Page 3


FUTUM COMMUNICATIONS, INC Data Processing Typesetting Printing Mailing 512-389-1500 FAX 512-389-0867 3019 Alvin DeVane, Suite 500 Austin, Texas 78741 Academic Freedom Fighters BY CHUCK STEVICK Texas City ACOLLEGE OF THE MAINLAND un-American because of his teaching methods and his opposition to the Persian Gulf War, has received the support of students, faculty, and the college board. Larry Smith, who taught history at COM for the last eight years, was the target of several letters to the editor in the local newspaper, chiding him for his stance on the war and his so-called socialist leanings. The letters began shortly after a January 11 story in the Texas City Sun about a petition signed by 102 COM teachers and other employees deploring United States military action in the Persian Gulf. Smith was quoted in the story and named along with a half dozen other employees as a leader in the petition drive. The petition drew fire from several letterwriters who were apparently upset that anyone would question the wisdom of George Bush and the U.S. government just days before the January 15 deadline for Saddam Hussein to get Iraqi troops out of Kuwait. Of the numerous letters to the editor blasting Smith and the other petitioners, the most vitriolic came from one of their colleagues. Howie Katz, an instructor in the college’s criminal justice degree program, wrote that he wanted to assure the community that most COM teachers disagreed with Smith and COM “is not an abbreviation for ‘communism.'” He charged that the small group, Chuck Stevick is a reporter for the Texas City Sun. CIARI14113111 “Best Lodging Location for Fishermen & Beachgoers” Group Discounts P.O. Box 8 Port Aransas, TX 78373 Send for Free Gulf & Bay Fishing Information “under the guise of ‘academic freedom,’ would appear to indoctrinate their students, rather than educate them.” Katz also charged that the radical teachers try to back up their beliefs which he deemed “horse manure” by citing “radical and left-wing authorities. Many of those citations include materials which originated in Moscow as part of the Soviet Union’s AntiAmerican propaganda campaign,” he wrote. And, in effect saying “love it or leave it,” Katz offered to pay Smith’s airfare for a one-way flight to a country of his choice, “providing that he agrees in writing never to return.” Supporters of Smith et al. responded with letters of their own, which in turn provoked more response from the anti-Smith faction. This is not the sort of publicity a community college seeks, especially with two seats on the COM board up for grabs in May. Hoping to put an end to the war of words, COM President Larry Stanley, in an unusual move, set aside time in the board’s March 21 meeting for Smith and Katz to duke it out verbally. Stanley one of the 102 college employees who signed the infamous petition told board members he wanted to “clear the air” because letters written by Katz “constitute a personal attack on Mr. Smith and other unnamed faculty.” While both instructors were invited to speak, Katz declined, telling Stanley it would take him a couple of months to document his charges against Smith. Because of the size of the turnout about 50 more people than usual the meeting was moved from the cramped board room to a teaching auditorium. Before the main event began, members of Students for Academic Freedom, which formed after the Smith brouhaha began, presented the board with a petition rejecting any efforts to censor critical thinking on campus. It was signed by more than 400 current and former students. About a dozen Smith supporters including students, teachers and other college employees spoke glowingly of Smith and the other faculty members attacked in the letters. The absent Howie Katz did not fare so well with the speakers, several of whom compared his tactics to those of the late Senator Joe McCarthy. Not everyone who spoke was a Smith fan, however. One man, employed part-time by the college and full-time by Union Carbide, said history teacher Smith “should stick moreto the facts and not his opinion.” HEN GIVEN his turn, Smith spoke at considerable length, giving the board an example of what it is like to take one of his classes. He told board members he doesn’t teach history as “a neutral observer,” nor does he use “historical facts to reinforce beliefs I hold.” Growing up in East Texas in the ’40s and ’50s, Smith said, he saw first-hand “poverty in the land of plenty, racism where people were promised equality.” Because of those observations, he lost “all desire and respect for objectivity in teaching history,” Smith said. “This statement troubles some people.” It did not trouble the COM board, however. Later in the meeting, it approved a list of faculty members to be reappointed to their positions for another year. Smith and Katz were both on the list. Smith’s name on the list presented no problem. But before the vote, trustee Jim Butler said he was having second thoughts about Katz. “I’m not sure someone of that nature ought to be on that staff,” he said. President Stanley said he believed taking action against Katz would be “inappropriate.” All four trustees present voted in favor of reappointing the entire list. THE TEXAS OBSERVER 13