volume 39, number 1
Temple UniversityFaculty Herald

Letters to the Editor

Saul Axelrod , College of Education

October 5, 2008


Dear Professor Waldstreicher,


During the 2007-2008 academic year, there was considerable faculty criticism of President Ann Weaver Hart and Temple’s Board of Trustees for failing to act on an offer of $1.5 million from the International Institute of Islamic Thought (IIIT) to create an endowed chair of Islamic Studies.  The IIIT eventually withdrew its offer and funding from local, private sources was accepted (revealing no general Temple animosity toward Islamic Studies).  Was the Administration wrong to be cautious about accepting the donation from the IIIT?  In my view, it was not.  According to the local newspaper, The Jewish Exponent, the IIIT was under federal investigation (and may still be), for supporting terror groups and had published a book by Yusuf al-Qaradawi that called for suicide bombings against Israeli civilians. 

The Faculty Herald published letters from Professors Gregory Urwin (History) and Maurice Wright (Music and Dance) that were critical of Temple for failing to accept IIIT funding.  It also published a letter from Professor Roberta Sloan (Theater) that generally supported the Administration’s stance and called for dialogue from all sides of the issue.  A second letter from Professor Wright rejected Professor Sloan’s plea and claimed that “there was unanimity among the faculty.”  Professor Wright did not reveal his sampling techniques, but I can attest to the fact that there is not unanimity among faculty.  I support the University’s actions, and based on conversations I have had with colleagues, I am not alone.

The faculty members who criticized the University’s actions have claimed that the principle of academic freedom was violated.  Was this really the issue, or was it about a political philosophy that the critical faculty members supported?  Would the same people have objected if the University failed to act on funding a chair that was pro-Israel?  Pro-Republican?  Pro-American?  Not likely.

Neither the right to free speech nor academic freedom is absolute. The much-cited exception to free speech is the prohibition against frivolously crying, “Fire!” in a crowded theater.  Academic freedom cannot be defended when it involves the intimidation of students who disagree with professors’ views, as has been reported in many universities throughout the United States.  I totally support impartial, ecumenical dialogue, but is there no reason to believe that a chair supported by the IIIT might be a source of verbal assaults on Israel?  Jews?  Christians?  America?  What has been the experience at other universities?  Universities are places for reasonable, even unpopular, ideas.  They are not places for political demonization.

A few years ago I attended a talk on the Temple campus from left-winger Noam Chomsky.  The speaker was neither picketed nor harassed.  He spoke to a polite audience.  Would Benjamin Netanyahu, the leader of Israel’s conservative Likud Party be afforded the same courtesy?  Would he even be invited to speak at Temple?  

I found the most offensive commentary on this issue in an e-bulletin the TAUP sent on January 14, 2008.  It claimed that, “outside entities” might have negatively influenced some members of Temple’s Board of Trustees and Office of University Counsel” (emphasis mine).  What is this an allusion to?  Is it that there is a Jewish-Zionist cabal that has undue influence on world events, as has often been maliciously alleged? It was only in an e-mail I received from TAUP President Arthur Hochner that I learned that the outside entity was David Horowitz.  Why be general when you can be specific?

 

For the record, I am a staunch supporter of Israel’s right to exist and defend itself.  I favor a peaceful Palestinian state living next to a Jewish state.  I served on the Executive Committee of the TAUP during the second faculty strike.  I am also a life-long Democrat.  I am grateful to the Faculty Herald for affording me my right to free speech. 

Saul Axelrod
College of Education