Preserve academic freedom

Americans deem the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11 “attacks on freedom,” and politicians urge citizens to continue their lives as normal, yet many Americans inadvertently attack American principles by attempting to hinder freedom in education.

Northwestern University Law School alumni are challenging the position of ex-radical Bernadine Dohrn, currently the school’s Children and Family Justice Center director, who led a Pentagon bombing in the 1970s as head of the Weather Underground group. Complaints from nearly two dozen alumni, many threatening withdrawal of financial support, are pressuring the University to fire Dohrn. The issue was dormant until the Sept. 11 attacks, coupled with a book release from Dohrn’s husband, a professor at the University of Illinois-Chicago, claiming he did not regret the 1970s attack on the Pentagon.

Dohrn has been at Northwestern for ten years, during which time faculty, students and administrators have been satisfied with her work. Dohrn no longer advocates breaking the law or committing violent acts, has made significant progress at the school and is fully supported by her colleagues.

The challenge to Dohrn is founded solely in paranoia and pushes American society back toward McCarthy-era witch-hunts, when suspected Communists were persecuted no matter how far-fetched the accusation. Dohrn was involved in anti-American activities in the 1970s, but that was decades ago and she has repented her former ideals. She should be free to instruct students as she has already done effectively. A foundation of American education is freedom of thought and expression, and if university instructors across the country live in fear, they will be accused of terrorism, and that freedom is gone. Education will be dictated by American nationalism, which will not give students an adequate comprehension of world politics and theories. New thoughts and revelations on world affairs by American students will be hindered.

Bottling controversial viewpoints will not eliminate them. This form of suppression threatens the future of American diplomacy and knowledge of foreign events, putting American students at a disadvantage. Trying to force students’ opinions into reflecting strictly American viewpoints will not combat terrorism. Students and faculty must be free to explore theories that might seem to subvert popular American beliefs. And in a time of terrorism, there is no better person to aid students grappling the theories of extreme hate and anti-Americanism than a woman who once sympathized with those views.

Universities cannot tolerate academic encumbrance. They depend on innovative new minds to commandeer future foreign relations, and these minds must be aware of as many cultural and political viewpoints as possible. Administrators should trust students analyze the information given to them.