One of Georgia's highly unsavory traditions is the campus witch hunt. In Cobb County, they're reviving that shameful game by labeling a scholar a witch — or, to use one of the epithets that's fashionable in these Tea Party times, a Communist. The Marietta Daily Journal has been fanning the fears of a gullible mob over Timothy Chandler, considered a highly respected academic anywhere other than this intellectual backwater.
Chandler was hired as the provost — a post second only to the president — at Kennesaw State University. It seems that the college don, now an associate provost at Kent State University in Ohio, quoted Karl Marx five times in a paper published 13 years ago in a scholarly journal.
Moreover, his paper chastised America as the "most violent nation-state in history." Without context and definition, that's an assertion impossible to prove, and (as a former college professor) I'd be the first to challenge its lack of scholarly precision. But it's hard to dispute that we are a violent nation, whether in terms of what would now be labeled genocide in our treatment of Native Americans; the just and occasionally unjust wars we've fought; or simply our societal penchant for shooting each other.
Chandler denies he's a Communist, although he shouldn't be forced to grovel by making such a defense. Studying Marx is needed to understand much of modern world history. Among American schools that offer courses on Marxian economics are the universities of Utah, Massachusetts (Amherst and Boston), Maine, Missouri-Kansas City, and Colorado State. Commies all? I don't think so.
Calling Chandler a Red because he quoted Marx in a paper and made comments critical of this country shows the profound ignorance that lives among us — ignorance of what defines a Communist or a Marxist or a socialist or a capitalist, and especially ignorance of what it means to be an American.
Those smearing Chandler as a Communist would do well to take a refresher course in political interference with universities. In 1941, Gov. Eugene Talmadge sought to oust UGA's dean of education for advocating "communism [and] racial equality" and for giving "Jew money to niggers." Ultimately, Talmadge launched a wholesale attack against universities, ousting professors and destroying the state's academic reputation.
But here's the punch line: Talmadge also destroyed himself — he lost his re-election bid in 1942.
Kennesaw State also would do well to pay attention to its own reputation. Beginning in 2002, I wrote a series of articles detailing anti-Semitism at KSU. Professors were fired for no reason other than that they were Jewish or because they refused to fire Jews. The Anti-Defamation League ranked KSU No. 2 in the nation for anti-Semitic acts. Betty Siegel, KSU's president at the time, wasn't a bigot — but despite costly lawsuits against her school, she let the bigots go unchecked.
Today, a new president at KSU, Daniel Papp, faces a similar challenge. So far, Papp has supported Chandler, but that backing has been tepid. That means his support of academic freedom is lukewarm. If Papp doesn't vigorously rally against the mudslingers, ignorance and bullying will prevail. And KSU will lose.
John F. Sugg was an editor and columnist at Creative Loafing for 14 years. He now does media and policy consulting for the Atlanta Housing Authority, among other clients.