Cold War at Colgate

, Malcolm A. Kline, Leave a comment

Although most Americans credit President Ronald Reagan with winning this country’s Cold War with the former Soviet Union, many universities offer a different spin on the half-century-old conflict, such as the one frequently taught at Colgate University.

Nigel Young, the director of Colgate’s Peace Studies program, gave European peace movements the credit for ending the Cold War. As it happens, despite numerous course offerings in Peace Studies, the word “totalitarian” does not appear anywhere in Colgate’s course catalogue.

At a forum on diversity at Colgate, computer science professor Alexander Nakhimovsky revealed that some of his colleagues “thought that Soviet atomic spies were invented by the FBI; that Marshall Tito’s Yugoslavia was a viable third way between liberal democracy and Soviet socialism; or that the Sandinista regime of the 1980s had the support of the majority of Nicaraguans.”

The tenured professor received a Master’s in Mathematics from Leningrad (now and then St. Petersburg) University in 1972, at a time when the then-Soviet leader, Leonid Brezhnev, argued that countries that are communist must always be communist. As Dr. Nakhimovsky points out, although barely acknowledged in academia, the actual historical record shows a different turn of events from those visualized by academics offering opinions on the Soviet Union, Yugoslavia and Nicaragua. Indeed:

–The archives of the Soviet Union itself showed that the atomic spies on its payroll were quite real.

–Amnesty International (AI) was cataloging the Tito government’s human rights abuses way back in 1977, when AI adopted 100 Yugoslav prisoners of conscience.

–The majority of Nicaraguans voted the Sandinistas out of office the first chance they got. Just ask Violetta Chamorro, whose UNO party bested the Soviet-backed Sandinistas in the first free elections held in that country.

Interestingly, the Colgate conference took place the day after the American Council of Trustees and Alumni (ACTA) released its survey on political bias in the classroom. ACTA found that half of the students surveyed report of politically one-sided lectures and one-third feel compelled to agree with those positions in order to obtain good grades in the classes. Colgate was one of the schools ACTA surveyed.

“I personally have not heard any first-hand reports about indoctrination in the classroom, although I understand such reports do occasionally surface,” Dr. Nakhimovsky says. “My left-leaning colleagues are serious scholars, excellent teachers, and, when called upon, efficient and fair administrators.” Dr. Nakhimovsky received his Ph. D. from Cornell in 1979 and has been at Colgate for two decades.

Dr. Nakhimovsky cautions that the bias and slanting of education can occur as much through the process of selection as it can through direct censorship. “Certain points of view are not presented or are not presented fairly; certain books and authors are not read; certain courses are not taught, and certain groups of people are not represented on campus,” Dr. Nakhimovsky explains.

Among those unrepresented groups—the U. S. military. Like four-fifths of American colleges and universities, Colgate does not offer a Reserve Officer Training Corps (ROTC) program.

In light of the above, it is perhaps not surprising that Colgate’s student newspaper, The Maroon News, found that one-third of the students they surveyed expressed a desire for more intellectual diversity on campus. “As someone who deeply believes in God, I really felt that my Challenge of Modernity class really oppressed the Christian perspective,” Colgate sophomore Jenni Cavazos said. “I really missed the presentation of the Christian viewpoint about Darwin and Neitzche, those would have made the discussions more interesting.”

Colgate has showcased controversial conservative speakers such as Alan Keyes and Ann Coulter, whom many schools will not host. On campus itself, though, liberals dominate. Political Science professor Stanley Brubaker can tally up only three conservative faculty members, all in his department.

Recently, Colgate Philosophy and Religion Professor Omid Safi started a group called the Progressive Muslim Union of North America. For his part, mid-East scholar Daniel Pipes remains skeptical. Pipes notes a class assignment given by Dr. Safi in which the professor’s students “are required to turn in a report on a significant person who contributed to a negative presentation of Islam and/or Muslims.”

“This group is a broad coalition that includes folks from diverse backgrounds, as unrepentant Orientalists, outright Islamophobes, Neo-Conservatives, Western Triumphalists, Christian Pentecostals, etc.,” Dr. Safi explains. Pipes makes the list, as do Bernard Lewis, Samuel Huntington, William Bennett and Jerry Falwell.

“Call me old-fashioned, but I think a professor is supposed to inform and inspire his students, not tell them what to think,” Pipes writes. “Safi’s labeling the people on his list symbolizes the insecurity and tyranny of Middle East.”