What happened to freedom in academe?
WHEN my daughter, a student at the time, told me her college was giving Abbie Hoffman $8,000 to speak on campus, I gritted my teeth and held my peace. That, after all, is what colleges are for - to expose students to a wide diversity of viewpoints, letting them make up their minds about the validity and credibility of the theses advanced. But some of those who so heartily embrace academic freedom are taking a singularly undemocratic tack when the issues under discussion are not congenial to their own points of view.
There are two current examples of this.
At the University of Massachusetts in Amherst, some students are seeking to bar the Central Intelligence Agency from trying to recruit graduating seniors for careers in that agency.
Meanwhile, at a number of educational institutions around the country, some professors and scientists are campaigning against research on the Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI).
Some students might not like the CIA. And some professors might not like SDI. I have no quarrel with that. But where stands academic freedom if campuses should blackball the CIA and boycott research on SDI?
A student spokesman who opposes the presence of CIA recruiters at the University of Massachusetts charges that the agency goes to that campus ``to recruit able-bodied men and women for invasions, subjugation, and control of other countries.''
Well even if that were true, so what? Does not the student have a right to make up his own mind about that? Is not the student propositioned by a variety of other groups - for example, to go to Nicaragua to help the Marxist Sandinistas? There is a regime for you that is engaged in ``invasions, subjugation, and control of other countries.''
The student assessment of the CIA is, of course, based on appalling ignorance. Nobody suggests that some CIA activities are not controversial. But to argue that its overall policies are riddled by perfidy, or that its agents and analysts are men and women of dishonor, is the kind of smear that comes more appropriately from Moscow, or Havana, or Managua, rather than Amherst. Fortunately, the university authorities in this case seem to have their eyes fixed clearly on the issue of academic freedom and are not bowing to the bigots.
At other universities around the country, the misguided are attempting to stop SDI research. The idea of professors opposing research is pretty mind-boggling. They could cast a political vote not to deploy such a system, if such a system ever proves feasible; but to refuse to explore the possibility, and to attempt to coerce others into abandoning this area of scientific exploration, seems a contradiction of the academic freedom they supposedly stand for.
Fortunately, a more realistic view prevails among 29 Soviet scientists now living in the United States. In an open letter stressing the importance of SDI, they wrote: ``As former citizens of the Soviet Union, we love the country of our birth as much as we love the country of our choice. We want for all the millions of our former countrymen a future of peace and, eventually, freedom. The strategic defense shield will, we believe, help achieve these goals by discouraging the Soviet leaders from using nuclear blackmail to gain their ends, and instead encourage them to turn inward and begin addressing the needs of the Russian people and other peoples subjugated by them.''
These scientists say the Soviet scientific community and government believe that strategic defenses are technically possible.
They say the Soviets have been working intensely on their own version of SDI since the 1960s.
They say development and deployment of a Soviet ``star wars'' system is part of Soviet global strategy.
They say the Soviets will continue working on their system no matter what the United States does.
If this is indeed the case, a boycott by American scientists of their own country's research seems to go beyond a mere trashing of the principles of academic freedom, important though those principles are.