To The Editor Of The SAFS Newsletter

January 2011

In the CAUT Policy Statement on Academic Freedom (SAFS Newsletter, September 2010, page 3) we find this statement: "Academic staff must not be hindered or impeded in exercising their civil rights as citizens, including the right to contribute to social change through free expression of opinion . . ." The principle is admirable, butI detect a certain bias in the phraseology. Why does CAUT sanctify in particular "the right to contribute to social change" rather than the right either to contribute to it or to oppose it? In a free society both sides of the argument should be equally legitimate, and in the academic world it may well be critics of social change who have the greater need for protection against retaliatory discrimination.

In the American conservative periodical National Review (October 18, 2010), Frederic J. Fransen -- executive director of the Center for Excellence in Higher Education -- draws attention to the persecution which dominant leftist elements in universities have sometimes inflicted on faculty members found to hold "incorrect" political views. One case is that of Professor Laura Freberg at the California Polytechnic State University (commonly called "Cal Poly") in San Luis Obispo. Because of her husband's involvement in local politics, members of her department made a horrifying discovery. Prof. Freberg was -- a practitioner of witchcraft? A part-time prostitute? No, something worse -- a Republican! Fransen writes: "Soon she was the target of an organized campaign to drive her off campus. 'We would have never hired you had we known you were a Republican,' one colleague told her. Ultimately, she was stripped of her chairmanship of the psychology department, and she suffered nonstop harassment" -- one form of which was to force her to move again and again from one office to another.

A very different case (not mentioned by Fransen) is that of Mark Moyar. Born in 1971, he graduated from Harvard summa cum laude with a degree in history, and then earned a Ph.D. at Cambridge University in England. The most important of his books -- Triumph Forsaken: The Vietnam War, 1954-1965 -- was published in 2006 by Cambridge University Press, which reissued it in paperback in 2009. The first of a planned two volumes, it is a distinguished work of original scholarship, packed with illuminating detail and copiously documented from a wide range of sources. One might have expected that universities would compete with each other to recruit the author. They did not -- quite the reverse.Though a faculty member at the U.S. Marine Corps University in Quantico, Virginia, Moyar was shunned by the mainstream of theacademic world.

His sin was to adopt interpretations of Vietnamese events that adherents of reigning orthodoxy consider politically unacceptable. For example, according to the orthodox view, South Vietnam's President Ngo Dinh Diem and his regime were the villains in the crisis that led to Diem's overthrow and murder (November 1963). During and after the crisis this anti-Diem verdict was challenged by some well-informed observers -- perhaps most conspicuously by the prominent journalist Marguerite Higgins (1920-1966), a hard-line anti-Communist whose book Our Vietnam Nightmare was published by Harper and Row in late 1965. A selection of the Conservative Book Club, it has carried no weight with what became the orthodox school of thought among academics. Moyar, however, treats Higgins' reporting with respect, and uses Our Vietnam Nightmare as one of his sources. (To find information relevant to these paragraphs, use Google to search for "Mark Moyar" and for "Mark Moyar, Marguerite Higgins" together.)

Even more damning in the eyes of typical academics is Moyar's conviction that in the circumstances of the time the American defence of South Vietnam against the Communists was justified. The very last sentence of his book calls the U.S. effort "not . . . a foolish war fought under wise constraints, but a wise war fought under foolish constraints."

There is no need to feel sorry for Moyar personally; he is now Director of Research for Orbis Operations, a counter-insurgency consulting firm active in Afghanistan. But the priority given to intellectual conformity has deprived American higher education of a major talent, at least temporarily. Andrew Irvine ("The Real Discrimination at Universities is Against Men," SAFS Newsletter, September 2010) is right to point out that intolerance of "opposition to affirmative action" has cost universities the services of "more than one talented academic," but intolerance of dissent on other issues can also be damaging.

If applied impartially, the CAUT policy offers protection to dissenters in general, but one has to fear that the bias I noted in the phraseology may reflect greater solicitude for leftist dissent than for its conservative counterpart.


Kenneth H.W. Hilborn

Professor Emeritus of History

University of Western Ontario