Wednesday, January 21, 2015

The Ali al-Marri Story

Ali Saleh Kahlah al-Marri has been deported to Qatar after spending 13 years in a US Navy brig and a federal prison for being an al-Qaeda agent and providing material support to terrorists.
But the full story about the al-Marri case reveals the failure of the Bush Administration’s approach to terrorism. I've been reporting on the al-Marri case for more than a decade. Torture and the violation of Constitutional rights didn’t work. But al-Marri was not some innocent victim. Al-Marri has expressed regret for working with al-Qaeda, but it’s not clear that he has abandoned his terrorist past. As a computer expert, al-Marri could pose a danger anywhere.
The incompetence began when al-Marri was facing trial for fraud in 2003 in Peoria. There’s no doubt that he was guilty, and would have been found guilty. But the Bush Administration wanted al-Marri to reveal information about al-Qaeda. So they decided to name him an "enemy combatant" in order to have full control over him and perhaps use their "enhanced interrogation" techniques. In fact, the Bush Administration was so anxious to have al-Marri as an "enemy combatant" that they agreed to drop the fraud charges "with prejudice," meaning that he could never be charged with them again. Reports indicate that the Bush Administration never got any worthwhile information from al-Marri; the "enemy combatant" designation was an utter failure.
This was the first major error of the Bush Administration. If al-Marri had been convicted on fraud, the years he spent in prison for that would not be deducted from his 15-year sentence. In essence, by naming al-Marri an "enemy combatant," the Bush Administration ended up reducing his time in prison.
The second major mistake of the Bush Administration was the torture of Khalid Shaikh Mohammed. By torturing Mohammed rather than using normal interrogation techniques, the Bush Administration made all of the evidence he provided inadmissible in any court. If the more reliable and effective interrogation techniques that reject torture had been used, prosecutors would have been able to tie al-Marri directly to terrorism.
The problem for prosecutors today is that al-Marri had never been an operational terrorist, and although he was an al-Qaeda agent, he was sent as a sleeper agent to the US to coordinate al-Qaeda’s follow-up operatives arriving after 9-11, operatives who never arrived due to the global crackdown on al-Qaeda. Without Mohammed’s evidence and without the fraud evidence that the Bush Administration had tainted and dismissed with prejudice, prosecutors were in a very difficult position to prove that al-Marri had done anything illegal.
That’s why they felt forced to agree to a relatively short sentence that just ended. Once again, we’re all paying the price for the failures of the Bush Administration.
Al-Marri came to Peoria with his wife and five children on Sept. 10, 2001 to enroll as a graduate student in computer science at Bradley University (which he had attended as an undergraduate two decades earlier). While the government portrays al-Marri as a key al-Qaeda figure in America, he is also the center of a fight over whether civil liberties will be sacrificed to fight the “war on terrorism.” On June 23, 2003, George W. Bush designated al-Marri as the third “enemy combatant” in America, depriving him of all legal rights.
While evidence of al-Marri’s involvement in illegal and perhaps terrorist activities has steadily accumulated, so too did the fact that the government is violating his constitutional rights with little justification. The Bush Administration’s efforts to deny al-Marri his rights have done nothing to protect America from terrorism, and its mishandling of the al-Marri case could eventually allow him to go free.
When the FBI first questioned al-Marri, at his apartment in West Peoria on Oct. 2, 2001, it was based on a police stop where al-Marri was found to have a briefcase full of cash (Al-Marri reportedly received over $13,000 in cash from Mustafa Ahmed al-Hawsawi, the financier who bankrolled the September 11th attacks).
A tip from a US Cellular salesman worried about al-Marri’s cell phone calls to the Middle East may also have led to a deeper investigation. Because his enrollment forms at Bradley had listed two different birthdates, the FBI paid a visit to al-Marri. FBI agents continued to investigate al-Marri, and on Dec. 11, 2001, visited his home again.
They say al-Marri gave them permission to search his apartment and his laptop.
On al-Marri’s laptop, FBI computer experts found files with more than 1,750 credit card numbers, along with bookmarked websites about computer hacking, credit card fraud, buying hazardous chemicals, and making fake driver’s licenses. Al-Marri’s computer also included proxy software used to conceal identity on the internet, and hacker programs used to gather information about other people’s computers.
Al-Marri’s laptop also indicated his support of bin Laden, including an Arabic prayer that “Neither the U.S. nor anyone living in it will dream of security/safety before we live it in Palestine and before the infidel armies leave the land of Mohammed,” and that God should “protect” and “guard” Usama bin Laden. The laptop also included audio files of lectures by bin Laden, lectures advising how to train in al-Qaeda camps in Afghanistan, photos of the 9-11 attacks and of prisoners held in Kabul, and a note in Arabic declaring: “Neither the U.S. nor anyone living in it will dream of security/safety before we live it in Palestine and before the infidel armies leave the land of Mohammed.”
On Dec. 12, al-Marri returned to the FBI offices, but this time he asked for a lawyer, and refused to take a polygraph test. Agents confronted him with a list of 36 expired credit cards numbers on two sheets of paper in his laptop’s carrying case, a list that included the owners’ names and expiration dates. Al-Marri claimed that the handwriting on the sheets wasn’t his, and said he knew nothing about them. On orders from the New York City offices, federal agents arrested al-Marri that afternoon as a “material witness.” After a few weeks in the Peoria County Jail, al-Marri was flown to New York and put in the Special Housing Unit at the Metropolitan Correctional Center.
On Dec. 14, 2001, FBI agents got a search warrant for al-Marri’s apartment, and found an almanac with business cards used to mark pages showing U.S. dams, reservoirs, waterways and railroads. They also found an Arabic prayer calling for the defeat of the “villainous” Christians and Jews in Palestine, Afghanistan, Kashmir and Chechnya.
The Credit Card Scheme
On Jan. 28, 2002, al-Marri was arrested and charged with unauthorized possession of “more than 15” access devices — the credit-card numbers — with the intent to defraud. He was indicted on the charge Feb. 6, 2002. After al-Marri and his attorneys decided that Manhattan was a bad place for a terrorism suspect to go on trial, they asked for the venue to be moved back to central Illinois, where the alleged crimes had taken place, so the government dropped the charges in New York and re-filed them in Peoria.
