today, he describes the consequences of Bush's "war on terror" for academics and calls for action: Anthropologists, he writes, "need to step up and engage in more and better conversations about the university’s status as a site of critical, creative and civically engaged inquiry":

The subsequent declaration of a ‘war on terror’ and the passage of the Patriot Act have threatened the civil liberties of many citizens, and brought new fears of government intrusion into our lecture halls and seminar rooms. (...)

As US troops settled into Afghanistan and Iraq the campaign against the academy intensified. Aided and abetted by a resurgent conservative student activism on campus, this campaign accuses the American professoriate of harbouring a pervasive and long-standing liberal bias – with ‘liberal’ variously understood as leftist, Marxist and anti-American.

The campaign’s single most militant crusader, Saitta writes, is David Horowitz. He is a source of advice on political strategy for the Bush administration. Since 2003, Horowitz’ organization Students for Academic Freedom (SAF) has mobilized conservative students and politicians in 20 states to propose an ‘Academic Bill of Rights’ (ABOR) for state-supported institutions. This bill is according to Saitta "clearly aimed at critics of President Bush and the war in Iraq".

In his book The professors:The 101 most dangerous academics in America (published in february 2006), Horowitz reveals the pervasive ‘intellectual corruption’ of the American university by providing an alphabetized list of "some of the worst violators of professional obligations and standards".

Four anthropologists are included. As Savage Minds already has noted, Diane Nelson of Duke University is another "dangerous" anthropology professor.

Many more anthropologists could have been included, Saitta stresses:

Horowitz has indicated in several of his writings and interviews that anthropology is one of the more intellectually corrupt disciplines within the social sciences (...), fraught with political correctness and partisanship.

All academics should be concerned about Horowitz’ crusade, he argues. It seems that a large part of the American public agrees with Horowitz in some way. The American public has - as a recent survey reveals - very strange understandings of what the university is and does:

Nearly 70% believe the university should, as its primary function, provide job training rather than cultivate critical thinking. Over 60% believe that professors should be fired for associating with ‘radical’ political organizations. Over 50% think that too much scholarly research today is irrelevant to the needs of society. Finally, nearly 40% believe that the political bias of professors is a serious problem on campus.

Therefore, American anthropologists are faced with at least three major challenges in Saittas opinion:

First, we need to demonstrate that (...) our obligation as university faculty is to teach a breadth of ideas, critically examine their social causes and consequences, boldly experiment with new ones and, from time to time, actively champion particular ideas that can advance what we know and change for the better (whatever we take ‘better’ to mean) how we live. If we make some of our publics uncomfortable in the process, then we’re probably doing something right.


The second challenge is to better justify and develop the sort of engaged pedagogy and scholarship that landed many of us on the ‘dangerous 101’ list. Horowitz’ model of appropriate pedagogy is hierarchical and elitist. It evokes an image of tweedy professors filling up empty-headed and easily indoctrinable students with what is presumed to be disinterested, value-free knowledge. (...) Significant research in higher education over the past several decades has shown (...) the utility of more philosophically self-conscious and collaborative approaches for cultivating critical powers of mind.


The third challenge is to show how anthropology’s unique ‘deep time’, cross-cultural and bio-behavioural understanding of the human condition can enrich the entire academic curriculum and inform wider public discourse. (...) [B]ecause of the qualities identified above, anthropology should be the linchpin of a liberal arts education and any truly informed approach to policy-making in a globalizing world.(...)
Anthropology’s particularist conversation about human rights (...) provides a useful counterpoint to the universalist rights conversations of other disciplines.

>> read the whole text: Higher education and the dangerous professor: Challenges for anthropology (760kb, pdf - published on his homepage)

Saitta and many other ‘dangerous professors’ have stepped up to challenge the errors in Horowitz’ book, and to clarify what academia is about and set up two websites and blogs: www.teachersfordemocracy.org/ and www.freeexchangeoncampus.org .

Dean J. Saitta has by the way an excellent homepage with lots of articles.


Engaged anthropologists beaten by the Mexican police

Censorship of research in the USA: Iranians not allowed to publish papers

"Tribal Iraq Society" - Anthropologists engaged for US war in Iraq

"War on terror": CIA sponsers anthropologists to gather sensitive information


Comment from: Sybil Amber [Visitor]
Sybil Amber

I cannot see what was dangerous about science: From my experience, on the one hand, there are some people, who simply dislike anthropology, whereas I speak of social and cultural anthropology, because this very science is investigating their social and cultural life. I mean, anthropologists ask for what (many or some) people are doing, thinking and how they deal with being together.
On the other hand, there are some academics, who think this science in vain, for reasons I cannot follow.
Anthropologists learn theories about things, and try to reflect them in a critiqual manner: Of course we got to criticize - theories can be old, overcome or obsolete.
I cannot see, where the danger was: Do some people believe, that thinking was dangerous?

2006-08-13 @ 11:58
Comment from: [Member]

Do some people believe, that thinking was dangerous?
Yes, because then we might question what they (Bush etc) are doing.

2006-08-13 @ 12:48
Comment from: anonymous email [Visitor]
anonymous email

Keep things simple and easy. Bush is only a 8 year period where Antropologi waves back thousands of years. Only the achivers will be remembered.

2007-01-17 @ 13:24

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