Blogs > Liberty and Power > Witch Hunt Against L and P Blogger

Apr 30, 2005 5:17 pm

Witch Hunt Against L and P Blogger

A witch hunt is underway at Southern Illinois University in Carbondale against L and P blogger, Jonathan Bean. Several articles have appeared, including here and here, and Ralph Luker has blogged in Bean's support.

Here is an account, "Handout Hysteria’ or Insensitivity?," from Inside Higher Ed (comments are at the bottom of the article):

Jonathan Bean is a popular professor at Southern Illinois University at Carbondale — even though his libertarian politics don’t always coincide with his students’ views. A historian, he was just named Teacher of the Year in the College of Liberal Arts.

But in the last two weeks, he has found himself under attack in his department — with many of his history colleagues questioning his judgment for distributing an optional handout about the “Zebra Killings,” a series of murders of white people in San Francisco in the 1970s. His dean also told his teaching assistants that they didn’t need to finish up the semester working with him, and she called off discussion sections of his course for a week so TA’s would not have to work while considering their options.

Students and professors at the university are trading harsh accusations about insensitivity and censorship, talking about possible lawsuits, and assessing the damage. Shirley Clay Scott, dean of the College of Liberal Arts, sent a memo to faculty members warning that they could “easily self-destruct if we do not exercise restraint and reason.”

I suggest you contact the following:

James Walker,, 618-536-3331, Office of the President-SIUP

Shirley Clay Scott,, 618-453-2466, Dean College of Liberal Arts

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More Comments:

John . . - 5/19/2005

If a small, organized group of NOI blacks murdered a large group of people 25 years ago merely because they were white do we hide the incident because some mis-guided souls claim talking about it might create racial hostility?


Robert L. Campbell - 5/3/2005


A few comments on your thoughtful analysis of the situation at SIU.

You are right that if the department chair, the dean, and several of Jonathan Bean's colleagues didn't have a further agenda, his decision to drop the reading assignment would have been the end of it.

But obviously they all did have a further agenda. Hence the complete refusal to accept his decision to withdraw the assignment, or his apology. I'm not sure that a total sincere conversion to their ideology would have satisfied them.

Since the TAs who complained about the assignment won't make any public statements, it's hard to know what their connections with other members of the History Department might be. But it seems highly likely that Bean has had to work with TAs who are ideologically opposed to him, and meanwhile wired in with some other faculty members. I found it interesting that on the Big Muddy site, which is strongly anti-Bean and contains posts by authors who claim to know the TAs, a TA from the Black American Studies program was cited as an authoritative source on what the two History TAs were thinking. I wonder how Jonathan Bean is viewed by the faculty in the Black American Studies program...

Otherwise, what appears to be involved? Affirmative action looks to be an issue, given Bean's public opposition to it. While the 8 signatories to the April 12 letter made no reference to affirmative action, several who have written in their support (including an SIU faculty member in English) have expressly equated opposition to affirmative action with racism or belief in white supremacy.

Frankly, I think a familiar Academic-left ideological commitment may be in play according to which historically oppressed groups cannot be racist. I'd love to know what treatment of the Zebra killings would be acceptable to Bean's opponents. Would any pass muster with them, so long as it cited a racial motivation for the murders, or referred to ideological excuse-making for the killers?

And yes, Bean looks to be a pawn in a struggle between repressive academic Left types and the David Horowitz crowd (who, with their "Academic Bill of Rights," are bidding to impose some repression of their own). A pawn of both, I'm afraid.

The problem for Bean's opponents at SIU is that they went way the hell out there with their public denunciation of him; they did not get him tarred and feathered and run off the SIU campus (as they may have thought they could); and now they have made themselves, their department, and their college notorious nationwide.

So far, the dean has made a faint effort to distance herself from the public denunciation, but her stated rationale for pulling the TAs from the class and blasting Bean for assigning the reading is identical to the stated rationale of the 8 faculty members, who have remained adamant.

Continuing down their current path will either bring action against the dean and the department chair from an upper administration that may not care about academic freedom but definitely cares about avoiding bad publicity--or it will bring pariah status to the entire university.