In the summer of 2000, al-Marri came to central Illinois and created a fake company, AAA Carpets, in room 209 at the Time Out Motel in Macomb, Il., using the name Abdullakareem A. Almuslam. Western Illinois University student Matt Stiles, who hooked up a high-speed internet connection for al-Marri, told the Chicago Tribune, “He said it was very important that he have fast Internet service.” According to Stiles, “All I know is he sat around and was on the Internet all day.”
Al-Marri used a false name and stolen Social Security number to open accounts at three banks in Macomb, and opened a credit card processing account. Using stolen credit card numbers, al-Marri processed fake transactions, and then moved the money out before the credit card companies and banks figured out the fraud.
Although al-Marri denied the allegations, the evidence against him seemed overwhelming. Six of the stolen credit card numbers used by “Almuslam” were later found on al-Marri’s laptop. A witness in Macomb picked al-Marri out of a photo line-up as the man calling himself “Almuslam.” Fingerprints on the “Almuslam” bank documents in Macomb matched al-Marri. Airline records show that an Ali S. al-Marri took a flight from Saudi Arabia to Frankfurt and then O’Hare on May 25-26, 2000.
The summer “Almuslam” was in Macomb, he made a call to a travel agency, arranging for a flight by a man named Ali al-Marri, who took a flight from Peoria to Chicago and then New York on Aug. 18, 2000, and then returned the next day, missing the connection to Peoria. Al-Marri soon left the country, and flew from Frankfurt back to Saudi Arabia on Aug. 21, 2000.
But the Macomb evidence proves that al-Marri was a criminal, not necessarily a terrorist. In January 2003, federal prosecutor Michael McGovern told a judge that al-Marri had used credit card fraud to provide “material support” to al-Qaeda, but no evidence of this has ever been publicly produced.
The Al-Qaeda Phone Number
In addition to the fraud charges, al-Marri was also charged with two counts of lying to federal agents. The government accused al-Marri of falsely denying that he called a phone in the United Arab Emirates, and of falsely claiming that he hadn’t been in the country in 2000 when the credit card fraud was perpetrated.
On four occasions in 2001, al-Marri tried (unsuccessfully) to call a number in United Arab Emirates using public pay phones in Illinois. On Sept. 23, a call was made from a store in Peoria near his apartment, using a phone card that was also used on al-Marri’s cell phone on Sept. 27 and his home phone on Oct. 24. On Oct. 14, the same number was called around 2am using the same phone card from a gas station in Springfield; around the same time, al-Marri’s cell phone was used near Springfield. On Nov. 4, the number was called twice from pay phones in Chicago, using a second phone card; that same phone card was used three days later from al-Marri’s home phone.
The FBI was suspicious of the phone number because it was used on Sept. 3, 2001 by Ramzi Bin Al-Shibh to transfer money to Zacarias Moussaoui, the “20th hijacker” for the 9-11 attacks. The phone number was also listed by al-Qaeda financier, Mustafa Ahmed al-Hawsawi (arrested in Pakistan on March 1, 2003 along with Khalid Shaikh Mohammed). Al-Hawsawi, who is accused of sending money to the 9-11 hijackers, listed the number on a withdrawal slip from a United Arab Emirates (UAE) bank.
The number was also called by 9-11 hijacker Mohamed Atta, who listed the phone number when he sent a Fed Ex package to the UAE on Sept. 4, 2001. The 9-11 hijackers returned leftover money to the account opened by al-Hawsawi shortly before the attacks. The phone number was also used in the transfer of money to Ramzi Muhammad Abdullah bin al-Shibh, whom American officials believe was intended to be another 9-11 hijacker. But when questioned by the FBI about it, al-Marri denied calling the phone number or knowing al-Hawsawi. On Dec. 23, 2002, al-Marri was charged with making false statements to the FBI denying that he called the number.
The Enemy Combatant
While al-Marri was awaiting his trial, the US got a lucky break in capturing Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, the global leader of al-Qaeda operations, on March 1, 2003. Under torture (including waterboarding), Mohammed revealed some information about the al-Qaeda network, and named al-Marri as “the point of contact for AQ operatives arriving in the US for September 11 follow-up operations.” Newsweek claimed that Mohammed described al-Marri as “the perfect sleeper agent because he has studied in the United States, had no criminal record and had a family with whom he could travel.”
But one Newsweek reporter admitted to a Peoria Journal-Star columnist there wasn’t evidence of contact with other al-Qaeda operatives. “That’s the mystery here,” reporter Daniel Klaidman said. “If he was the main contact, we probably would’ve seen more evidence of him talking to others.” Because some of the information linking al-Marri to terrorism was acquired using torture, it’s unreliable and cannot be allowed in a court of law.
According to the government, al-Marri trained at al-Qaeda’s al Farooq camp in Afghanistan, including training in chemical weapons, and pledged service to Osama bin Laden, offering himself for a “martyrdom” mission. Some detainees reportedly identified al-Marri as being at the al-Farooq camp, and said that he offered to die for al-Qaeda. With this additional information, the Bush Administration decided to name al-Marri an enemy combatant–even though he was arrested on American soil, and has never been accused of carrying out any acts of violence.
Bush’s June 23, 2003 order declared that “al-Marri engaged in conduct that constituted hostile and war-like acts, including conduct in preparation for acts of international terrorism,” and he “represents a continuing, present and grave danger to the national security of the United States.” The order claimed that the enemy combatant designation was “necessary to prevent him from aiding al-Qaeda in its efforts to attack the United States or its armed forces, other government personnel, or citizens.”
The Defense Department said al-Marri’s status was changed ‘‘due to recent credible information provided by other detainees in the war on terrorism. Enemy combatant status may be used to describe an individual who, under the laws and customs of war, has become a member of or associated himself with hostile enemy forces, thereby attaining the status of a belligerent.’’
This doesn’t describe al-Marri at all, even if the worst accusations against him are true. First of all, there is no declared war with al-Qaeda, because al-Qaeda is a terrorist group, not an enemy nation. Second, al-Marri’s alleged membership in the group is tenuous at best. Third, al-Marri was never a belligerent of any kind. A statement from Human Rights Watch charged, “The United States cannot declare a criminal suspect, including a suspected member of al-Qaida, an enemy combatant, except where there has been direct participation in an international armed conflict.”
Jan Paul Miller, federal prosecutor for central Illinois, filed to dismiss the criminal case without prejudice—meaning that the government could later reinstate the charges. And the judge seemed willing to support that ruling, but wanted to give defense attorneys time to prepare a response. However, the government was under orders to get al-Marri into military custody immediately, and rather than have a few hours delay for a response by al-Marri’s attorneys, they agreed to dismiss the charges with prejudice, which means al-Marri can never be prosecuted for his acts of credit card fraud and lying. This critical decision may come back to haunt the government now that al-Marri’s enemy combatant status is overturned.
