Zeroing in on Brandeis Faculty · 08 March 2006


By Alexandra Perloe--The Brandeis Justice--03/07/06

Prof. Gordie Fellman (SOC) said he is almost flattered to be included on a published list of dangerous college professors. The list also contains Prof. Dessima Williams (SOC), a former ambassador from the Carribean nation Grenada to a number of international bodies including the United Nations.

This list forms the bulk of "The Professors: The 101 Most Dangerous Academics In America," a new book by conservative pundit David Horowitz, founder of the commentary site FrontPageMag.com. This online magazine published an article in 2004 calling Fellman's teaching biased.

Horowitz said that Fellman and Williams, along with the other 99 professors in his book, have added to the "intellectual corruption of the university" by indoctrinating their students with personal agendas.

He said he takes issue with any professor-on the left or right-who cannot separate opinion from scholarly research and instruction. "My quarrel is not with academics who have left wing and liberal views," he said. "My quarrel is with activists of the left and right who mistake the classroom for a political platform."

He added, though, that outspoken right wing professors are far less common than those on the left. "People like Gordie Fellman have seen to it that conservatives don't get hired."

Fellman refutes this claim, saying that he has never been faced with a job application from a conservative professor. He added that conservative professors do exist, especially in economics departments. To explain their relative absence, he said that many talented right wing individuals who might otherwise be interested in academia choose better-paying professions in law, business or politics.

"The Professors" faults Fellman, who chairs the Peace, Conflict and Coexistence Studies program, for using the "façade" of peace studies as a tool to blame the West for terrorism and to justify terrorist acts.

Fellman said that Horowitz quotes him accurately in saying that "the humiliations and degradations inflicted upon Islamic cultures by the West" may be the motives for terrorism.

He added, though, that Horowitz's commentary distorts the meaning of these words. "I said nothing to justify terrorism. I just made an effort to explain it," Fellman said. "I oppose all violence, whether by ad hoc organizations like Al Qaeda or by states like China, Russia and the U.S."

"At one level, [the book is] kind of a joke-what's dangerous about me?" Fellman said.

He also refuted the claim that he teaches students to hate America. "You can criticize something you love," he said. "Criticism is not hatred. Horowitz seems oddly to confuse the two."

Williams, too, challenged Horowitz's assertion that she has an "anti-Western mindset."

"What I think he means is that I'm anti-imperialist," said Williams. "And I am. Fervently so." She said that to be Western means to value enlightenment and democracy, and that to do so, one must constantly critique the status quo, especially when the living gap between the rich and the poor is constantly growing worldwide.

"I refuse to be silent as a teacher about the major issues of my day," she said. "We cannot not take up issues of inequality."

One of Horowitz's complaints against Fellman is that one-third of the grade in his classes are based on "personal evolution," or the "assimilation of his perspective on the world." Fellman said this is entirely false.

Horowitz said he gathered this information from a leader of the Brandeis Republicans who attended the first day of Fellman's class and got the sense that she would be graded based on her political views.

"To use that kind of hearsay as evidence is outrageous," Fellman said, noting that Horowitz never contacted him to ask about his grading system. "His charge is dishonest and insulting."

Fellman said that he grades based on students' creativity and the "struggle" they put into their work.

Shoshana Froman '08 a sociology and politics double major who has taken multiple Fellman courses said, "We are not graded based on our political opinions, we're graded based on our ability to analyze the topics. There were people who disagreed with a lot of things … and I know for a fact that they got good grades."

But Joanna Roberts '06, a politics major, said she did think students views played a part in their grades.

"The more you stayed along [Fellman's] view points, I think it reflected on how you did in the class," she said.

She added that only one or two out of approximately 30 articles assigned were of a conservative perspective.

Fellman said he does not try to hide his opinions from his students. "Any course is taught from a point of view," he said. "Of course, the course is biased… but the professor's bias should be upfront."

Fellman said he encouraged students to take his War and Possibilities of Peace course, which explains why he thinks war is no longer necessary, and also to take a course by Prof. Robert Art (POL), who teaches why war is justified.

"[Art is] teaching what he thinks is true. I teach what I think is true. You figure out what makes sense to you," Fellman said.

Williams echoed this: "I can't think for you. I can only expose you to knowledge and ideas. It's your choice."

Horowitz's book criticizes Williams for her lack of academic publications and for her 13-year non-tenure status. "The fact that Williams has produced no scholarship in this lengthy period suggests that her retention is a political rather than an academic decision," he writes.

In response to theses comments, Williams said that she purposely removed herself from the tenure track because she divides her time between teaching at Brandeis and working to educate Grenadians. In 1996, after four years at Brandeis, she founded an organization called GRENED, which provides leadership opportunities and scholarships to youth in Grenada.

Williams said that she does not see herself only as a college professor.

"The fact that I find myself in an academic institution doesn't adequately express what I'm all about," she said. "I have used my training so that it benefits not just U.S. students but also young people in my country."

Horowitz said that beyond professors' individual biases, "the big problem arises … when the scholarly organizations themselves take positions," a development he said has heightened over the past 30 years.

"At the University of Havana, they tell you what to think," Horowitz said. "I think that at Brandeis, they do that too."

Horowitz noted that University President Jehuda Reinharz has pillows on his sofa printed with the words 'peace' and 'social justice.'

"Social justice is a left-wing agenda," Horowitz said, because "it implies that the market is not just. It's a socialist idea."

Fellman said that Horowitz is afraid of the term social justice because "the right wing sponsors injustice" and is "opposed to critical inquiry."

He and Williams said that academia, and particularly a liberal arts education, is all about exploring new ideas and exposing oneself to multiple viewpoints.

"At the end of the class, what you do with the information is your business," Fellman said. "This happens to be the exact opposite of indoctrination."