Academic Witch-Hunt · 26 April 2005

Filed under: Illinois, Press Coverage

By Thomas

On April 11, Jonathan Bean, a professor of history at Southern Illinois University at Carbondale (SIUC), received the college's "Outstanding Teacher Award." But just two days later, Bean became the scourge of the campus, abandoned by teaching assistants and vilified as a purveyor of "racist propaganda."

Behind Bean's sudden fall from admired academic to campus Enemy Number One was a cabal of eight radical academics in the SIUC history department. Bean's offense was to have assigned as optional reading for his history class a 2001 Frontpagemag report titled "Remembering the Zebra Killings" by James Lubinskas. The class topic was "Civil Rights and Civil Disorder." Bean's required readings for the class included the writings of Malcolm X, Rosa Parks, Martin Luther King, Ella Baker, and Stokely Carmichael.

The offending Frontpagemag article which Bean made optional recounts what have come to be known as the Zebra Killings, a series of murders that took place in the San Francisco Bay area between 1972 and 1974, which left 71 people dead. The crimes shared a distinctive pattern: all the victims were white. The article, which contains facts first exposed in the 1979 book Zebra by crime writer Clark Howard, and subsequent reviews of the book in Time Magazine, reveals that five members the "Death Angels," a sub-group of the Nation of Islam, carried out the majority of the attacks.

For the offense of making students aware of the existence of this article and these killings, the history department witch-hunters demanded Bean's head. Faced with this vicious, career threatening onslaught, Bean took the same course that Larry Summers had at Harvard, in attempting to defuse similar thought-control attacks by issuing an unwarranted apology to anyone to whom the reference to such an article might give offense.

The witch-hunters thirst for vengeance was hardly slaked by this gesture and the attacks by the history department radicals continued unabated. Led by Marxist professor Robbie Lieberman, Bean's antagonists were determined to bring down Bean. Bean is a well-known campus libertarian and the only Republican professor of history at Southern Illinois University. The smear campaign against Bean represents only one battle in a larger ideological war raging inside the school. By denouncing Bean, leftists at SIUC hope to purge the last remaining dissident in the department so they can carry out their totalitarian agendas unchallenged by even a single politically incorrect voice.

The ferocity of the crusade against Bean was breathtaking. On April 11, an open letter denouncing Bean appeared in the op-ed section of the Daily Egyptian. Normally intra faculty grievances are aired in committee, not in the pages of the school newspaper. Bean was charged with downloading the article "from a site containing links to racially charged and anti-Semitic Web sites" -- two blatant lies -- and abridging it "in a way that disguised its full context." Signed by professors Kay J. Carr, Germaine Etienne, Mary McGuire, Rachel Stocking, Natasha Zaretsky, and Robbie Lieberman, the letter expressed the professors' "disgust with the article that was distributed in a core curriculum American history course." Not satisfied with this auto da fe, the same professors placed an advertisement in the Daily Egyptian repeating their charges that the reference to the article (and the act of referring it) was racism.

The evidence for this racism was guilt by association -- a link, contained in the original article to the European American Issues Forum (EAIF), a group headed by Lou Calabro, a street patrol sergeant with the San Francisco Police Department at the time of the crimes. The SIUCC faculty members attacking Bean claim that he removed the paragraph containing a link to the EAIF, a civil rights organization "dedicated to the eradication of discrimination and defamation of European Americans," which they assert is anti-Semitic and racist. Indeed, according to Rachel Stocking, one of the history professors who signed the letter, "This article is basically white supremacist propaganda." Since the facts in the article were true, the meaning of her charge is that to draw attention to black racists is itself racist -- a perfect expression of the Orwellian mindset exhibited by Bean's attackers. Yet, as Bean has repeatedly (and superfluously) noted, he removed the paragraph not because he wanted to obscure its alleged racist bias but because he wanted to save space and because it wasn't relevant to the historical aspect of crimes.

Bean has admitted to no wrongdoing. Nevertheless, in a misguided effort to appease his attackers and mute the controversy sparked by the article, he has extended his apologies to the entire Southern Illinois University community in a written apology published in the SIUC student newspaper on April 12. As though anyone should need to apologize for making students aware of an article on a subject of interest in a university setting.

Bean's chief prosecutor, professor Robbie Lieberman has portrayed her own efforts to defame Bean's reputation as a struggle for campus decency-"Everybody should bring up controversial topics. But you have to do it in a responsible way," she said without getting too explicit about what would qualify as "responsible" in an article in the student newspaper.

Robbie Lieberman is a Marxist ideologue, who has taught courses in the "Cold War United States," and "American Radicalism," and has written a tract called My Song Is My Weapon: People's Songs, American Communism, and the Politics of Culture, 1930-1950, which liberal historian Theodore Draper described as part of the "curious academic campaign for the rehabilitation of American Communism."