The fact that al-Marri was already in jail awaiting trial on fraud charges made the sudden rush by the Bush Administration even more puzzling. Alice Fisher, deputy assistant attorney general, told the media, “We are confident we would have prevailed,” but dropped the charges in order to help fight terrorism. Fisher has admitted that investigators do not believe that al-Marri was “specifically tasked” to plot a chemical or biological attack in the United States. Instead, Newsweek reports that government officials believe al-Marri was assigned to hack into the computer systems of U.S. banks. Al-Marri also frequently visited websites on the production of hydrogen cyanide, a lethal gas that al-Qaeda plotted to use in America. Given al-Marri’s suspected role, why was it necessary to shift the case to military tribunals, which cannot rule on the dismissed charges of fraud and lying?
According to an ABC News report, al-Marri was made an “enemy combatant” because “the government does not want senior al-Qaeda leaders testifying about classified information in open court.” Yet this explanation is not plausible, since the fraud charges against al-Marri wouldn’t have required any classified information. Classified information might come out only if terrorism charges were filed against him, but it’s doubtful that evidence acquired more than five years ago would seriously undermine the war on terror.
Putting the Pressure on al-Marri
The real reason for “enemy combatant” status was revealed anonymously to journalists. United Press International reported that a Justice Department official said “that the actual reason for the change in status was to pressure him to cooperate.” According to the anonymous official, “If the guy says ‘Even if you give me 30 years in jail, I’ll never help you.’ Then you can always threaten him with indefinite custody incommunicado from his family or attorneys.” Attorney General John Ashcroft declared, “An individual with that kind of situation is an individual who might know a lot about what could happen, might know the names of individuals, information being so key to intelligence and prevention.”
On May 7, 2003, federal prosecutor David Kelley, according to al-Marri’s attorney, threatened al-Marri that if he continued a plea of innocence, “the circumstances of his confinement, which were already severe, would be further aggravated.” For years, al-Marri was kept in solitary confinement, and reportedly also had his family threatened by the government in an effort to get him to talk.
Even if al-Marri didn’t confess under this “pressure,” the government hoped that making al-Marri an “enemy combatant” might give a lesson to al-Qaeda supporters who were reluctant to cooperate. CNN reported that “senior FBI official” said the al-Marri case had implications for other terrorism suspects: “If I were in their shoes, I’d take a message from this.”
Frank Dunham, a defense attorney representing Zacarias Moussaoui and Yassir Hamdi, called this a significant admission: “In front of appeals courts, they have argued that enemy combatant status prevents the horror of having corporals and sergeants having to follow Miranda warnings and chain-evidence requirements. They have also argued for the national security implications of allowing it. But never a frank admission that it offers them more leverage in plea bargains and cooperation.”
When Constitutional rights are abandoned solely for the sake of intimidating prisoners, it indicates a serious threat to civil liberties. As Emily Tynes of the ACLU observes, “The Department of Justice’s treatment of al-Marri reads like a case study in abuse of power.” Tynes notes, “He will be held in a military brig indefinitely, without opportunity for trial, without the opportunity for counsel, without access to the outside world or even, necessarily, sunshine. He now has no rights. He now has no privileges. He is persona non grata.”
Unfortunately, few people were concerned about the violations of civil liberties in the al-Marri case. Then-Congressman Ray LaHood (who became a member of Obama’s cabinet) told WGLT about the al-Marri case at the time: “I guarantee you, if these folks get lawyers, they will have their day in court.” LaHood claimed, “I don’t see too many crocodile tears being spread around this country for these people. I guarantee you, there’s enough civil liberties groups to look after their interests.” LaHood may have been unaware of the fact that an “enemy combatant” is denied the constitutional right to a lawyer.
Former judge Andrew Napolitano, the senior judicial analyst at Fox News, noted in the Los Angeles Times about the al-Marri case, “We have tried the likes of Timothy McVeigh and Charles Manson, Al Capone and O.J. Simpson, Tokyo Rose and the Rosenbergs. So who is an enemy combatant? Not John Walker Lindh, who fought alongside the Taliban. Not Zacarias Moussaoui, who the government says helped plan the 9/11 attacks. Not Lyman Faris, who allegedly plotted to blow up the Brooklyn Bridge. The Constitution protected their rights. Who is an enemy combatant? Today, it can be anyone the president wants. And that is terrifying.”
Hamdi v. Rumsfeld
Al-Marri’s case was the first time any president has ever stopped a judicial process by declaring someone an “enemy combatant.” The fraud and lying charges against al-Marri could have carried penalties of five to 30 years in prison, with fines of up to $1 million on each count. Clearly, there was no immediate danger that al-Marri would be released to organize terrorist activities if not for the “enemy combatant” designation.
To the contrary, al-Marri could have been kept in prison for years on fraud and lying charges, and by the time he was scheduled for release, terrorism charges could be filed without any danger to national security. Because the government did not file any terrorism charges against him, al-Marri would have no right to call any witnesses with potentially sensitive information. The public information already released in indictments was more than sufficient to convict al-Marri.
By refusing to respect civil liberties, the Bush Administration could have ended up allowing an al-Qaeda agent to get away with his crimes. Many experts felt that the Obama Administration might release al-Marri and send him back to his home country, Qatar. But with his skills in computer fraud, Al-Marri can pose a threat to America from anywhere in the world.
Most important of all, the Bush Administration put the Bill of Rights at risk by treating it so cavalierly as an inconvenience to be dismissed whenever it suits the “war on terror.” Ali al-Marri is not an innocent man. But until he is granted his rights and his day in court, we will all see our civil liberties reduced. The only way the terrorists can ultimately win is to lead us to reject the freedoms considered fundamental to our democracy.
The Obama Administration, anxious to reverse the Bush Administration policies and avoid an almost certain defeat in the Supreme Court, decided to try al-Marri in the regular court system. That led to al-Marri’s guilty plea, and the sentence for material support for terrorism that al-Marri just completed before his deportation to Qatar.

