Nine out of ten articles that start with "Academic freedom is a great principle, but…" end badly. Gabriel Schoenfeld's short piece on John Mearsheimer's latest course is one of those nine.
The piece reads like it was dashed off in the five minutes before Schoenfeld left for lunch, and his argument is so delightfully ill-considered that it's tough to choose which bit to pull apart first. Maybe one way to start is with a quote from a writer of an entirely different stripe: "Far be it from us to deny someone a chance to fill a gaping news hole."
You can't blame Schoenfeld for writing about this; someone was bound write something about Mearsheimer teaching a course with "Zionism and Palestine" as its title and hater-bait like "the plight of the Palestinians" in the course description. But you can blame him for feigning total ignorance about the way academia works while he trots out Fox News-worthy indignation at the depths to which a fine school like the University of Chicago has sunk, letting someone like Mearsheimer near as-yet-unspoiled youths. Don't the Dean and the Provost know that man has an agenda and a viewpoint?
Probably they do, since, as it happens, most professors on our faculty have viewpoints; that's their value-added, and the reason we pay them to teach us, rather than just memorizing timelines of historical events by ourselves or sifting through stacks upon stacks of primary documents. We have these people who have already done the sifting needed to develop a viewpoint, and we meet with them in classrooms and listen to their thoughts and evidence.
But, Schoenfeld says, Mearsheimer has an especially nefarious viewpoint; just read that book he wrote, The Israel Lobby. Not that Schoenfeld himself has read it; the article gives no indication that he's so much as cracked the spine, which is why it's handy that he has all these quotes from people who didn't like it at all. And some names of people who did, like David Duke. (Duke also very much enjoyed The AristoCats, so chew on that.) What more do you need to know?
Not one iota more, it turns out. Based on a small sampling of The Israel Lobby's critical reception, Schoenfeld is ready to guide us through three important conclusions.
"there should not be restrictions of a formal kind on university teaching beyond what the faculty of a self-governing institution like the University of Chicago deems appropriate"
"certainly there is room for public opinion to weigh in when academia sinks low"
"students should certainly know what dish they are being served in advance"
Well then, praise be for kindly members of the Hudson Institute like Schoenfeld staying vigilant on behalf of us students. Though if it's so vitally important that we go into a class like this one with our eyes open, then really the University already did us a favor by letting Mearsheimer teach it. It's not as though his thoughts on modern-day Israel are shrouded in secrecy.
It would have been interesting if Schoenfeld had talked to Mearsheimer, or read his book, or gotten some information on the course past a four-sentence description, and then discussed what the relative merits of a class like this might be when taught by Mearsheimer. But maybe that sort of nuance doesn't play at the Weekly Standard these days. One can only imagine what one of the magazine's earliest and most-noted contributors would think.