The AAUP has now completed the final version of what NAS’ Peter Wood aptly termed a “firewall,” designed to protect academics from outside criticism, especially from conservatives and supporters of Israel. The organization’s new standards now face their first test–but from a most unexpected source.
In the left-leaning New Republic, Alex Klein has a blog post criticizing Yale’s Grand Strategy class, co-taught by Professors Charles Hill and John Lewis Gaddis. (The class was designed and for many years co-taught by Gaddis and Paul Kennedy, a specialist in international history who has written or edited 19 books.) I first heard (very good things) about the course several years ago, and co-taught a one-semester version of it at Brooklyn. It was a hard class to teach, in part because of its breadth: in our offering, a colleague and I started with strategic thought in ancient China and Greece and ended with contemporary matters.
Klein doesn’t think quite as highly of the class, at least in its Yale permutation. His post’s title mocks the course as “Jeb Bush’s Favorite Neoconservative Class.” Klein criticizes the pedagogical choices made by Kennedy, Gaddis, and Hill, who he claims “deliver neoconservative foreign policy through a thinly veiled Straussian lens.” He concedes that Gaddis is a “brilliant Cold War scholar” (given Gaddis’ list of publications, it would be hard to argue otherwise), but nonetheless dismisses him a “right-wing luminar[y] . . . more recently famous for neoconservative cheerleading and vocal endorsements of the Bush Doctrine.” Students, according to Klein, share his concerns: “of the seven current class members with whom I have spoken about the course, six said they were troubled by its content or instruction.” Klein doesn’t divulge the name of any of these students.
Klein also has some more unusual complaints. He chastises Gaddis and Hill for bringing in an insufficiently diverse group of outside policymakers to address the group, and even for running a class in which Henry “Kissinger occasionally pops by for a chat.” And he suggests that students rush to take the course (he sheepishly concedes that he tried but failed to get into the class, which has limited enrollment) in part because the instructors “give them thousands in grant money.”
A more confident academy would see little problem in Klein’s post. He accuses Gaddis and Hill of ideological bias, but offers no particular examples. Moreover, it’s not often that professors are faulted for such things as exposing students to Henry Kissinger or helping undergraduates to obtain outside funding.
But the contemporary academy—or at least the current academic majority—isn’t confident that its approach can withstand the marketplace of ideas, explaining the “firewall.” Indeed, according to the AAUP’s new standards, Klein’s post is almost spectacularly pernicious:
(1) By his own admission, Klein is troubled by Gaddis’ and Hill’s politics, and by what he sees as the troubling connection between the duo’s politics and what they teach. But the new AAUP guidelines strongly imply that any outside criticism motivated by ideology in and of itself constitutes an assault on academic freedom. The criticism’s merit is irrelevant.
(2) Klein uses student testimony to base much of his assault on the Gaddis/Hill course. But the new AAUP guidelines strongly condemn students, such as those who spoke to Klein, who “report and publicize offending classroom statements” made by faculty members, at the behest of “self-appointed watchdog groups”—as, in this case, the New Republic.
(3) Klein is a blogger. But the AAUP’s document has made clear that bloggers are on the same level as “talk-show hosts” as threats to academic freedom. Is Alex Klein the new Rush Limbaugh? The AAUP would seem to think so.