Monday, April 29, 2013

Ben Shapiro's Homophobia

The courageous decision of NBA player Jason Collins to come out of the closet got me thinking about Ben Shapiro, the right-wing pundit who tweeted about him: “So Jason Collins is a hero because he's gay? Our standard has dropped quite a bit since Normandy.”

Considering that Shapiro has also tweeted that Newt Gingrich and Mark Levin are heroes, we'd have to say that his standards have dropped quite a bit since Normandy. But Shapiro also tweeted, “@adamcarolla is my hero.” I hope that all us, liberal and conservative, can agree that anyone who regards Adam Carolla as a “hero” has permanently given up the right to defend the word.

But this certainly isn't the first case of Shapiro being homophobic. Back in 2003, Shapiro wrote, “If you pay tuition, you're sponsoring the militant homosexual agenda. If you pay taxes, you're sponsoring the militant homosexual agenda. If your child majors in English, you're sponsoring the militant homosexual agenda.”

I discovered that quote while writing a review of Shapiro's first book, Brainwashed.

Shapiro's book about the evil liberals in academia unintentionally disproved much of what he claimed. Here's what I wrote about Brainwashed:

Shapiro admits, “I don’t believe that large numbers of conservative students are purposefully targeted for grade penalization.” Shapiro, who seemingly cannot write a paragraph without making a factual error, a distortion of a statistic, or a specious argument, somehow managed to get good enough grades from all of his left-wing brainwashing professors to be admitted to Harvard Law School.

Shapiro, to me, reflects why there's a growing gap between left and right on campus. Leftist students who do well in school and score high on standardized tests tend to go to graduate school where they are trained to explain and defend their ideas, and then become professors. Right-wing students who are challenged by their professors reject the criticism on ideological grounds. Conservatives (like Shapiro) with high-level  test-taking talents tend to go to law school, and then are embraced by the world of right-wing commentary and talk radio. Instead of learning how to examine the facts, they are taught how to be outrageous. As I noted in my book about Rush Limbaugh, they realize that facts don't matter as much as assertions, the more over-the-top, the better.

That's partly why conservative intellectual culture in America is becoming so anti-science, anti-reason, anti-education, and openly bigoted. While they falsely condemn academia as being a world of leftist groupthink, conservatives like Shapiro live firmly in the realm of right-wing groupthink. In his most recent, and even dumber, book, Bullies, Shapiro fantasizes about the terrible imaginary repression of conservatives and openly endorses bullying liberals to fight against the victimization of the right.

