Wednesday, April 27, 2005

SIUC History Department Attempts Purge of Republican Professor

According to FrontPage Magazine, Southern Illinois University at Carbondale professor Dr. Jonathan Bean took this article from their very right-leaning website (created by former Communist and Black Panther ally David Horowitz) and use it as optional reading for his history class "Civil Rights and Civil Disorder." The article alleged that a series of killings in San Francisco in the early 1970s called the Zebra Murders was perpetrated by a subgroup of the Nation of Islam. Considering the authors he had on his list of required reading, this looks to be a counterpoint article.

This didn't sit well the other history professors, who denounced him in an open letter to the Daily Egyptian, accusing him of using racist propaganda in teaching a class. What causes me trouble is that three of my professors were signatories to this letter. Dr. Kay J. Carr, Dr. Rachel Stocking, and Dr. Mary McGuire are all three professors who taught me at various points during my time at Southern Illinois. Dr. Carr taught my tech writing course, Dr. Stocking taught my classes on ancient civilizations and the history of Rome, and Dr. McGuire taught my US History from 1877 course. I also wrote my senior thesis in Dr. Stocking's History of Rome course on public spectacles as outlets for political expression during the mid-to-late Roman Empire.

Now, most of the courses I took with these professors didn't deal with modern history, much less a history of civil disorder in the United States during the 1960s and 1970s. The article that was offered as OPTIONAL reading off of a *gasp* conservative website had a different viewpoint from that of the professors, and they seek to denounce it.

Dr. Carr, Dr. Stocking, Dr. McGuire: if you think it's racist to allege that more militant members of the already militant Nation of Islam killed white people in the 1970s, bring your proof. I would like for my professors to argue against Dr. Bean's position, not try to stifle it under a wave of personal attacks. Or maybe they just don't like Dr. Bean because he's a Republican? I hope this isn't the case.

If anything, this gives me more impetus to gain my advanced degrees. The art and science of history is becoming more and more lop-sided in regards to whose point of view should reign supreme. We're walking away from that blessed objectivity that I was taught should be the goal of a good historian. Yes, Dr. Carr, you taught me that. Your desire to shut down Dr. Bean's (and by extension, his students) access to articles that have an opinion different from your own makes me wonder if your talk of objectivity was given as empty boilerplate.

We are historians. We are the keepers of cultural memory, interpreters of things past. We must not summarily dismiss points of view because we disagree with them. We must discern what ideas of value are in those points of view, and be able to explain them to others. Even if the only value is pure contrariness, we must be able to provide an explanation. Instead, my former professors have deigned to abolish explanation and smear their colleague. For shame. You have made this alumnus wonder what happened to the teachers whose classes he enjoyed.

(Big hat tip and thanks to Powerline, who brought this to an SIU alumnus' attention.)

1 comment:

JE Janusweski said...

Very well written.