David French and Nathan Harden of Phi Beta Cons debated academic freedom and what should be done with Bassam Frangieh over on the education blog of National Review Online.
I have bolded the more salient points and ones with which I agree. I should note that I agree with David French on the point about academic freedom -- we don't criminalize thoughts, no matter how disgusting in America -- but one is making a statement and therefore taking an action when one endorses two terrorist organizations. When one is brought to a campus for one purpose, but works at loggerheads with that purpose, I think it ought to be grounds for dismissal. I am very troubled and disappointed that President Gann and her administration have chosen to say nothing on this topic. Anyways, here's the exchange:
Nathan, thanks much for highlighting the story of Bassam Frangieh, Claremont McKenna’s resident Hamas supporter. There’s little doubt that his comments are within the bounds of academic freedom. Radical professors make all kinds of radical statements, and we have no evidence at this point that he’s done anything more than pay lip service to the fashionable sympathy for — as you put it — “perpetrators of violence against Jews and Americans.” His comments are reprehensible, yes, but if he’s doing the job that Claremont McKenna hired him to do, then those statements do not — by themselves — disqualify him from teaching nor should they cause him to have to pack his cardboard boxes and “hit the road.”
There are, however, two important caveats to this assessment. First, because Claremont McKenna is a private university, it has its own quite substantial academic-freedom interests, and it can hire and fire professors based on the values the college itself wishes to endorse and project. If Dr. Frangieh’s speech is at odds with the private college’s desired message, the college can take action, much like Christian colleges can prohibit their professors from endorsing atheism or Islam. But if Claremont holds itself out as a school that embraces intellectual diversity and protects academic freedom at least to the extent public colleges must, then it cannot (or, more precisely, should not) punish Dr. Frangieh.
Second, if Dr. Frangieh’s words were accompanied by any actions in support of jihad, academic freedom wouldn’t protect him from his school, or from law enforcement. There’s a world of difference between praising Hamas and distributing bomb-making instructions over the Internet. Yet his statements may make him a person worth watching — after all, it would be hardly unusual if radical words signaled a willingness to engage in radical actions. During our long war against jihadists, we’ll need to respect the wide boundaries of the marketplace of ideas while also casting a watchful and wary eye towards those who so openly praise our hideously violent enemies.
Nathan Harden responds:
David: Good point. I think you’re right that we do have to make a distinction between words and deeds. I don’t believe in criminalizing thoughts. And I agree with you that it is important that we protect academic freedom, even if that means protecting someone’s right to express beliefs most of us view a reprehensible.
To build on one of your other points: I’m not so sure that a university, especially a private one, should be duty bound to keep any person in its employ whose activities and statements made outside the classroom could affect his ability to do what he was hired to do. In this case, Bassam Frangieh is being paid to implement a study-abroad program in the Middle East for Claremont students, with the hope of preparing some of them diplomatic service in the region. I question whether Dr. Frangieh is able to do that job, since his statements appear to endorse terrorism, rather than diplomacy, as a means of political change in the region.
William F. Buckley argued in God and Man at Yale that if alumni find the ideologies and morals advanced by their alma mater severely lacking, they should feel free to withdraw financial support. I see no reason why Claremont McKenna alumni should help pay Dr. Frangieh’s salary if they are offended by his beliefs and do not believe he is qualified to do the job he is being paid to do. I could live with it if Dr. Frangieh were limited simply to teaching the Arabic language. But I think Claremont McKenna would be wise to send him packing, at least from the study-abroad/international-affairs aspect of his job (something his degree in Arabic literature probably doesn’t really qualify him to do in the first place).
Either way, he’ll need an office change. Thus, while your point about academic freedom is important and right on point, I stick by my call for donating boxes rather than money to the school.