Proposals to Fire All "Anti-American" Professors

Newt Targets Tenure

Revolutionary Worker #1270, March 13, 2005, posted at

On February 25, the prominent Republican thinker Newt Gingrich gave a speech at the leading conservative think-tank American Enterprise Institute (AEI). Gingrich, who is a former Congressman and Republican majority leader of the House of Representatives, is now preparing for his presidential run in 2008.

His sharp comments on Professor Ward Churchill and the future of academic freedom in the U.S. were reprinted in the conservative magazine National Review :

"Ward Churchill is a viciously anti-American demagogue. He has every right to free speech, and I support his free speech. We should give him free speech by not paying him. You don't need tenure in this country anyway. The idea that he would be oppressed without tenure is nonsense. There are 75 whacked-out foundations that would hire him for life. Dozens of Hollywood stars would hold fundraisers for him. His life will become a film by Michael Moore. The question here, is `What obligation does society have to fund its own sickness?' ...Tenure did not exist before the twentieth century, and we had free speech before then. You could introduce a bill that says, proof that you're anti-American is grounds for dismissal."

Let's break this down: Gingrich is calling for a law that will empower the government to fire professors on political grounds.

And, of course, in keeping with nature of Republican double-speak: he insists that imposing loyalty trials on universities is not any threat to "free speech."

To make this argument, Gingrich is deliberately pointing to the distinction between "free speech" and "tenure."

Free speech refers to the legal right of someone in the U.S. to speak or say their views without being jailed or censored by the government . It is based on the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.

Tenure is part of the protection of free speech that has to do with intellectuals. Tenure protects thinkers and researchers from being fired for what they say or write, once they are attached to universities as "full professors."

It sets up universities to be an especially protected zone of inquiry and debate.

This modern institution of tenure has its roots in the important struggle during the European "Middle Ages"-- where university communities literally fought against having their members tortured or burned at the stake by government and church authorities. (In those days, under the rule of absolute monarchs and papal authorities, whole areas of investigation like human anatomy, astronomy, chemistry, and medicine were often considered heresy, witchcraft, subversive and illegal. (Just one example from that history: Servetus, the man who discovered that blood circulates through the lungs, was burned at the stake in 1553 in Geneva, officially for his heretical views on the Holy Trinity.)

So now, in the twenty-first century, Gingrich is calling for the abolition of tenure. This amounts to a frontal assault on the very notion that universities should be a zone dedicated to open and unrestrained inquiry and debate.

This is a deliberate stab into the very heart of "academic freedom." Of course everyone who is familiar with university life knows that there is intense politicking and pressure at every university (after all, we do live in class society!); and U.S. history is full of examples where the government and the ruling class intervened to suppress controversial radical anti-system views on campus and persecute radical thinkers and professors.

But carrying out Gingrich's proposal would deeply change the fabric of intellectual life. It is a call to return to an intellectual Dark Ages--where thought was legally enslaved to the powerful.

"I want him fired"

A few days after his AEI speech, Gingrich appeared on Fox's "O'Reilly Factor." It was just a few days before the University of Colorado was formally considering charges against Ward Churchill, and Gingrich again weighed in, to increase the political pressure on the school.

Gingrich again called for firing Churchill from his professor's job, and specifically for the political content of Churchill's writings about 9/11. And Gingrich specifically argued that universities that take government funds (i.e., the so-called "taxpayers' dollars") should have political standards on who can teach and what they can say (or even write) publicly.

GINGRICH (misquoting Churchill's article on 9/11): But to compare the 3,100 people who died in that attack on 9/11 to Adolf Eichmann, I think, is so despicable, so hateful, so anti-American that the taxpayers of Colorado shouldn't be paying his salary. I think it's that straightforward..

O'REILLY: Doesn't that say to the rest of the world we are an oppressive society because, if we tolerate someone like that, does--don't--that just strengthens our freedoms here.