The immature rantings of Shapiro as a college student weren't something he grew out of. Instead, his dumbest beliefs were reinforced by a right-wing culture that nurtured every nutty idea he had, and pressured him never to stray from a far right ideology. As a result, Ben Shapiro has become a professional idiot. And Shapiro's success in that job certainly inspires other conservatives to reject the difficult path of long years in graduate school with little hope of a faculty job, when it so much easier to rant and rave with little care about the arguments you're making. That's why Shapiro's first reaction to Jason Collins' announcement reflects the bigotry and the idiocy of the far right today.

Crossposted at DailyKos.

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Campus Copyright as Censorship

Steve Harris of Saint Louis University writes at Academe Blog about his university's threats to sue him if he surveyed faculty, on the bizarre grounds that it would violate the university's copyright over its own survey. This is both censorship and lunacy, since nothing about SLU AAUP's proposed questions would have violated any copyright law. Indeed, since the purpose of the survey was to ask the questions that SLU didn't, no one could imagine that the AAUP chapter was copying the administration. Unfortunately, the threat of litigation works, and the AAUP chapter decided to only ask one question.

Here's a list of the original questions from the SLU survey. Nothing about this survey is particularly original, useful, or valuable.
SLU's Climate Committee Survey
1) Faculty members have adequate opportunities to communicate their concerns to the University.
2) Faculty representatives to the senate, institutional committees, and other representative bodies keep their constituents informed.
3) Faculty representatives to the senate, institutional committees, and other representative bodies solicit constituents' views whenever appropriate.
4) The University regularly communicates with faculty members regarding important University matters.
5) Faculty members are made aware of imminent changes proposed by the University affecting academic matters.
6) Faculty members have access to the information they need to make knowledgeable decisions on academic matters.
7) The University responds to faculty concerns.
8) The University communicates its institutional priorities clearly to the faculty.
9) What are your perceptions of communication from the University?
10) The University appreciates the contributions of faculty.
11) The University fosters an atmosphere of trust.
12) A collaborative decision-making environment exists between the faculty and the University on academic matters.
13) The Mission of the University is reflected in the day-to-day operations of the University.
14) The President is effective in leading the University.
15) Across the University, morale is high.
16) Staff and faculty work together effectively.
17) Faculty and students have effective working relationships.
18) I would recommend Saint Louis University as a good place to work.
19) What are your perceptions of the University climate?
20) The faculty has meaningful input regarding important matters related to faculty.
21) The faculty is able to express dissenting views on University matters without fear of reprisal.
22) In general, the University acts on institution-wide faculty concerns.
23) Faculty members have the resources they need to further their teaching and research endeavors.
24) The University's organizational/management structure fosters participation in academic decision making.
25) The faculty has an influential role in establishing the University's priorities.
26) What are your perceptions of faculty being heard at the University?
27) On which campus do you work primarily?
28) How long have you been employed by Saint Louis University?

Saturday, April 06, 2013

My View of Conservative Studies

Minding the Campus recently asked 10 people, including me, to comment on the appointment of Steven Hayward to a one-year term as Visiting Scholar in Conservative Thought and Policy at the University of Colorado, Boulder. Here's what I wrote:
There's nothing inherently wrong with the field of conservative studies, or professorships in it. As the author of two books about conservatives (Newt Gingrich and Rush Limbaugh), I'd certainly be happy to see more jobs available to study conservative ideas. Unfortunately, this particular job appears to be nothing more than preferential hiring for right-wingers, and this kind of explicit political discrimination with little regard for academic values is wrong. Talk-show host Mike Rosen, a member of the hiring committee, told the Washington Times that no liberals or even independents would be allowed in the job (or, one presumes, the lecture series). This kind of suppression sends a message not only to applicants, but also to potential students who may feel silenced in the classroom if they fail to toe the conservative line. If, like me, conservatives believe that political discrimination is wrong in academia, then they must uphold this principle for all appointments. Just as Women's Studies must be open to men, and Black Studies must be open to non-blacks, conservative studies must be open to non-conservatives.

Thursday, April 04, 2013

Bowdoin's Response to the NAS

On Academe Blog, I write about the new NAS report on Bowdoin College. Here is the response from Bowdoin College to the NAS report:
The National Association of Scholars today released a report titled “What Does Bowdoin
Teach.” We will review the report because we encourage open discourse on the
effectiveness of American higher education and because we support academic freedom,
which is the essence of a liberal arts institution. 
Bowdoin will continue to assess its effectiveness by relying on many factors to evaluate
our academic and residential life programs, including the accomplishments of students,
faculty, and staff, and the achievements, loyalty, and support of alumni. The College will
also look to the informed judgment of foundations, corporations, and other outside donors
that are well versed in assessing the quality and efficacy of the institutions they support,
and we will depend on the rigorous decennial reaccreditation process. Collectively, these
and other internal measures provide us with the qualitative and quantitative means to
consider carefully how we are doing currently and what we must do to prepare for the
We are proud of our students and our commitment to build and support a community that
resembles America and the world. We are proud of our faculty who represent intellectual
rigor across the disciplines and who are both excellent teachers and engaged scholars. We
are also proud of our alumni who are leaders in all walks of life. A Bowdoin education
trains young men and women of varied backgrounds to think critically, solve complex
problems, apply sound judgment, embrace lifelong learning, and make principled
decisions in support of the common good. This is both our mission and our record.

