Controversial Article has Teacher of the Year in Hot Water · 27 April 2005

Filed under: Illinois, Press Coverage

By Caleb Hale--The Southern Illinoisan--04/27/05

CARBONDALE - Southern Illinois University Carbondale history Professor Jonathan Bean isn't comfortable speaking candidly until the heavy yellow door to his Faner Hall office fully closes.

Inside the modest office - which features a view of the stone gray, window-lined back section of Faner - Bean attempts to begin his story, when the phone rings.

He picks up.

After a few seconds of listening with the phone receiver to his ear, he says, "Hey, listen, can I call you back later? It's been kind of a hectic two weeks, and I can't even begin to explain it to you right now."

A few more moments of silence follow.

" OK, bye," he says and hangs up the phone.

Bean looks again to the door, which is shut and locked to all those outside.

"I used to be an open-door professor," he said, describing the way students used to pop in and out of his office almost at will.

All of it has come to a sudden stop.

A Post-It note near the door handle reads, "Please knock," in Bean's handwriting. Above the note sits a taped slip of paper with the Hebrew name Shemtov Bean. The literal translation of Shemtov is "good name," something Bean says has been stolen from him by some of his fellow faculty members in the history department.

Handout hysteria

Bean's History 110: 20th Century America class, an SIUC core curriculum course of roughly 270 students, studied the usual litany of readings by Rosa Parks, Malcom X and the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. for its section on the Civil Rights era at the beginning of April.

Bean also distributed what he said were additional, optional reading handouts through his three graduate assistants assigned to the course. Among those papers was an abridged article from James Lubinskas of FrontPageMagazine.com titled, "Remembering the Zebra Killings," which recounted a series of 71 murders perpetrated by a group of black men against white civilians in San Francisco between 1972 and 1974. FrontPageMagazine.com also hosts writer David Horowitz, who visited SIUC last year on the subject of academic freedom at universities.

Bean had pulled the article from the FrontPageMagazine.com Web site and thought it would be material students could possibly go over in the course discussion sections.

At that point, Bean said, the wheels began to turn.

"It sparked what I called "handout hysteria," he said. "I handed it out on Tuesday. On Friday afternoon I'm called into the department chair's office, with a hysterical department chair waving the handout at me."

Bean said at that point he wasn't sure what had caused the problem.

"What I took away from it, the concern was about sensitivity," he said.

History Department Chair Marjorie Morgan declined to make any on-record comments about the exchange and said she might issue a written statement later on the situation. Morgan is leaving SIUC at the end of the semester.

College of Liberal Arts Dean Shirley Clay Scott, who oversees the History Department, said two of Bean's three History 110 graduate assistants, both of whom are black, complained the Lubinskas article alluded to racist material.

Scott said she reassigned the two black graduate students to other courses, because they felt uncomfortable continuing with Bean.

The full Lubinskas article, as it appears on FrontPageMagazine.com, contains a link to the European American Issues Forum, an Internet site, devoted to the matters and heritage of European-Americans in the U.S. Lubinskas mentions the EAIF in the story because the group leaders have pledged to ensure the individuals convicted in the Zebra killings spend life in prison.

Bean edited out the passage that mentions the EAIF in his handout for brevity's sake, he said.

A new McCarthyism?

Bean said he sent an e-mail apology, by request, to the department chair, the dean, history faculty and graduate students immediately after learning the article created a controversy. He also e-mailed his students, telling them to disregard the Lubinskas article.

That weekend, April 9 and 10, Bean received the university's Outstanding Teacher of the Year Award for his department and was honored with a plaque.

When he returned to work the next Monday, however, Bean was notified the dean had dropped two of his teaching assistants and that eight fellow history professors had written a letter to be published in the campus newspaper trying to distance themselves from what they said was a practice of distributing racist propaganda to students.

Bean said he began to suspect something bigger was afoot. Then, he began to examine where exactly he stood in the picture of the history department at SIUC.

"I am a lone libertarian-conservative on a campus that lacks ideological diversity," Bean said he concluded.

Bean contends 90 percent of all liberal arts faculty are Democrats by past primary election voting records. He is traditionally known to be more conservative, although he admits he did not vote Republican in the last two presidential elections.