Robert Campbell

Bill Woolsey - 5/3/2005

To fight would require defending the article.

To demand that the T.A.s be prepared to discuss
the material would provide at least some justification
for allowing them to quit. (An alternative solution would have been to ask the T.A.s to identify the material as being by a racist propagandist and add some material correcting the errors.)

By giving in on the article, there was no justification for the Dean and graduate students disrupting the course.

I don't doubt that the "critics" on the faculty would be unsatisfied. If all they do is call him names in the student paper, the proper response is to debate them on the "issues." Publicly call them into account for their unfair attack. I am not a racists. As a libertarian, I believe that each and every individual has equal rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. And I am deeply offended that so many of my faculty colleagues would have jumped to such a conclusion.

Superficially, at least, it looks like Bean's graduate students were working with the leftist critics. When I was in graduate school, professors were allowed to choose graduate assistants. I'm sure that this wouldn't have been practical for those using them as T.A.s to help teach large undergraduate sections. At Virginia Tech, I started as one among many TAs for a Professor who taught huge principles sections. (My job was to turn on the TV in a classroom for them to see a recording of the live lectures.) While he chose a "leader," from among us for the next year, most of us went on to teach our own courses as T.A.s or moved on to work for other Faculty. We all needed dissertation advisors, you know.

Bean needs to do something...he cannot depend on graduate students who work for his enemies. If he cannot find enough sympathetic graduate students for his teaching approach, then he needs to adjust the methods. Say, for example, insist on smaller class sizes so that he can manage the discussion himself.

Bean should be free to have his students look at racist propaganda, though he should identify it as such. Or, if he wants to have them study the Zebra Killings, he should be free to do so. Having an article written by a racist propagandist would be a bad way to introduce the Zebra killings. I doubt whether the racist propagandist that prepared the article he assigned did much to "sex-up" the story, but that is the weakness that makes this a poor issue upon which to bring battle against his faculty detractors. (And there was at least a bit of "sexing up.")

The problem, again, is the Dean disrupted his class for no good reason even after he gave up. Presumably, the students didn't learn as much as they should. I can't imagine that many of them care--generally students believe that they learn more than enough. Because of academic integrity issues, the Dean should be reprimanded by her superiors. The students got less than we should have made them get, and it is the Dean's fault.

There have been statements in some of the discussion that suggest that those making the complaints should have used official channels. If some such official body should impose some punishment on Bean, then one might complain that he is being singled out for something that many people do--assign imperfect outside readings.

Perhaps the Faculty should reprimand the critics for effectly branding a colleague a racist for no good reason. What what appears to be a carefully written letter is a smear and inappropriate. If, on the other hand, it is determined that such behavior is acceptable, it might be time for retaliation. has already started with some good redbaiting material. It is pretty clear that real American students won't want to listen to communist lies disguised as history. Of course, they want to smear a professor who sticks to the truth, rather than helping them deceive students into thinking their country is the source of all evil, so that they can help bring to power here the sorts of mass murdering despots that ruled Russia and China. Should any student have to listen to a Professor who secretly hopes to have that student put into a gulag for being pro-American and pro-freedom? How distracting is that?

I still think the question of affirmative action is relevant. There is also the question of to what degree Bean is a pawn in the battle between David Horowitz and leftist academics.

Of course, Bean does have the right to teach racist propaganda as truth--that is what academic freedom is about. But it appears that Bean doesn't want to teach racist propaganda as truth or even to teach about racist propaganda. He rather wanted to bring up the Zebra killings--an actual historical event. I presume he didn't intend to use an article by a racist propagandist to do this. That is what he said, and I presume he is being honest about making a mistake. If you make a mistake, you correct it. And that is what he did.

Robert L. Campbell - 5/2/2005


I don't agree that giving in was a good idea.

Whatever the two TAs really thought about the reading, the core anti-Bean constituency at sIU consists of other faculty members, and I doubt they ever intended to accept any apology from him.

Instead, it looks as though the apology just emboldened them.

What would Bean have to do, to satisfy them?