Monday, December 17, 2012

Censorship at the University of Delaware

InsideHigherEd asks in the headline of a short take, "Censorship or Trademark Enforcement at U. of Delaware?" To answer the question asked in the title, this is absolutely 100% censorship, and there is no doubt of this fact. There are two reasons for this. First of all, UD officials threatened "severe" consequences against the students who wanted to sell the T-shirts, implying the use of the campus disciplinary system rather than the civil courts for a trademark infringement case. As FIRE notes, that's a severe threat to free speech and a complete abuse of the campus judicial system, which has no business dealing with civil cases. Second, this trademark claim is simply ridiculous. The UD certainly does not own the letters "U" and "D," and its attempt to regulate every possible reference to its university is absurd. Universities should be more tolerant of free speech than other corporations, especially when it comes to their own students. They shouldn't be threatening their students in absolutely inappropriate ways in order to censor free speech.

Friday, December 14, 2012

The "Right to Work" Myth

The “right to work” laws such as in Michigan are unfair, and hurt not just unions, but all workers. But I'm interested in the rhetoric here, and how this purely propagandistic term “right to work” is commonly used in every news story and even by its opponents. The effect is similar to what would happen if the nightly news routinely referred to attacks on abortion rights as “right to save babies” laws. Who could oppose the “right to work”?

The “right to work” laws have nothing to do with the right to work, because the union doesn't infringes on anyone's right to work. What we're talking about is the right to freeload by not paying union fees, not the right to work.

Under normal law, if you don't want to join a union, you still have to pay, in essence, a tax on your wages for the work that the union does on your behalf. If you don't like the union, you're perfectly free to oppose the union. You're free to urge your co-workers to elect different leaders, or affiliate with a different union, or abolish any union representation altogether. But it should be the collective choice of all the workers. It simply can't work if anyone is free to freeload.

The analogy here is to paying taxes to the IRS. If you don't like Congress, you're perfectly free to urge people to elect different leaders. But no sane person imagines that you have a “right to work” that includes the right not to have a portion of your wages in taxes. So why is your “right to work” violated if a small part of your income is taken away by a democratically-elected body that promotes the common good through a union?

The Republicans pushing for “right to work” don't actually believe in a right to work (after all, it's not written anywhere in the US Constitution). They want to destroy a political enemy by cutting off their funds. The right to unionize—and the right not to be punished for it by being forced to subsidize your slacker colleagues in “right to work” states—is what's truly at stake here. The “right to work” laws violate that fundamental right of association under the First Amendment by burdening pro-union workers with a greater financial burden that anti-union workers don't need to pay. In essence, “right to work” is a tax on people who want to join unions, and Republicans hope to kill unions by forcing their supporters to overcome that barrier to free association.

If you hate unions, then by all means critique them, attack them, and rationally persuade workers to get rid of them. But don't use the power of government to force an uneven playing field as a cynical political ploy.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

IL AAUP Fall Meeting on Nov. 3

The Illinois AAUP (American Association of University Professors) is having its fall meeting this Saturday, and you're welcome to attend. It's free and open to everyone:

Illinois American Association of University Professors
Fall Conference

Saturday, November 3, 2012

North Park University, Magnuson Campus Center room 310

5000 N. Spaulding, Chicago, 11am-3pm, Free

Fall Meeting Schedule:

11am: Peter Kirstein, St. Xavier University, “Ten Years On: The Kirstein Suspension Case and Academic Freedom.”

Noon: Lunch (on your own, campus cafeteria)

1pm: Leo Welch, Southwestern Illinois College, “Legislative Initiatives Impacting Higher Education in Illinois.”

2pm: Michael Grossman, past president of the University of Illinois Senates Conference and Ken Andersen, University of Illinois, “Shared Governance in the 21st Century.”

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

My Debate in DC on Thursday

I'll be in DC this week presenting at the AAUP's annual conference on higher education, but if you can't afford the registration fee, come see me debate at Heritage Foundation on Thursday night:
How Biased Are the Campuses? A Debate in DC
How biased are the campuses? A debate between John K. Wilson & Mal Kline, Executive Director, Accuracy in Academia (AIA)
Thursday, June 14, 2012, 6-8 PM
The Van Andel Center, The Heritage Foundation, 214 Massachusetts Ave., NE, Washington, DC.
The event is free but please RSVP or call (202)364-3085 so that we can get a head count for free pizza.

Saturday, June 09, 2012

The Footnote Police, Again

Yesterday marked the 5th anniversary of DePaul University denying tenure to Norman Finkelstein, and on Academe Blog we featured essays by Peter Kirstein and Matthew Abraham, as well as interviews with Alan Dershowitz and Finkelstein.

One minor point about Dershowitz's “plagiarism” was raised in a comment by Steve Byrne as well as in Peter Kirstein's piece, where he claims:
the case against Dershowitz included his devious claim to have consulted primary and secondary sources that were lifted from Joan Peters’ Time Immemorial, without crediting the author. In my classes, such cheating would merit an F for the course as it has in the past. In my profession, such plagiarism could lead to dismissal from the academy.
In defense of Dershowitz (yes, I did actually write that), nothing he did should be considered plagiarism. He is guilty only of poor citations and mediocre scholarship. Dershowitz doesn't really deny originally finding the quotes he used from Peters' book In Time Immemorial. He has two defenses: 1) his assistants double-checked all quotes with the original sources. 2) listing the original source and not the secondary source is the proper citation method.

