The Middle East Forum yesterday launched Campus Watch, a project to follow the more absurd doings in Middle Eastern studies and some of the pernicious Middle East-related activity of university and college faculty. I think it’s a great idea, and an overdue one. As I asked in an endorsement of the project that appeared in its press release, “Who will ‘guard the guardians’, making certain the American public gets a fair return on its new investment [in Middle Eastern studies]? Campus Watch is a timely initiative. Academe needs freedom, but it also deserves the same critical scrutiny as government and the media.”
Just for the record, I’m proud to be associated with the Middle East Forum as editor of its print journal, but I am not involved in the selection of emphases over at Campus Watch. A press report today gave two examples of the type of hot-button issues that will get the attention of the project: the “American jihad” commencement flap at Harvard last spring, and the summer controversy over the Qur’an reading assignment at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill. Personally, I thought the Harvard affair was a storm in a teacup, and I was not particularly bothered by UNC freshmen reading the Qur’an. If you want to know what I think is truly egregious, read my Professors and Pundits column in the Middle East Quarterly, which Campus Watch was good enough to include on its site.
Of course, the establishment of Campus Watch will give rise to howls of protest from the tenured ranks. The other day, I heard someone say about the Saudis that there is nothing they like less than to be talked about by others. It struck me that this is just as true for the extended royal family of Middle Eastern studies. Now the fact is that there is nothing on the Campus Watch website that isn’t already in the public domain. The “Dossiers” on individual scholars and institutions turn up less than a Google search. (One hopes these dossiers will be filled out, and that new ones will be added.) No matter: the mere fact that someone has bothered to organize freely available information in this way will give rise to paroxysms of protest.
Well, academic colleagues, get used to it. Yes, you are being watched. Those obscure articles in campus newspapers are now available on the Internet, and they will be harvested. Your syllabi, which you’ve also posted, will be scrutinized. Your websites will be visited late at night. And to judge from the Campus Watch website, the people who will do the real watching will be none other than your students—those young people who pay hefty tuition fees to sit at your feet. Now they have an address to turn to, should they fall victim to intellectual malpractice.
I wish Campus Watch well.
In March 2004, Steven Heydemann wrote an op-ed for the Chicago Tribune, selectively quoting this entry to draw a comparison between myself and Saddam’s secret police. I wrote this response at Sandbox.