Bean said he suspects he is an ideological underdog in a department rife with liberal viewpoints, and he now suspects the incident surrounding the Lubinskas article is a cover for a new practice of departmental McCarthyism by some history professors.

"McCarthyism is keeping the victim in the dark, forcing apologies based on hysterics, and then not accepting the apology," Bean said.

Bean said he was never given a clear explanation as to what needed an apology. Even though he agreed to cancel the Lubinskas handout, he said several faculty members still publicly chided his perceived practices.

The letter the eight faculty members wrote didn't specifically name Bean as the subject.

Tenured history professor Robbie Lieberman was one of the faculty members to issue the letter. She said Bean has been combative with colleagues on the subject of the handout from the beginning and has made what she said are unfounded claims of a witch hunt and McCarthyism against those who criticized him.

"I know what McCarthyism is," Lieberman said. "I teach McCarthyism. It's absurd; there are no elements of it in this."

Lieberman said no one is attacking Bean's views or even his right to discuss controversial topics in class. The main problem, she said, with Bean's handout is it came from an Internet source that had questionable ties.

Using the Internet as a source of material in the history department is generally frowned upon, Lieberman said, because its validity is not always certain.

"I don't personally let students with research papers get things off the Internet," she said.

Lieberman said the situation surrounding Bean is an example why department officials don't often distribute Internet sources for class readings.

Liberal arts dean Scott said there is nothing sinister about her actions with Bean.

"I'm certainly not out to get him," Scott said. "I was the one who recommended he become a full professor a few years back."

As far as fellow faculty publicly chastising Bean's alleged motivations, Scott said a letter in the student newspaper probably wasn't the best outlet to voice inter-departmental concerns.

"If they had asked me about it, I would probably have told them not to do it," she said. "But they didn't ask me."

Defending a good name

Bean contends the faculty members, the history department chair and the liberal arts dean have all rushed to a judgment that has both hurt his reputation and disrupted the students in his History 110 course.

Bean sits in his Faner Hall office, behind the security of the thick, yellow closed door and points out his believed dissenters sit in offices all around him.

The tension is tangible in the third floor hallway that houses most history faculty at SIUC. Up to this point, Bean said, he has been passive.

"My name, my family's potential livelihood, my students and my career are under attack," said the 42-year-old professor, a father of two young children. "My wife and I talked about how to respond to this. She quoted me the passage in the Bible about turning the other cheek."

Bean says he felt he turned the other cheek by apologizing and by withdrawing the article with little more said. The onslaught from those in his own department, he claims, keeps coming.

Bean said his defenses, and his family's, are starting to wear down.

"My wife, Alice, broke down crying when another newspaper reporter contacted her last week," he said. "She had an apparent panic attack."

Bean has documentation of everything that has been said, publicly and privately, on record and is keeping it in a file.

By all indications, Bean looks like a man ready to take legal action, a point he was at first hesitant to make but eventually admitted.

"I am speaking with local and national legal counsel to defend my good name," Bean said.

Jane Adams, an anthropology professor and personal witness to the effects of the Zebra killings mentioned in the Lubinskas article, said the matter goes beyond Bean's academic freedom as a professor to discuss controversial material.

"He didn't get due process," Adams said.

She said the university has channels through which these kinds of questions flow. They were not used in this case, she said, and it should disturb all campus professors who could find themselves in a similar case.

"I don't think there is any one of us who haven't been accused of something at one time or another," Adams said.

Adams said in her 18 years on campus, however, she has never seen almost a whole department turn on one of its own faculty members, as she said is being done in the case with Bean.

"I think this is a really serious breach of collegiality," Adams said. "One of the things I am appalled by is his (Bean's) reputation has been publicly smeared. That is all we have as professors."

Bean said he the article might have been a poor choice in retrospect. He said he took the criticism and pulled the article from class. The problem is, Bean said, is he doesn't really know whether he stopped the handout for academic prudence or for reasons of sensitivity.

He is getting mixed messages, he said, and doesn't know exactly what will happen next.

"This is hell, because I've basically had to watch my back," Bean said.