On April 11, Jonathan Bean, a professor of history at Southern Illinois University at Carbondale (SIUC), received the college’s “Outstanding Teacher Award.” But just two days later, Bean became the scourge of the campus, abandoned by teaching assistants and vilified as a purveyor of “racist propaganda.”
Behind Bean’s sudden fall from admired academic to campus Enemy Number One was a cabal of eight radical academics in the SIUC history department. Bean’s offense was to have assigned as optional reading for his history class a 2001 Frontpagemag report titled “Remembering the Zebra Killings” by James Lubinskas. The class topic was “Civil Rights and Civil Disorder.” Bean’s required readings for the class included the writings of Malcolm X, Rosa Parks, Martin Luther King, Ella Baker, and Stokely Carmichael.
The offending Frontpagemag article which Bean made optional recounts what have come to be known as the Zebra Killings, a series of murders that took place in the San Francisco Bay area between 1972 and 1974, which left 71 people dead. The crimes shared a distinctive pattern: all the victims were white. The article, which contains facts first exposed in the 1979 book Zebra by crime writer Clark Howard, and subsequent reviews of the book in Time Magazine, reveals that five members the “Death Angels,” a sub-group of the Nation of Islam, carried out the majority of the attacks.
For the offense of making students aware of the existence of this article and these killings, the history department witch-hunters demanded Bean’s head. Faced with this vicious, career threatening onslaught, Bean took the same course that Larry Summers had at Harvard, in attempting to defuse similar thought-control attacks by issuing an unwarranted apology to anyone to whom the reference to such an article might give offense.
The witch-hunters thirst for vengeance was hardly slaked by this gesture and the attacks by the history department radicals continued unabated. Led by Marxist professor Robbie Lieberman, Bean’s antagonists were determined to bring down Bean. Bean is a well-known campus libertarian and the only Republican professor of history at Southern Illinois University. The smear campaign against Bean represents only one battle in a larger ideological war raging inside the school. By denouncing Bean, leftists at SIUC hope to purge the last remaining dissident in the department so they can carry out their totalitarian agendas unchallenged by even a single politically incorrect voice.
The ferocity of the crusade against Bean was breathtaking. On April 11, an open letter denouncing Bean appeared in the op-ed section of the Daily Egyptian. Normally intra faculty grievances are aired in committee, not in the pages of the school newspaper. Bean was charged with downloading the article “from a site containing links to racially charged and anti-Semitic Web sites”—two blatant lies—and abridging it “in a way that disguised its full context.” Signed by professors Kay J. Carr, Germaine Etienne, Mary McGuire, Rachel Stocking, Natasha Zaretsky, and Robbie Lieberman, the letter expressed the professors’ “disgust with the article that was distributed in a core curriculum American history course.” Not satisfied with this auto da fe, the same professors placed an advertisement in the Daily Egyptian repeating their charges that the reference to the article (and the act of referring it) was racism.
The evidence for this racism was guilt by association—a link, contained in the original article to the European American Issues Forum (EAIF), a group headed by Lou Calabro, a street patrol sergeant with the San Francisco Police Department at the time of the crimes. The SIUCC faculty members attacking Bean claim that he removed the paragraph containing a link to the EAIF, a civil rights organization “dedicated to the eradication of discrimination and defamation of European Americans,” which they assert is anti-Semitic and racist. Indeed, according to Rachel Stocking, one of the history professors who signed the letter, “This article is basically white supremacist propaganda.” Since the facts in the article were true, the meaning of her charge is that to draw attention to black racists is itself racist—a perfect expression of the Orwellian mindset exhibited by Bean’s attackers. Yet, as Bean has repeatedly (and superfluously) noted, he removed the paragraph not because he wanted to obscure its alleged racist bias but because he wanted to save space and because it wasn’t relevant to the historical aspect of crimes.
Bean has admitted to no wrongdoing. Nevertheless, in a misguided effort to appease his attackers and mute the controversy sparked by the article, he has extended his apologies to the entire Southern Illinois University community in a written apology published in the SIUC student newspaper on April 12. As though anyone should need to apologize for making students aware of an article on a subject of interest in a university setting.
Bean’s chief prosecutor, professor Robbie Lieberman has portrayed her own efforts to defame Bean’s reputation as a struggle for campus decency—“Everybody should bring up controversial topics. But you have to do it in a responsible way,” she said without getting too explicit about what would qualify as “responsible” in an article in the student newspaper.
So how have university administrators responded to the assaults on Professor Bean’s academic freedom? As reported by student writer Moustafa Ayad, they have sided with the Communist witch-hunters who have defamed Bean. Shirley Clay Scott, dean of the College of Liberal Arts, sent Bean a letter chastising him for failing to understand appropriate “parameters of discussion.” (Meanwhile the American Association of University Professors is busy attacking David Horowitz’s Academic Bill of Rights as an attempt to “restrict” professorial speech!) Scott then used her authority to cancel Bean’s discussion sections for the week and told his teaching assistants they did not have to continue teaching the course for the rest of the semester. Two of Bean’s three graduate teaching assistants have subsequently resigned their posts. Marjorie Morgan, head of the history department, has poured her own fuel on the flames by calling Bean insensitive.