Dershowitz is wrong on both counts. A good scholar gives credit to his sources, even if he personally looks up the original quotes. And the proper citation method generally is to give both the original and secondary source (see this pdf guide). The reason is simple: giving only the original source misleads the reader into thinking that you personally did the archival research that discovered the source, and deprives readers of another interpretive guide to the quote that you made use of.

However, this is among the most minor of academic crimes. It is not plagiarism, and it isn't anything that a student deserves an “F” for doing. It is, at most, something that you inform a student about to help them improve, or that you reveal to show that a scholar is not really an expert in the field (as Finkelstein did).

So I entirely reject Finkelstein's charges of plagiarism against Dershowitz (in a legal, not a moral, sense). Harvard University should have dismissed them immediately (admittedly, they only investigated this at Dershowitz's request and found that he did nothing deserving of punishment). Of course, Finkelstein is completely free to have a different interpretation of plagiarism than me. But I believe the proper place to address almost all scholarly misconduct is in the realm of public debate, not administrative hearings.

When Ward Churchill was fired from the University of Colorado, I wrote an op-ed titled The Footnote Police pointing out how ridiculous it was to dismiss a tenured professor on charges of putting in footnotes that disagreed with him.

Churchill's academic crimes were minor, and deserving of criticism, not punishment. Dershowitz's academic crimes were even more minor. And Finkelstein committed no academic crimes at all (despite Dershowitz's false charges that he was “unscholarly,” since meanness is not a form of scholarly misconduct).

While I reject the false accusation of plagiarism against Dershowitz, we must keep a proper perspective on this. If we lived in a world where academic freedom was protected, then these charges and counter-charges would be part of a vibrant intellectual debate where each of us could judge the quality of the arguments and the scholarship being questioned.

But that's not what happened. Dershowitz is a tenured professor at one of the top universities in the world, who has never suffered the slightest harm because of the false charges made against him. Churchill was fired from his tenured position for political reasons using trumped up charges. And Finkelstein has been banished from academia despite doing absolutely nothing wrong. That's the real danger of setting standards of misconduct so low that almost anyone can be accused of violating them: the inevitable result is that only controversial scholars who express views out of favor with the political establishment will suffer penalties.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

The Right to Unionize at Private Colleges

Today's features an article about efforts to overturn the harsh limits on faculty unions at private colleges imposed by the Supreme Court in the Yeshiva case. There is one commonly-made error in this article: the assumption that managers are "ineligible for unionization." In reality, managers are only ineligible for enforcement of the right to unionize by the NLRB. Corporations (including colleges) are perfectly free to recognize the unions created by managers; they simply choose not to. In this sense, the right of faculty at private colleges to unionize is identical to their right to academic freedom: there is no government protection for it, but that's no reason why it shouldn't be recognized in campus policies and contracts, and colleges should be condemned for failing to protect these fundamental rights. While the Yeshiva decision was wrong, as a matter of principle and as a matter of fact (the faculty do not actually "manage" Yeshiva or any other college), we do not need to wait and hope that it might be overturned. Faculty at private colleges (and public colleges in states that outlaw the right to unionize) can support campus policies that defend the right of everyone on campus, including full-time faculty, to exercise their right to form a union and require administrators to recognize all democratically-elected unions.

Sunday, May 06, 2012

The Cheap Guide to the AAUP Conference

How to save money at the AAUP annual conference (June 13-17 in DC). Whether it's your own cash or someone else's money, it's good to save dough. The basic rules to cheapness are this: don't stay at the conference hotel, and don't eat the conference meals. The hotel meal prices at the AAUP conference aren't quite as ridiculous as they used to be, but $53 for lunch and $78 for a banquet is absurd. For food, some nearby restaurants include Axian Food Factory, Penn Grill, St. Arnold's pub, Tabard Inn, Julia's Empanadas, Nando's Peri Peri, and many more. Check for ideas, and look for lunch specials and happy hour deals. Make sure to register for the conference by May 15 to save $50 off the ridiculously high conference registration fee.

Flights: flights aren't very cheap to DC right now. Go to Farecast at Use flexible search to find the cheapest dates to travel, and get guesses on whether fares are likely to go up or down. Take a quick look at fares every day or sign up for an alert, since sometimes the fares go down just for one day. Check nearby airports: flights from Milwaukee to DC are always cheaper than from Chicago, for example, and parking is better and cheaper at MKE. Flying to Baltimore sometimes can save money, but you'll need to take the $7 MARC train (only on weekdays) to get to DC.


The AAUP hotel is the Mayflower for $234 a night (with taxes, $268). For that hotel, it's not a terrible rate, but there are a lot of cheaper alternatives. Do a search by distance from 1127 Connecticut Avenue NW to find nearby hotels that are cheaper on,,, or other sites. The District Hotel 0.5 miles away is $120 a night with taxes, but it gets mediocre reviews. Embassy Row Hotel 0.6 miles away is $166 a night with taxes, and gets decent reviews.

One key fact about DC is that hotels are much cheaper on Friday and Saturday, which is good if you're arriving late or are willing to change hotels midtrip (check rates for different dates). The Quincy Inn is rated about the same as the Mayflower, it's 0.2 miles away, and it's only $169 a night with taxes on Friday and Saturday night, but $240 a night on Thursday and even higher on Wednesday and Sunday night.

For the cheapest option I could find beyond walking distance, the Inn of Rosslyn is only $84 a night (not including taxes), and a short Metro or DC Circulator bus ride (and a little walking) to the conference hotel. It gets decent reviews for its price. The Mayflower is a block from the Farragut North stop on the Red line, and two blocks from the Farragut West on the Blue/Orange lines.