The daughter of Communist folksingers, Lieberman has had a long affinity for Marxism, Communism and folk music; when singer, songwriter, and Communist Party hack Pete Seeger visited the SIUC campus four days before 9/11, Lieberman remarked, "Seeger should be regarded as an important figure in American history, not just as a prolific songwriter, but as a social critic." Lieberman has also written such books as The Strangest Dream: Communism, Anti-Communism and the American Peace Movement, 1945-1963, and Prairie Power: Voices of 1960s Midwestern Student Protest. So overt is her political preaching that conservative students at SIUC routinely refer to her as "Robbie the Red."

Lieberman's lifetime in the radical left made her an inevitable activist in the oppostion to America's War on Terror after 9/11. She was a speaker at an anti-war "Teach-in" in 2002, prior to the start of the Iraq War, where speakers drew alleged parallels "between the current threat for war and the Vietnam War and involvement in the peace movement." Lieberman is also a member of the Speakers Bureau of Historians Against the War an organization of radical professors of history opposed to American "imperialism" in Iraq and alleged repression at home. Historians Against the War which works closely with the pro-Castro Center for Constitutional Rights and is a member of the equally left Coalition United for Peace and Justice has developed a nationwide "virtual speakers bureau" of members prepared to disseminate the group's anti-American message to college audiences in an effort to derail what it calls "the current empire-building and war-making activities of the United States government at home and abroad." Historians Against The War has also conducted developed special curricula for students at all college levels designed to indoctrinate students in their Marxist world view.

A specialist in "war and peace, social movements, and culture," Lieberman came to the defense of SIUC student Marc Torney, who was arrested in 2003 for disobedience and for failure to comply with campus police officers following his on-campus actions in protest of the Iraq War. Defending Torney in an open letter to university administrators, Lieberman posed as a free-speech advocate: "Freedom of speech and assembly are fundamental rights guaranteed by the First Amendment of the Constitution. While we recognize the administration's right and responsibility to protect critical functions of the University from serious disruption, any limits on free speech must reflect the mission and goals of the institution. Institutions of higher education should do everything possible to ensure their policies do not impose unnecessary and stifling limits on student speech and expression."

To judge by her lifelong commitment to totalitarian causes and her current efforts to silence Professor Bean, Lieberman's professed dedication to free speech and academic freedom is somewhat onesided, and seems to apply only to individuals opposing the society that guarantees these freedoms and denouncing it as a repressive and aggressive state. Lieberman's hostility to Bean probably has less to do with the Zebra Killings article than it does with the fact that he is the only conservative professor in her department. A sponsor of the University's Young Republicans student group, Bean was instrumental in bringing David Horowitz to speak at the university in 1998.

One of the many leftist professors outraged by Horowitz's talk was Robbie Lieberman. Following Horowitz's visit, Lieberman published an op-ed article titled "Recent speaker's comments seem questionable." In the article, Lieberman defended communism, and condemned Horowitz' assessment that universities today lack academic freedom. Lieberman wrote:

Two points of [Horowitz's] rather unfocused talk I found particularly offensive and misleading. One was his characterization of the Old Left (American Communists) as being an un-American conspiracy that posed a threat to the United States... In fact, most American Communists loved their country and worked to improve it. They did not commit espionage, they promoted labor, civil rights and the abolition of poverty…it still seems clear to me that anti-Communists posed a greater threat to American democracy than did the Communists…The second point that was hard to take was the way in which Horowitz caricatured university professors today. Supposedly we are all 'leftists' who deprive our students of a balanced view of the issues, grade them on their politics rather than the quality of their work and intimidate them so much that they dare not express a 'conservative' point of view…Although it may be true that many faculty are more to the left than their students today, we do maintain a vision of education that includes: opening people's minds to new ideas and teaching them to read, think and write critically and encouraging them to reach their own conclusions. I dare say that is a very different view of education than the one David Horowitz demonstrated for us.

It is difficult to see how Lieberman's determined efforts to brand Bean as a racist for referring students to the existence of an article she doesn't like comports with her interest in letting students "reach their own conclusions." But Lieberman is hardly the only radical SIUC professor to apply the standards of academic freedom selectively.

One of Lieberman's colleagues in the anti-Bean lynch party is Rachel Stocking, also a member of Historians Against the War, who called the Frontpagemag article "blatant propaganda." To be sure, Stocking knows something about propaganda. She was a signatory to an anti-war screed published the day after the 9/11 attacks and titled, "Build Peace and Justice: Resist Calls for Collective Punishment:"

"We oppose any military strike by the U.S. government that might result in civilian casualties here and abroad; we believe that sacrificing more lives in blind retaliation is not only unjust but also counterproductive."

