Lovett or Leave It

Academic freedom becomes blood sport at Saddleback College

Lovett, who joined Saddleback's social and behavioral sciences department in 1996, got a chance to defend herself before about 80 people, mostly students, who gathered in the campus student center Sept. 20 to hear a panel discuss the attacks.

"The response to this statement was nothing short of astonishing," she said. Lovett accused her critics of having assumed the worst when they read that the statement was from an organization with "black" and "radical" in its title. "If the heading had said this was from the Republican National Committee or some Quaker group, I wonder if people would have been more accepting of what the statement said," she said.

Despite the uproar, she refused to shy away from strongly criticizing the U.S. government's response to the attacks. She is not comforted by the fact that warships have departed for the Persian Gulf with seemingly no clear military objective. Such a strategy reminds her too much of wars America has lost, such as the drug war, the Vietnam War and—she would argue—the Gulf War, which failed to topple Iraqi President Saddam Hussein. The fact that the Soviet Union lost a bloody, 10-year war with Afghanistan also troubles her.

"I don't want to fight any more wars," she said. "The international community must respond to what happened, but there can be no war."

Talk of a long, drawn-out war with no clear military objective "is the same language that was used to prepare this country for the Vietnam War," she said. "I'm very much on the lookout for that kind of language, and that language scares the hell out of me."

And she does not agree with some who say that Americans will lose their thirst for vengeance once they see soldiers carried out of the Middle East in body bags. "If you remember back to Vietnam, the response to body bags was, 'We must not let these soldiers die in vain,'" she said. "My fear is if we get in a war, we won't be able to get out."

She urged everyone to resist blindly accepting warfare.

"I don't want you people to trust your leaders. All of us can decide on our own whether or not we want to wage war. We can do something to save our lives, Pakistani lives and Afghani lives. We can say we must find a negotiated settlement. By getting into a long, costly war that will lead to countless American deaths, we'll be giving this terrorist what he wants."

That elicited loud applause.

In a chat afterward, Lovett said she and her colleagues on the panel are considered campus "rabble-rousers." But there have been no repercussions as a result of the BRC statement. "I'm tenured," she said and then looked up, as if praising heaven.

Saddleback College president Dixie Bullock confirmed that. "There has been no administration or board 'fallout' at this time," she told the Weekly.

The controversy disgusted Idin Kashefipour, the student representative to Saddleback's Academic Senate. "I am not a political activist or analyst, but I do feel that political views must be presented and debated," Kashefipour said. "It is a shame that we cannot have these political discussions on a diverse campus such as Saddleback for fear that someone might be offended, or a line may be crossed."

Indeed, attacks on academic freedom are not new to the SOCCCD. In 1997, when Steven J. Frogue, a high school history teacher who was also president of the district board of trustees, asked his fellow board members to spend $5,000 in taxpayer money for a community education course he'd teach on conspiracy theories surrounding the assassination of President John F. Kennedy—including one by a Holocaust denier who pinned the hit on the Israeli government—the proverbial shit hit the proverbial fan, as national headlines, late-night TV comics and Jewish zealots zinged the district. But though it was largely ignored at the time, several respected free-speech and academic-freedom organizations across the country defended Frogue, who nonetheless pulled the plug on his class.

"As a citizen of the United States of America, I claim my right to say what I think, believe what I value, to study and listen to many voices, whether I do or do not agree with them," Frogue, who resigned from the board in 2000, said at the time. "To be forced to do otherwise is a travesty of the most treasured American principles."

Academic freedom also became an issue during Orange County Republican Party chairman Tom Fuentes' successful campaign for Frogue's old board seat in 2000. It was disclosed that Fuentes had tried in vain in 1993 to get his alma mater, Chapman University, to force political-science professors to teach only views consistent with their college board of trustees; in the cases of Chapman and SOCCCD, those boards are rock-solid conservative.

For her part, Lovett just hopes the whole BRC thing goes away so she can go back to the life of a quiet, sometimes rabble-rousing community college history professor. But she's concerned about those who publicly supported her.

"Now they're getting the hate mail," Lovett said. "One started, 'Listen, slut.' That shows you the kind of intelligence we're dealing with here."

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