Timothy R. Furnish: Charges liberal bias on campus affects employment decisions (his own)

Historians in the News

[Furnish is an associate professor of history at Georgia Perimeter College in Dunwoody, Ga., and the author of "Holiest Wars: Islamic Mahdis, Their Jihads, and Osama bin Laden" (2005). He writes occasionally for Campus Watch, a project of the Middle East Forum.]

I was cautiously optimistic that my quest to move from a community college to a four-year school might succeed this time. The gatekeepers at the annual conference of the American Historical Association, where thousands are interviewed but few are chosen, had seen fit to let me pass, and I was now on the campus of a large state university for round two.

Everything had gone well: my 75-minute PowerPoint lecture to a class studying early Islamic history, subsequent interviews with the department chair and dean — I was on a roll.

Then I was outed. During a meeting with the search committee, a professor produced irrefutable evidence that I "appeared to be more conservative than others in my field."

Worse, the evidence gave him the weapon he needed to deliver the coup de grace: "You sounded like Daniel Pipes!"

Pipes is director of the Middle East Forum in Philadelphia, a think tank that seeks to define and promote American interests in the Middle East, and a widely published scholar on Middle East issues.

The professor had in hand a two-year-old article, titled "7 Myths about Islam," that I wrote for the History News Network, a Web site run by George Mason University at which professional historians and history buffs read, write and debate myriad topics....

No one involved in the selection process objected to the accusations that I was too conservative — too much like Daniel Pipes — to join their faculty. At this university, as at so many others, such charges are seen as rational objections to professional weaknesses, not as politicized protests against candidates who fail to pay proper obeisance to reigning pieties.

Before heading home I met again with the search chair, who tried in vain to assure me that the ideological litmus test I'd just failed in fact had never occurred. I asked her if she had ever heard a committee member accuse a candidate of being "more liberal than others in the field." Of course she answered "never." When the rejection letter arrived, it was hardly a shock.

I now have a personal story that backs up all the empirical studies documenting the bias against conservatives in the academy. If getting a Middle East or Islamic history job at a college or university means converting from following Bernard Lewis to the false messiah Edward Said, I won't be changing jobs anytime soon. I only wish search committees would stop pretending that the diversity they seek is anything other than skin-deep.

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Jonathan Dresner - 6/28/2007

It's evidence, but it's not proof; to be proof, other factors must be reasonably excluded as causative factors. If Dr. Furnish believes that it is, then his historical conclusions must be considered suspect.