The letter was written by The Committee for Justice in Palestine, an Ohio State University anti-Israel activist group, that supports Palestinian terrorists. In addition to Stocking, other signatories included: former recruiter for the Communist Party, Stan Goff; Al-Awda/Palestine Right to Return Coalition, an organization whose demands would destroy the State of Israel and which has promoted the terrorist group Hamas; the Hamas-spinoff which poses as a civil liberties group -- The Council on the American-Islamic Relations, Ohio Chapter, and the Young Communist League - Columbus Chapter. Stocking is also a supporter of convicted cop-killer Mumia Abu-Jamal.

Still another SIUC professor who signed the letter denouncing Bean is Natasha Zaretsky. Like Robbie Lieberman, Zaretsky springs from radical stock: she is the daughter of the New Left Marxist Eli Zaretsky, who is a professor at the Nwew School of Social Research in New York. Natasha was quoted in the New York Times saying , "Capitalism by itself produces only greed and exploitation. The great successes of the modern epoch are due to social movements like populism, progressivism, new deal liberalism, socialism, feminism, movements for racial equality and even Communism." Both Natasha and her father were also signatories to public statements denouncing the Iraq war.

So how have university administrators responded to the assaults on Professor Bean's academic freedom? As reported by student writer Moustafa Ayad, they have sided with the Communist witch-hunters who have defamed Bean. Shirley Clay Scott, dean of the College of Liberal Arts, sent Bean a letter chastising him for failing to understand appropriate "parameters of discussion." (Meanwhile the American Association of University Professors is busy attacking David Horowitz's Academic Bill of Rights as an attempt to "restrict" professorial speech!) Scott then used her authority to cancel Bean's discussion sections for the week and told his teaching assistants they did not have to continue teaching the course for the rest of the semester. Two of Bean's three graduate teaching assistants have subsequently resigned their posts. Marjorie Morgan, head of the history department, has poured her own fuel on the flames by calling Bean insensitive.

A number of individuals have come to Bean's aid. Renowned photographer D. Gorton, a former employee of the New York Times, wrote in SIUC's student newspaper, "I firmly believe that Professor Bean's real sin is that he is a Republican in a department that is wholly controlled by leftists and Democrats. There is no diversity of academic opinion, which breeds, in turn, the intolerance contained in this effort to smear Professor Bean…I would urge my 'community,' including lawmakers, to take special notice of this attempt at character assassination. The stench from the innuendo and intimations of racism on the part of Professor Bean is nauseating."

Several professors have also refused to toe the radical line on Bean. Jane Adams, professor of anthropology at SIUC, has come out in defense of Bean. Adams, who assisted in voter registration in Black communities in the 60s-era South, has noted that, "This [attack on Bean] puts an ax at the root of academic freedom and the freedom of inquiry." Meanwhile, Joan Friedenberg, a linguistics professor at the university, has stepped forward to reproach the faculty members out to ruin Bean's reputation. Acknowledging that she does not share Bean's politics, Friedenberg has nevertheless condemned the attacks on Bean as "a classic case of mobbing."

Perhaps Bean's most unlikely ally has been the local chapter of the ACLU. The ACLU has even taken measures to represent Bean in legal proceedings: Leonard Gross, an SIUC law school professor and ACLU lawyer, is serving as Bean's counsel. The American Association of University Professors, on the other hand, is silent.

Bean's staunchest defenders, however, have been his students. During his first class after the eruption of the radical witch-hunt, Bean announced, "I had two direct ancestors hung as witches at Salem. I don't plan to be the third." The remark earned him a standing ovation from 270 of his students. Some students have also taken to the pages of the campus newspaper to voice their support for Bean. For instance, in an April 20 letter to the Daily Egyptian, Bethany C. Peters, a SIUC senior and history major, writes:

"I had [Bean] as a professor for History 392 last semester. My class, which was diverse, never had any problems with Dr. Bean being racist or requiring propagandist literature. As my professor and advisor, I have had only positive experiences with him and find that he is a wonderful professor, who went out of his way to help any and all students to succeed at SIUC."

Peters goes on to write:

"I would also challenge each of those professors [who have defamed Bean] to examine their own literature and see exactly what stances and images are being professed and created. If it is not acceptable for Dr. Bean to push an agenda (which he DOES not), then perhaps they also should refrain from handing out materials that include an agenda, be it racist, liberal, inappropriate in regards to religion."

While maintaining that he did nothing wrong in using the Frontpagemag article, Bean has expressed his regret about the controversy that it has unleashed. "It was not my intent to inflame or deceive but rather to bring up an event that occurred," he has said.

The same cannot be said of Robbie Lieberman and her radical confederates in the history department. In seizing on the article to stigmatize a colleague for politically incorrect ideas, they have demonstrated that the academic witch-hunt is alive and well at SIUC.

You may e-mail Thomas Ryan by clicking here.