Hotwire and Priceline offer some cheap alternatives if you're willing to prepay and not know your hotel in advance. On a weekend, you can often get a hotel for near $100. Look at to guess what hotel it is by matching the stars/amenities in the location. Right now, Hotwire has a 3 ½ star hotel Tues-Thurs for $193 a night (including taxes and fees). Fri/Sat there's a 3 star for $113 (taxes included) in Georgetown that's probably the Holiday Inn, a 4-star for $120 a night that's probably the Omni Shoreham in Woodley Park, and a 4.5 star hotel for $167 a night (taxes included) that's highly likely to be the very nice Madison Hotel four blocks away.
A cheap alternative to hotels is It's basically people renting out their private homes and apartments for visitors. Sometimes it's just a room (or even a living room couch) and sometimes it's an entire apartment (you can search by room type). Search for the cheapest places that have a lot of good reviews near where you're going. (Don't forget to consider places further out, but near Metro or public transit, too.) Except for Hotwire, Priceline, or Airbnb, never prepay for a hotel, and keep checking for good last minute deals to let you cancel your reservation.

Public Transit in DC:
In addition to the Metro, check out the DC Circulator ( Not as well known as the Metrorail (which is great, but a little pricey on long trips, and crowded during rush hour) but nicer than the Metrobus, the Circulator is a $1 bus that runs along routes in Georgetown, Adams Morgan, and downtown DC. The blue route goes to Georgetown and Rosslyn metro, and it stops a few blocks NW of the Mayflower hotel. The yellow route goes to north Georgetown and Union Station, and it runs a few blocks south of the Mayflower. If you're staying far from the conference, buy a Charm Card online. That's Baltimore's transit card. It works interchangeably with the DC SmarTrip fare card for public transit, but it's cheaper. The Charm Card is $2.50 (plus $7.50 in value) ordered online ( The DC SmarTrip card is $5, by contrast. The Charm Card saves you 25 cents on every Metrorail trip, plus discounts on bus transfers. If you're doing one short trip to DC, it isn't worth it, but it's good over time and saves the hassle of buying paper cards.

Thursday, May 03, 2012

Contingent Faculty Meeting May 4 at Labor Notes Conference

National Meeting of Contingent Faculty Activists, in conjunction with

Labor Notes Conference

Solidarity for the 99%

May 4-6, 2012    Chicago, Illinois  

Contingent Faculty meeting will be Friday, 3-5 PM at the conference hotel. Special rate of $15 is available to meeting participants, which includes all workshops Friday, reception with food and evening plenary program. (or register for entire conference, which will include a general campus worker industry meeting Sat. afternoon.

Agenda for contingent faculty meeting includes, subject to revision by group:

Introductions and brief reports of current struggles, especially from Chicago at East-West U, Columbia College and Roosevelt U.

Updates on unemployment benefits reform at state and national levels

Struggles of contingents within unions

Issues related to for-profit institutions:

NEA Academy relationship with on-line and for-profit providers of education for teachers

Proposal circulating for organizing effort among contingents in private institutions, especially for profits.

Reports on:

Recent New Faculty Majority Summit in Washington

Upcoming COCAL  X International Conference in Mexico City, August 10-12

New data on state of union organization among higher ed faculty and grad employees

Other issues as needed.

For further info on contingent faculty meeting or to comment on the proposed agenda, contact Joe Berry or 510-527-5889

Info on Labor Notes Conference

Labor Notes conferences are the biggest gatherings of grassroots union activists, worker center leaders, and all-around troublemakers out there—and this time we’re in Chicago! Don’t miss a weekend of inspiration, education, and agitation.

Join thousands of union members, officers, and grassroots labor activists who are on the front lines in our workplaces, our unions, and our communities. Meet troublemakers from around the country and around the world.

More than 100 meetings and workshops include contract campaigns, creative organizing tactics, beating apathy, running for local union office, bargaining over technology, understanding the economy, and reviving the strike.

Organize with others in your union, industry, or campaign. Face-to-face meetings to share tactics and swap notes are the heart of the Labor Notes Conference. Join an existing industry, union, or caucus meeting—or contact us to set one up.

Register at:

Conference Details

Schedule: Workshops and meetings begin 1 p.m. Friday, May 4, and end at 3 p.m. Sunday, May 6.

Registration: $130. Includes Saturday banquet. Some scholarships are available. Sponsor a low-wage, unemployed, or young worker by supporting the scholarship fund.

Location: Crowne Plaza Hotel at Chicago’s O’Hare Airport. Near Rosemont CTA train station (blue line).

Air Travel: Fly in to Chicago O’Hare (ORD). There is a free shuttle to the hotel.

For more info: Call Labor Notes at 313-842-6262 •

Plus, members to attend from: ARISE Chicago Worker Center * Autoworker Caravan * Coalition of Immokalee Workers * Farm Labor Organizing Committee * Jobs with Justice * Longshore Workers Coalition * Madison Teachers, Inc. * National Domestic Workers Alliance * National Taxi Workers Alliance * New York State Nurses Association * Portland Cross-Trades Solidarity * Railroad Workers United * Restaurant Opportunities Center United * SEIU Healthcare Illinois & Indiana * Teamsters for a Democratic Union * Transnational Information Exchange Global * Transport Workers Local 100 * United Teachers of Los Angeles and many more.