Recently, a Florida jury found University of South Florida computer scientist Sami al-Arian not guilty of terrorism-related charges. To those laymen and women of us outside the courtroom, the evidence did look pretty overwhelmingly stacked up against the professor, namely, videotapes of al-Arian saying “Kill the Jews” and records of his fundraising for Hamas, which has been designated as a terrorist front group by the U. S. attorney general.
Consequently, the blogosphere is alive with theories and background stories on what went wrong. These explanations range from allegations of an influential al-Arian ally in the Justice Department itself (courtesy of investigative reporter Paul Sperry ) to an analysis of the U. S. DOJ attorneys on the case as just plain incompetent (contributed by legal eagle and uberpundit Debbie Schlussel ).
Unquestionably, it is a victory for al-Arian and, not inconsequentially, the American Association of University Professors (AAUP). The one-time “voice of the profession” is making something of a comeback after seeing its membership rolls drop, although the gain seems to come largely from government officials who take the organization’s pronouncements seriously.
In a hearing at the University of Pittsburgh, representatives of the AAUP outnumbered supporters of David Horowitz’s Academic Bill of Rights by three-to-one. Left alone to make the case for ABOR at the Pennsylvania state legislature’s committee meeting was Steve Balch, head of the National Association of Scholars.
The NAS formed as an alternative to the AAUP. Although the NAS is growing, its membership roster is still dwarfed by that of the AAUP.
As I pointed out in a study that I did on the AAUP last year (in the April 2005 Organization Trends newsletter published by the Capital Research Center), the group has rarely defended conservatives whose academic freedom has been violated. Indeed, under its current president, Roger Bowen, the AAUP’s record of ideological neutrality in the defense of academic freedom has improved.
Under Dr. Bowen’s watch, the AAUP has defended two conservatives. In other words, the group has defended as many conservatives in the past year as it did in the previous 90. That brings the cumulative total of right wing academics defended by the AAUP over its nine decades of existence to four, compared to the thousands on the left whom they have made pronouncements in favor of.
Ironically, the AAUP does not do as exhaustive a job of documenting violations of academic freedom as Accuracy in Academia does. The irony is particularly rich given that the AAUP opposed AIA’s very existence at our founding, declaring us a threat to academic freedom. Over the past two years, on two websites and in a monthly newsletter, AIA has told the stories of more lecture hall dissidents than the AAUP has on one web site and in a glossy magazine. Moreover, the AAUP has a budget in the millions and a score of staffers. AIA has never had a million-dollar-a-year budget and functions with a staff of three—max.
Malcolm A. Kline is the executive director of Accuracy in Academia.