Robert Campbell

David Timothy Beito - 5/2/2005

I think you make some good points.

Jonathan's reading list and assignments are really quite balanced, certainly compared to most historians I know. I would probably never assign anything from the Frontpage but this is up to him.

I think he is being held to a standard which we would never think of applying to numberless academics who assign articles from popular jounals, animal rights screeds from "activist" sites, etc. I many cases, they would never think of either providing balance or much less making the readings "optional" to suit the views of the t.a.s. No doubt, many of them also "edit" these readings to either fit page length or convey certain ideas.

For example, I assign an article by Charles Baird on labor history but "edit" out (inserting elipses) his extended and abstract description of natural rights. I only did this because it detracted from the historical content.

If we are going to micromanage faculty readings, we should at least be reasonably consistent.

Bill Woolsey - 5/2/2005

I found the letter criticizing Bean to be very impressive. I think that it implies that Bean chose some racist propaganda from a a white power site, then deliberately disguised its origins, all in order to create racial hostility among his students who lack the ability to critically analyse historical sources.

However, it doesn't actually say that it came from a white power site, that he abridged the article with the purpose of disguising its origins or that he was trying to deceive the unsophisticated or create racial hostility. His abridgement had the effect of disguising the origins and the article itself had all the nefarious purposes.

The way I see the article is that the links to the kooky racist group is at the end. Cutting the end to keep it on one page is plausible. More importantly, who cares about their efforts to keep the memory of the Zebra Killings alive? None of that seems all that interesting to me. The other stuff--especially the use of racial profiling--was very relevant.

I believe that Bean's apology was fine, but rather than simply "turn the other cheek," he needs to come to grips with what his critics implied. He did not get the material off of a racist or anti-semitic site, but rather, a conservative Republican site. He edited the article to fit it on the page, and limited the material to historical events in the seventies and cut out the material at the end of the article about some obscure and marginal group that is seeking to keep the memory of these historical events alive today. After his students shared research about the author of the article, he immediately agreed to drop the article and shared his concerns with (which he should do.) It is sad that so many fellow professors would jump to the conclusion that he was intentionally seeking to deceive his students by sneaking racist propaganda into their reading list. Hopefully they will learn a lesson from this, and be a bit more careful when they assume some nefarious motivation for an honest mistake.

It is sad that one would have combative relations with other members of the department, but it is hardly the end of the world. Maybe students should know that they have a choice between communist professors (if the Frontpage redbaiting is at all true) and a libertarian one.

The problem is that when Bean agreed to drop the material, the Dean didn't just carry on through the end of the semester. The material was dropped. The T.A.s didn't have to discuss the material. Dropping the discussion sections and the TAs just seems like such an over-reaction. It's not like he insisted that they use the material.

It is almost like the "plan" was that Bean would insist and the response carried through even after he gave in.

By the way, giving in was a good idea.

Next time, he could get some better article and graduate students whose skins aren't so thin.

The Frontpage article that redbaits three of those writing the critical letter is interesting in that it describes feuds between two of them and David Horowitz.

I think Bean's "error" was to associate with David Horowtitz. Directly, he apparently trusted Horowitz's website as a source for materials. I doubt that a more balanced description of the Zebra Killings, the racial profiling, and racial polarization would be much different, but the fact remains that Horowitz let a racial propagandist use his website. Until I learn differently, I will presume that Bean didn't know.

And it may be that Bean is a bit of a pawn in a counter-attack against Horowitz.

But, there is also that affirmative action issue. Is it the case that all of those who signed the letter were women?

Robert L. Campbell - 5/1/2005

I know very little about the Zebra killings; I gather, though, that the estimate of 71 victims comes from the conjectural attribution of other unsolved murders to the same gang of self-appointed "Angels of Death" that is known to have killed 14 in San Francisco.

I am also no fan of David Horowitz, but from my reading of the article in FrontPage Magazine that Jonathan Bean used for his handout, I really have to wonder what most upset Jonathan Bean's colleagues. Could it be the allegation that the victims all died because they were white? Or the quotations purportedly showing that at the time some African-Americans in the Bay Area were indifferent to the kilings?

