Jason DeParle, assigned by the New York Times to cover the “conservative beat,” reported Thursday that faculty at Georgetown University are hotly rebelling against former Bush Pentagon official Douglas Feith, a "war criminal," in his new gig as a professor at Georgetown University. The headline was sedate: “Faculty’s Chilly Welcome For Ex-Pentagon Official.”
The typically left-wing professoriate at Georgetown may be up in arms, but you would be crestfallen if you believed liberals would be called "liberals" or "leftists" in the DeParle piece, even as Feith is identified as a “neoconservative” favoring war on Saddam Hussein.
DeParle reported: “The move to a teaching position at the School of Foreign Service at Georgetown by Mr. Feith, a former Pentagon official, set off a faculty kerfuffle, with 72 professors, administrators and graduate students signing a letter of protest, some going as far as to accuse him of war crimes.” He added that the protest is “unusual at a place that embraces former officials as part of its panache,” including former Clinton secretary of state Madeleine Albright, former Clinton national security adviser Anthony Lake, and Clinton-appointed CIA director George Tenet. Democratic officials are allowed, but “neoconservatives,” think again.
"I'm not going to shake hands with the guy if he's introduced to me," said Mark N. Lance, a philosophy professor who teaches nonviolence in the program on Justice and Peace and who organized the protest. "And if he asks why, I'll say because in my view you're a war criminal and you have no place on this campus."
DeParle summed it up: “The dispute can be read as — take your pick — an explosion of fury at a disastrous war, an illustration of the pettiness of academic politics or evidence of Mr. Feith's talent for attracting invective.” No, conservatives will pick this: an illustration of how liberal professors are arrogant and intolerant of opposing viewpoints. They’re not merely “petty” or impolite, they’re demanding a blacklist.
At this point, DeParle made sure to recall that Gen. Tommy Franks had a special loathing for Feith, and once referred to him as "the stupidest guy on the face of the earth."
But DeParle did add some balance to the mix by noting that some of the professors weren't exactly terrorism experts, and their claims against Feith weren't always factually rock-solid:
One is Susan Terrio, who has appointments in anthropology and French and whose résumé lists several writings about French chocolate makers. ("From Master Chocolatiers Today: Bayonne and the Basque Coast.") She complained that Mr. Feith's appointment was "presented as a fait accompli." She did, however, say she would shake hands with him.
Professors in the school were widely opposed. But most who signed the letter came from other disciplines, where the differences from the Pentagon in bureaucratic culture may be especially pronounced.
Professor Terrio said Mr. Feith had "defended the use of torture in public lectures," though she acknowledged, "I can't point to a specific document," and said that characterization came from Professor Lance, the protest organizer. Professor Lance said he was relying on a Newsweek article that said Mr. Feith had advocated "new and tougher interrogation techniques."
"I should be more careful," Professor Lance said. "He hasn't specifically advocated torture. He's supported legal changes that make the use of torture easier."
Mr. Feith, who denies defending torture, said unfounded accusations against him "echo and get repeated."
Charles E. King, a professor at the foreign policy school, objected to the appointment but declined to sign the protest letter, because "I thought there were a lot of inaccuracies."
Still, he added: "I hope this story does not play out as 'pointy-headed academics diss Republicans,' because that is not what's going on at all. The stakes are who gets to teach for credit in what is still one of the top 25 universities in the U.S."