UPDATE: CAUT's Empty Accusations

Peter Wood

UPDATE 10/06/2008

CAUT claims that it was "unaware of the NAS Wikipedia page" and "unaware of Inside Higher Education articles on this topic and reader comments that labeled NAS academic McCarthyites and snitches." We have no proof that CAUT consulted Wikipedia and Inside Higher Education; we'll take their word at face value. But we thought it worth noting that CAUT's wording was nearly identical with that of other sources.

CAUT will include a version of this article in its next issue of the CAUT Bulletin, which is published in both print and electronic form.

In its September bulletin online, CAUT (or ACPPU in Quebec) the Canadian counterpart of the AAUP, takes a swipe at the National Association of Scholars. In an article with the judicious headline, “Snitch Project Reminiscent of McCarthyism,” CAUT declares our Argus project is up to no good.

Actually, let’s re-phrase that, CAUT doesn’t actually declare anything, or even show that it has a particle of original thought. Instead it assembles a mélange (collection, in Ontario) of quotations and pastes a headline over them. The quotations and the headline don’t even match.  

The body of the article consists of quotes and paraphrases from NAS’s own press release. But the last paragraph dishes the dirt, where the author cites SourceWatch, a self-proclaimed “guide to the names behind the news.” SourceWatch in turn got its information about NAS from People for the American Way, which included NAS in its list of rightwing organizations (“Right Wing Watch”). We have already responded to the misleading characterization by People for the American Way, which is in some places false; in some, out-of-date.

We think it’s ironic that, in order to fault NAS for “watching” campuses, CAUT cites SourceWatch and Right Wing Watch. Of course, not all watches tell the same time or irk the same sensibilities. CAUT says that NAS’s Argus project is “reminiscent of McCarthyism.” But NAS has limited itself to documented public sources, transparency in reporting, and strenuous attempts at accuracy. What about the sources that CAUT relies on and what about CAUT itself?

SourceWatch and Right Wing Watch have demonstrated inaccuracies in their characterizations of not only NAS but also other organizations. They have steadfastly refused to make corrections when their errors have been pointed out. And CAUT has relied on these sources without doing any fact-checking of its own. 

Who is McCarthyite? The organization that sticks to the documented record and hews to standards of accuracy, or the organization that throws around inflammatory epithets on the basis of unsubstantiated hearsay?

The last sentence in the CAUT article is nearly a cut-and-paste version of a sentence from the NAS Wikipedia page, where an editor cites “Buying a Movement,” a People for the American Way report that is no longer available online. So not only does CAUT fail to write its own sentences, it recycles a misleading account from a highly doubtful source. The full story of what happened in Texas is one we are proud to tell, but we’ll leave to CAUT to see if their research skills extend beyond Wikipedia. 

Not only is CAUT’s article is a mishmash of other people’s writings, the title is certainly borrowed as well. Inside Higher Education wrote a piece, “Big Argus is Watching You,” characterizing the project as an Orwellian big brother operation. Comments on the Inside Higher Ed article labeled NAS academic McCarthyites and “National Association of Snitches.”

We’ve addressed these accusations. We have nothing to hide about what we’re asking volunteers to do for the Argus project, which is to look at publicly available information with the intent to help us hold the university accountable to a standard of integrity. And when we write about a university program or issue, we use careful research and evidence to verify the facts. We will not attack individuals or send spies into classrooms, nor will we publish something based on hearsay.

Which is more than one can say about CAUT’s online bulletin.

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