Letter to the editor...A Limp War Response from American Academics

James Neill, March 20, 2003

I wanted to share the perspectives of an Australian academic working at an American university on the conflict between Iraq and the USA.

I arrived with my family a few weeks before the Sept 11 crisis and was abhorred from that day onwards at the American reaction. I have carried on quiet protest in a conservative, north-eastern US university (which lost one of its professor in the attacks). Gradually, I have become more vocal on academic educational listservs in recent weeks -- acting as a sacrificial lamb to at least get fellow professors and educators engaged in issues about how to deal with the topic in their classes. But the dominant motivational force amongst educators I know here is that they are either passively pro-war or -- even more disturbingly -- don't believe its a good idea but have no notion of themselves doing much about it.

I don't sit around - I purchased an internet domain name - so I would have the intellectual freedom for publishing my own views. Being an academic of conscience is not easy in a community of privilege - my Australian visitors cannot believe their eyes when I take them into the sumptuous eating domes for students.

The university system does not reward professors for communicating and dialoguing with public. The only reward is for publishing drawn out papers in refereed journals.

In contrast, I placed a striking photograph on my homepage -- a protester holding up a poetic sign which reads "Bombing for Peace is like Fucking for Virginity". This single act helped to ignite this now well-known common slogan around the world.

The point is this -- the academic community in America is disconnected not so much in heart and knowledge from the issues, but by its stodgy indifference. I was warned before I came here that this was particularly characteristic of "New England" culture.

With the numbers of American youth going to college or university higher than ever and the lack of vitality or political engagement of university professors, my prognosis is for long-term problems ahead for the quality of USA higher education.

And I'd thought it was bad in Australia!

James Neill
University of New Hampshire