|SQUASHING SPEECH AT DEPAUL
by Jay Ambrose, The Elizabethtown [KY] News Enterprise
March 22, 2005
|Back in September of last year, Thomas Klocek did what you'd think is perfectly OK for a professor to do -- mandatory, even, for one who is intellectually honest and believes it his mission to challenge students to think clearly and know what they are talking about.
It may have wrecked his life, however, when he stopped at a table at a student activities fair to debate for maybe 20 minutes with students maintaining that Israel was murderous in its treatment of Palestinians.
He argued back. "Israel", he said, "tries to avoid civilian casualities in warring against terrorists, but Palestinian suicide-bombers don't
care who they kill as long as they are killing Jews". He talked about how Christians have been persecuted in that part of the world with hardly a murmur of protest by others. He quoted a prominent Muslim spokesman who had observed that the vast majority of Muslims aren't terrorists, but most terrorists are Muslims.
In the end, he was angry and the students were angry, but angrier still, it seems, was the administration of DePaul University, which suspended Klock from further fall teaching with pay but without the hearing called for in the rules of how faculty members are supposed
to be treated.
The dean of the School of New Learning gave him no chance to face those offering their accusatory version of the exchange, and it has now
in effect fired him. Some planned teaching assignments were canceled, and no new ones have been coming his way.
I talked on the phone to Klocek, this recent victim of a politically correct, new McCarthyism that is crushing free speech and stinking up DePaul and a scary number of other American universities. He is a 58-year-old man whose savings are nearing depletion and who is now trying to survive by borrowing money and piecing together jobs providing him maybe 15 percent of what he had been making. Afflicted by
a potentially fatal kidney disease, he is also worried about how he is going to find health insurance if DePaul drops him from its insurance program.
On top of that, he agreed in answer to a question, the emotional impact has been huge. Think about it. You are not tenured, which is to say, you are among the least priviledged faculty members on campus to begin with. For 14 years you do the tough work, teaching the courses no one else wants to teach and taking on whatever unpleasant duties others are avoiding. You belong, though. You love teaching, writing and critical thinking. And then one day, you're nothing, even though you find out through freedom of information laws that student evaluations
of your performance over your time at DePaul have been overwhelmingly positive.
To justify its pummeling of him, the administration has said that it's his attitude and threatening behavior toward students that's at issue, but no one says he threatened anyone. Yes, when one student said Israel was to Palestinians what Hitler was to Jews, he walked off, thumbing his chin. Was this obscene? No. I checked around various sources, including a Google search on the Internet, and what it means is you irritate me, I've had enough. I'm through with this.
Polite it definitely was not. But this is a reason to smash his career? Of course not.
You've got to figure that the administration was bothered as much as anything by the content of what he said. The dean herself referred to "erroneous assertions" in a letter to a student newspaper. She referred also to attacks on religion, but there's no evidence. Klocek did any such thing, however upset some Muslim students in the crowd around him may have been. The fact is, it's conventional wisdom on many campuses that Israel is a Middle East menace and the Palestinians victims. You're not supposed to question that except perhaps euphemis-tically. Let's don't offend people through disputation, as if this were a place of education or something.
Let's save Klocek. He has lawyers, and he may win a settlement in court, but he would rather stay out of court. He'd rather get back to
doing what he was doing. Maybe if enough people who care about free speech and plain old human decency would write DePaul and other-wise make their concerns known, the university will do what is right.
It's worth trying, and we may deal the new McCarthyism a much deserved blow along the way.
Jim Ambrose, formerly director of editorial policy for Scripps Howard newspapers, is a columnist living in Colorado.