GINGRICH: Bill, I can tolerate his saying it, but, as a taxpayer, I don't want to pay for it. Taxpayers don't have to pay for lunatic professors to have a salary to miseducate their children. If he's having classes where he tells young Coloradans that Americans who died from a terrorist attack were like little Adolf Eichmann's, I want him fired. Why would you want somebody like that paid by the taxpayers?

O'REILLY: I'm not sure that...

GINGRICH: Now, if a private school wants to hire him, fine, let some private school pick him up, you know.

O'REILLY: OK. I'm not sure that he said that in the classroom. If he did, I'd be with you. We give everybody the presumption of innocence. This was an essay that he wrote. We don't have any reports that he brings this kind of extreme outlook into the classroom. If we get it, I'll change my opinion. But right now...

GINGRICH: All right.

O'REILLY: Right now, I don't want to punish the man in the eyes of the world. I want to kind of say, look, we despise him, we shun him, he's a pariah, but we're not going to take retaliatory action.

GINGRICH: Bill, I'm shocked at your thought, though. We're not crushing him. We're simply saying he...

O'REILLY: Oh, come on.

GINGRICH: ...shouldn't earn a living--he shouldn't...

O'REILLY: He lost his chairmanship, and now you want him to lose his job? That's crushing the man. And I'm not feeling sorry for him. I'm just saying that's what it is. You boot him out of there, that's -- you know, you're crushing him. But, look, why do you think that a college like Hamilton and a college like the University of Colorado at Boulder would even entertain the man in the first place?

GINGRICH: Because the American left has an entire litany of despising America, talking viciously about America, saying really destructive things. I mean, just watch Michael Moore's tours across Europe where he slams America again and again and again, and the American left--this is a totally acceptable way to talk about America, and that's why, I think, it's a good time to draw the line in the sand and say we don't have to pay them. I'm not asking for censorship. I'm just saying taxpayers don't have to pay people who say these kind of hateful and vicious things about America.

O'REILLY : Well, he is a tenured professor. You know that. They can't fire him.

GINGRICH: But tenure is a purely artificial construct invented early in the last century. It has no long-term meaning. It is not a constitutional right. And somebody who says the things he said, I think--if he's not prepared to withdraw them and apologize for them, I can't imagine why the taxpayers ought to pay his salary.

O'REILLY: Well, the regents are meeting at the University of Colorado on Thursday, and we, of course, will follow that story.

(Full transcripts of this Feb. 1 interview are on Gingrich's own


Extreme methods and demagogy are on full display. We have to learn to recognize them and answer them.

The work and beliefs of Ward Churchill, a scholar and activist with a life's work on the genocide against Native Americans, is distorted down to some sound bite about "Eichmanns." And Churchill is turned into a stand- in for all of academia (which as a whole is under fire here).

The value of tenure--and the whole importance of open inquiry--is dismissed with a cynical wave of the hand. The freedom of debate is reduced, in a know-nothing way, to a bizarre budgetary matter.

Millions of people are being told to think, "Why should my tax dollars go to teaching ideas that I don't agree with!"

(Just think what the intellectual and scientific world would be like if those standards were really applied!! What kind of evolutionary theory would get taught? What kind of quantum physics? What kind of history and politics? What would philosophy look like? What about poetry, art and filmmaking?)

According to Gingrich, firing radical professors for off-campus writings will not chill "free speech" in the larger society--which, if you think about it five seconds, is ridiculous. And it is, in fact, the opposite of the truth: since chilling free speech and research (especially radical and challenging speech!) is exactly his conscious political intent !

And then, as the punchline, out pops a real-world political agenda:

Gingrich, influential Republican leader and tactician of law-making, is actually proposing a specific bill here that would set up loyalty trials for university intellectuals .

Just making this extreme proposal is intended to "make people look over their shoulders"--starting with those whose work defies those now in power, but including those in authority who have to decide whether to hire or fund controversial thinkers.