University administrators are supposed to be the guardians of academic freedom at our institutions of higher education. They are charged with ensuring that faculty are granted the right to teach and students the right to learn. But the response of USC’s provost who defended a professor caught on tape ranting about his radical and extreme views in class shows how school officials can misinterpret and misuse this essential doctrine to allow indoctrinators free reign.
The professor in question, Dr. Richard Dekmejian, is a professor of political science at USC who specializes in national security issues, Middle East studies, terrorism and other related topics. The twenty-minute classroom recording was made in Fall 2012 by USC student Tyler Talgo, who may face consequences for his actions since USC’s Student Code of Conduct strictly prohibits making such recordings—a fact that USC’s provost was sure to note in her statement on the incident.
Even at a leftist bastion such as USC, Professor Dekmejian can be considered an extremist. In a mere twenty minutes of recorded classroom footage, Dekmejian repeatedly hurls insults at every Republican president since Reagan, claiming that they were “lazy” and that they “lied to the American people,” while praising Jimmy Carter for “still going around doing good things.” He also blames Israel for the radicalization of Hamas and claims that Islam deserves praise for its treatment of Jews and Christians.
Dekmejian’s radical rantings skewer so many conservative targets that it is difficult to find any cohesion to his lecture. On the Bush Administration’s motives for starting the war in Iraq, Dekmejian states, “Now the oil companies wanted the United States to take Iraq and establish a pro-America dictatorship there because that's the only way you're going to run Iraq. Talking about democracy as you go into Iraq as an excuse, you must be stupid or lying. That's the Bush Administration.”
He characterizes “right wing Christian evangelicals” as “Get[ting] happy on television every time there's a conflict in the Middle East” because “they think that the Book of Revelations tells them that the messiah...Jesus is going to come... all we need is a war in the Middle East involving Israel and the Arabs.”
In discussing FDR’s presidential run, Dekmejian mocks Herbert Hoover's contrary argument against government intervention and statement that “in time the system will correct itself” opining, “hmmmmm....sure.”
Towards the end of the recording, Dekmejian unleashes his venom on Israel and its prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu. “There's going to be an election in Israel, by the way, because Netanyahu wants to come back even more powerful,” he tells the class. “God help the globe. And Israel. And the neighbors.”
He also offers the following explanation for Palestinian aggression towards Israel: “Hamas is the radicalized wing of the Muslim Brotherhood of Egypt and the Muslim Brotherhood of Egypt in the Gaza Strip and guess who was among the people that helped its radicalization? Israel! Not only by not creating a Palestinian state but by encouraging the most extremist Muslim Brotherhood chairs.” Unsurprisingly, Dekmejian fails to mention that Hamas and its Islamist allies have rejected the offer of a Palestinian state multiple times since they will only be satisfied by Israel’s total annihilation and have served as the aggressor in the Middle East conflict since Israel’s founding.
Dekmejian also lauds Islam as superior to Christianity, noting that
“Under Sharia law, traditionally Muslims recognize three religions: Themselves (Islam) and the two religions that they came out of, that preceded them, Judaism and Christianity. So therefore Christians and Jews have certain rights, not equality, but they have certain rights…the great kings of Christian Europe, they persecuted Jews. They didn't give them that kind of benefit. At least Islam did.”
Dekmejian fails to note for his class that Sharia law’s recognition of Jews and Christians allows them to levy a special tax on them and to seize their synagogues and temples without provocation or that many Christians suffer relentless persecution and fear for their lives in Islamic regimes such as Pakistan and Egypt, not to mention the Palestinian controlled territories.
Dekmejian even manages to disparage opponents of global warming theory, commenting,
“When [hurricane] Sandy came along and sand clogged and water clogged all of the East Coast of the United States…even those guys who don't believe in climate change, uhhhhhhh, they’re saying now wait a minute. But they can’t allow the climate change, I mean people who don’t believe in climate change they don’t care if Manhattan goes to underwater.”
What climate change has to do with his academic areas of expertise he doesn’t bother to explain – but then why should he since his provost thinks he has license to say anything he wants in class.
All these attacks occurred in a mere twenty minutes. Imagine what his students must hear in the course of a semester!
Official university evaluations of Dekmejian’s teaching are not released to the public but one can get a good idea of his students’ opinions by visiting the online rating site, ratemyprofessors.com. A spate of recent reviews rate his teaching as being of “poor quality” and include such comments as “Unorganized, rambles, does not provide any time for input, questions, or discussion” and “he didn’t teach, [he] was trying to brainwash with political propaganda.” Another comment states explicitly, “This is the worst teacher. I would never recommend him… He obviously has his own agenda. Why was he ever hired in the first place?” Keep in mind that most of his students are typical left-leaning college students who are accustomed to one-sided teaching.
Rather than expressing concern at Dekmejian’s use of his podium to indoctrinate impressionable students with his radical views – which is a clear violation of their academic freedom, University Provost and Senior Vice President for Academic Affairs Elizabeth Garrett defended the professor, claiming that his conduct is protected under academic freedom, which merely demonstrates her own ignorance of the principles laid down in the 1915 Declaration on the Principles of Academic Freedom and Academic Tenure and its more recent iterations:
“Faculty members are entitled to freedom in the classroom in discussing their subjects,” Garrett said in a written statement – a clear falsehood since an astronomy professor telling students the moon is made of green cheese would soon be facing disciplinary hearings. “The freedom to take unpopular positions and the freedom to express those positions publicly are at the foundation of what it means to be a faculty member of a university… One of the most important principles of an academic community has been that academic inquiry and discussion be free from censorship or undue outside control.” This provost however did not utter a word in defense of conservative speakers like Ann Coulter or David Horowitz who had to visit her campus under armed guard because of the hostility to unpopular positions at her politically correct university.
Garrett did pointedly observe that the Student Code of Conduct “expressly prohibits” students from taping their professors without consent – a policy which is a thinly veiled attempt to prevent the public and tuition paying parents from seeing the academic depths to which USC’s liberal arts faculty has plunged in recent years.
Provost Garrett is correct that USC’s academic freedom policy protects the right of faculty to freely discuss their subjects in class. But this freedom is not without corresponding responsibilities, in particular the responsibility to act professionally and not to indoctrinate their students in the kind of half-witted prejudices that are on display in the video of Dekemejian’s rant.
USC’s academic freedom policy clearly states,
“As educational officers [faculty] should remember that the public may judge their profession and the University by their utterances. Hence, they should at all times be accurate, should exercise appropriate restraint, should show respect for the opinions of others, and should make every effort to indicate that they are not speaking for the University.”
Only an academic provost in today’s university system could fail to see that Dekemejian violated this policy.
The Dekmejian incident makes the second time in recent months that a USC faculty member has been caught on tape abusing his position to indoctrinate students with leftist diatribes. Rather than concerning themselves with the students who violate school policy to record these indoctrinators, Provost Garrett and USC’s administration would do better to spend their efforts reigning in their out-of-control faculty and re-familiarizing themselves with the true meaning of academic freedom.
In exposing this travesty, Tyler Talgo acted with great courage and performed an important public service.
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