It surely can't be that Bean's handout was taken from the World Wide Web.

The suddenness and severity of the reaction against Bean do suggest a power play. So do the allegations of crucial reasons for censuring him in public that must now be kept secret, on account of possible lawsuits.

Louis Proyect makes no secret of his hard-Left politics. Some of the voluminous writings on his website are directed against libertarianism--there is even a blast at our very own Chris Sciabarra. I sorta doubt that academic freedom ranks very high on his list of priorities.

But Proyect is not a professor, and he's not at SIU--does he even know anyone there?

I hope Jonathan Bean will tell us more about what has been going on at SIU.

Robert Campbell

Bill Woolsey - 5/1/2005

Handouts that come from the web are unacceptable
in history.

Does anyone really believe that? Can you imagine
your department or school creating a rule that no member of the Faculty may distribute anything to students that was found on the web? Of course, I'm an economist. Maybe we just have lax standards.

Then there are the complaints about the links on the original article to "white power" groups. The source, Frontpage, is fantatically pro-Zionist and constantly beats critics of Israel with the anti-semite stick.

I am surprised that Frontpage uses material with white power links, but I don't believe that Bean should be taken to task for that.

I have little use for Frontpage or Horowitz, but they aren't a white power group.

The article in question claims that there were 70 killings. Other articles state that there were fewer. As Brady pointed out, there is a pretty detailed story on the web that claims there were 14. (It is actually pretty horrifying.) I wonder what is up with the difference? Is it a matter of the number of deaths officially charged to those convicted of the crime vs. other unexplained murders of white people in the area? After the Juan Cole "quote" bruhaha, it became clear that Frontpage isn't to be trusted for accuracy (not that I follow it anyway.)

I wouldn't think twice about taking something interesting from Reason and distributing it to my students. How about something controversial about global warming? I would hardly feel obligated to be able to justify all of the author's other views or the views of any group mentioned in the article. Suppose the author turned out to be an objectivist, and low and behold, has been promoting nuclear power, and that we nuke all the Muslims, steal their oild, and settle their lands. Global warming critic, pro-genocide, it's all connected.

Anyway, Bean has several positions of authority in his department. Chair of Curriculum. He has been on some search committees. Director of Undergraduate studies or something like that. Perhaps there is something else going on.

Bean has about the most complete vita I have ever seen. Check it out.

I saw this posted on one of the links above:

"Jonathan Bean in context
Bean is not simply a “libertarian". He is primarily involved with undermining affirmative action, particularly on campus. He is the author of a book “exposing” affirmative action through the SBA and numerous articles attacking diversity in the academy for the Heartland Institute. One of the things that must be understood is that old-fashioned racism no longer exists in the USA. Instead, you have attacks on affirmative action, street crime, illegitimate children, etc. If one cannot grasp this dimension, then one will not understand the nature of racism in this country today.

Louis Proyect, at 10:59 am EDT on April 29, 2005>"

It makes one wonder. Senior faculty members have influence on hiring, tenure, and promotion. Do we want an opponent of affirmative action in such a position? What will that do to our efforts to make our department more diverse? Hmmmm, it looks like a slip up. We can get him now....

I mean...what else can it be.

Mark Brady - 5/1/2005

I've just come across a detailed account of the Zebra Killings here. Fourteen were killed and seven others wounded. Not 71, as stated in the article that aroused such ire.

Mark Brady - 4/30/2005

The offending article from stated that the Zebra Killings "left 71 people dead." Yet a news story states that "more than thirty people were attacked at random" and later mentions "a chain of 31 attacks."

The article also stated that, "Police stopped some 600 young black men at random before the courts stepped in to declare such groundless arrests unconstitutional." Art Agnos, who was "the sixth victim, and the first person to survive" and later became Mayor of San Francisco, explained that, "It's easy to believe in civil liberties, it's easy to believe in the civil rights of people when there is no tension, when there is no stress. But the real test comes in times like this. And the same is true back then. Just because you were black, you should not be stopped and it would be assumed that you were a killer. That's not the way our country should work even in those very difficult times." Amen.