Speech at Columbia is Academic
U.S. Congressman J.D. Hayworth
University Assistant Professor of Anthropology Nicholas DeGenova
does not like the U.S. military, to say the least.
made that clear at a recent “teach-in” on Columbia’s campus when
he told the anti-war gathering that he would like to see "a
million Mogadishus," a chilling reference to the 1993 ambush
in Somalia that killed 18 American servicemen (it also killed several
hundred Somalis). "The only true heroes are those who
find ways that help defeat the U.S. military,” spewed DeGenova.
For good measure, he added that those Americans who call themselves
"patriots" are nothing but white supremacists.
DeGenova’s outrageous comments are nothing new for him. At
an anti-Israel rally last April, DeGenova showed his hatred is not
confined to America’s military when he let fly with this rhetorical
bomb: "The heritage of the victims of the Holocaust belongs
to the Palestinian people. The state of Israel has no claim to the
heritage of the Holocaust.”
comments are not only seditious, they are racist. They bring
shame not only on him, but also on one of America’s great institutions
of higher learning. As an assistant professor, DeGenova has
not yet earned the promise of lifelong academic employment – i.e.
tenure. So I circulated in Congress a letter to Columbia President
Lee Bollinger urging him fire DeGenova forthwith; 103 of my colleagues
the response to DeGenova’s comments was entirely predictable.
While Bollinger mildly chided DeGenova, saying he was “shocked”
by the comments (given DeGenova’s history, shocked is probably the
last thing he should have been) and that “this one crosses the line,”
he has stated he will not fire the nutty professor. Instead,
he hides behind the highfalutin principle of “academic freedom”
and the First Amendment, saying that, “Assistant Professor Nicholas
DeGenova was speaking as an individual at a teach-in. He was exercising
his right to free speech.”
begs the question: So what? As Fred Friendly, former
President of CBS News who went on to teach journalism at Columbia
University, said, “Just because you have the right to say something
doesn’t mean it’s the right thing to say.”
issue is not whether DeGenova has the right to make idiotic and
hateful comments he surely does but whether he has
the right to a job teaching at Columbia University after making
if you think the exercise of our free speech right should always
be consequence-free, talk to Senator Trent Lott and Rep. Jim Moran,
both of whom had to give up leadership posts in Congress because
of public outrage over indefensible utterances made under that same
there is Peter Arnett, who was fired by NBC for his treasonous interview
on Iraqi TV (you could argue he was a twofer in that he was exercising
his freedoms of speech and the press). And how about Terry
Hughes, an R&B disc jockey at Eastern Michigan University's
public radio station who was fired after giving on-air opinions
in favor of war in Iraq and refusing to air National Public Radio
news? In the real world, free speech carries with it real
responsibilities… and real consequences.
for academic freedom, Samuel Johnson said that, “Patriotism is the
last refuge of a scoundrel;” but for scoundrels like DeGenova the
last refuge is now academic freedom.
if DeGenova’s comments are to be protected under that principle
shouldn’t there be some academic aspect to what he said? I
can’t find one. Maybe Bollinger can explain exactly what is
“academic” about wanting to see a bunch of young Americans slaughtered
in battle and equating the flag and overt acts of patriotism with
was not discussing some new anthropological theory or defending
the unconventional or controversial work of some other academic;
it was hate speech, pure and simple. And I shudder to think
that racist rants and willfully wishing the deaths of millions of
our young men and women in uniform apparently have now become protected
categories under our long-established tradition of academic freedom
– at least at Columbia University.
his last two statements on the issue, Bollinger cites a new justification
for not taking action – “freedom of thought and expression.”
But Bollinger wasn’t always an advocate for such freedoms.
He was Dean of the Law School at Michigan University when it imposed
its notorious speech code on students that was later found to be
unconstitutional. Despite being an expert on the First Amendment,
Bollinger did not use his lofty position to fight the code, choosing
silent acquiescence instead. Apparently Bollinger believes freedom
of expression applies only to professors, not students.
final cop-out is that DeGenova’s comment weren’t made in a classroom,
but at a teach-in, which is “not an authorized or officially sanctioned
classroom experience.” But if DeGenova had called for, let’s
say, a million Oklahoma Cities at a KKK rally, I’m sure my letter
would not have been necessary, and rightly so.
of the many ironies of this sorry episode is that the first time
one of America’s greatest military leaders, Dwight Eisenhower, was
addressed as president was when he was President of Columbia University
in the late 1940s. And if there is a shred of decency left
in the academy, Bollinger will act as Ike no doubt would have and
the mounting pressure, Bollinger will no doubt continue to reject
that recommendation because he doesn’t want Columbia to be seen
as caving into outside pressure. However, I predict that when
the time is right, Nicholas DeGenova will be quietly denied tenure.
At that point, the academy will regain some of the legitimacy it
has lost in this sorry episode.
J.D. Hayworth has represented the 5th district of Arizona in
the U.S. House of Representative since 1995.
April 10, 2003]
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