Clearing the Air on Al-Qloushi

March 14, 2005

One of the more prominent academic freedom disputes of the New Year involves California’s Foothill College and Kuwaiti student Ahmad Al-Qloushi. National attention to the story seems to have begun with Ahmad’s article in FrontPage magazine. This article contains some startling allegations:

A week before thanksgiving Professor Woolcock assigned us a take home final exam. The final exam consisted solely of one required essay: “Dye and Zeigler contend that the Constitution of the United States was not ‘ordained and established’ by ‘the people’ as we have so often been led to believe. They contend instead that it was written by a small educated and wealthy elite in America who were representative of powerful economic and political interests. Analyze the US constitution (original document), and show how its formulation excluded the majority of the people living in America at that time, and how it was dominated by America’s elite interest. When I read the assignment I remembered back to my high school in Kuwait. Many of my teachers were Palestinian; they hated America, they hated my worldview, and they did their best to brainwash me. I did not leave my country and my family to come to the United States to receive further brainwashing. I disagreed completely with Dye and Zeigler’s thesis. I wrote an essay defending America’s Founding Fathers and upholding the US constitution as a pioneering document, which has contributed to extraordinary freedoms in America and other corners of the world—including my corner, the Middle East.  Professor Woolcock didn’t grade my essay. Instead he told me to come to see him in his office the following morning. I was surprised the next morning when instead of giving me a grade, Professor Woolcock verbally attacked me and my essay. He told me, “Your views are irrational.” He called me naïve for believing in the greatness of this country, and told me “America is not God’s gift to the world.” Then he upped the stakes and said “You need regular psychotherapy.” Apparently, if you are an Arab Muslim who loves America you must be deranged. Professor Woolcock went as far as to threaten me by stating that he would visit the Dean of International Admissions (who has the power to take away student visas) to make sure I received regular psychological treatment.

After Al-Qloushi publicly complained about his treatment, Professor Woolcock then filed a “grievance” against Al-Qloushi. Though Al-Qloushi had not seen the text of the grievance at the time he wrote his article, he claims that Foothill told him that the justification for the grievance was that “Professor Woolcock feels harassed by your having mentioned his name to the media.” Al-Qloushi’s story has created a minor media firestorm, with numerous stories and television appearances. Unsurprisingly, the media focus has led many people to put Ahmad’s tale under scrutiny, with Media Matters dedicating an article to attacking his claims. In its zeal to attack David Horowitz, however, Media Matters loses the forest for the trees. Media Matters does note that Professor Woolcock disputes Al-Qloushi’s claims, and it was unfortunate that Hannity and Colmes apparently failed to note that dispute during its broadcast, but the group does not stop there. Media Matters then goes on to quote a description of Al-Qloushi’s paper as “an incredibly poorly written, error-ridden, pabulum-filled [sic], essay that essentially ignores the question put forth by the instructor” and concludes the article by noting Ahmad’s ties to David Horowitz and his support for Horowitz’s Academic Bill of Rights. First, the quality of Al-Qloushi’s essay is barely relevant to the significance of the story. Ahmad’s claim is sensational not because he was given a poor grade (or no grade) but because he claims that he was recommended for counseling and possibly threatened with deportation as a result of that essay. Moreover, Al-Qloushi claims he was then subjected to a grievance proceeding simply because he publicly complained of this treatment. These allegations, if proven, would represent grave violations of fundamental civil liberties. Students not only have a right to express their views without threat of deportation or psychological counseling, they have a near-absolute right to publicly criticize the professional actions of public officials. Second, one hardly debunks Ahmad by pointing out that he has sought David Horowitz’s help and supports the Academic Bill of Rights. I have a news flash for Media Matters: in FIRE’s experience, students who suffer from campus censorship are often enthusiastic supporters of the Academic Bill of Rights. For example, Bill Felkner, a Rhode Island College student who was forced to lobby the state legislature against his conscience is an enthusiastic supporter of the Academic Bill of Rights. Moroever, we have seen cases where advocacy for the Academic Bill of Rights has caused administrative reprisals.

Third, the article ignores entirely Foothill’s conduct in this case. There seems to be no factual dispute that despite Ahmad’s complaints of serious faculty misconduct, the school has made no effort to address the serious First Amendment issues raised by Professor Woolcock’s actions. Instead, it has allowed the professor to file a complaint against Al-Qloushi. Morevoer, the school appears to have allowed Professor Woolcock to use a complaint procedure for his grievance that is limited to students only. If these facts are true, then Foothill has not only failed in its obligation to investigate credible complaints of official censorship, it has violated its own due process procedures to aid a professor’s attempt to silence his most prominent critic.

FIRE has written a letter to Foothill College requesting its side of the story. We will let you know how it responds.