Parallels between the California text-book board and the Pennsylvania University
A few years ago, in the context of the changes in the text books of the California school regarding how Hinduism should be taught, Prof Michael Witzel of Harvard University intervened to stop the process of the changes, and demanded that the suggestions made were re-evaluated. There were various groups who worked with the California board, strictly following the guidelines set out by the state. However, Prof Witzel was able to sabotage the process by alleging that the groups involved had a political agenda. At the time of making the allegations, he did not know either what were the changes proposed, or the background of the groups involved.
He got some 150 people around the world to sign on his letter. Given the timeline, it can be safely said that the signatures were obtained purely on the basis of the academic status of Prof Witzel, and not on the basis of sufficient knowledge about the reliability of the allegations. However, the California board succumbed to what can only be described as intellectual terrorism. Subsequent events would also show that the merits of the allegations made by Prof Witzel had no merit. A substantial number of changes were accepted, which would prove that Prof Witzel was derelict in his duties as an academic, and allowed Hinduism to be taught with little empathy. Many of the original changes were accepted to be dropped by the groups involved purely as a matter of getting the best out of a bad situation.
We now see the whole process being repeated in context of withdrawal of the invitation to Narendra Modi to be a keynote speaker at the 2013 Wharton Economic Forum, an annual programme organised by the students of the Wharton Business School, which is part of the University of Pennsylvania. This withdrawal was done on the basis of a supposed furious petition that was sent to the University by some academics of the university, from faculties outside the business school. In fact, none of the academics of the business school signed the petition.
The manner in which the invitation was withdrawn was in violation of the guidelines of the University for free speech. The university also succumbed to the threats by the petitioners – threat which also violated the university guidelines on what is a legitimate protest. As in case of the California textbook board, the authorities of the university succumbed to intellectual terrorism.
The organisers of the forum said that they had to consider the views of various stakeholders and hence decided to withdraw the invitation, within two days of the announcement. However, there were stakeholders who wanted to hear Modi and so decided to invite him. And there are other stakeholders who have objected to the succumbing to the pressure and threats. And there are stakeholders who have withdrawn their sponsorship, as well at least one who has withdrawn himself from speaking at the forum. Are these stakeholders less important?
In both the cases, the decisions taken were those which had least consideration for the Hindu sentiments. And in both cases, it is clear that Hindu sentiments can be trampled when threatened by intellectual terrorism.
There is, however, another incident that we would like to mention, as a contrast to the above. And this also happened at the University of Pennsylvania (yes, the very same one which took a cowardly decision in face of the intellectual terrorism.) On October 4, 2004, Ram Madhav, a senior RSS office bearer, was invited by another India related unit of the University of Pennsylvania, CASI, to talk about the RSS. Then, too, there was a ‘furious’ petition to withdraw the invitation. One such petitioner, Prof David Luden, used chicanery to justify his position, when he said that he did not ask the invitation to be withdrawn, but the unit’s head should reconsider the invitation! But there were sufficient number of academics at CASI who ensured that the concerned authorities did not succumb to the intellectual terrorism, and the programme went on as scheduled.
There is much that the University of Pennsylvania has to dwell on their recent action.
Courtesy : Hindu Vivek Kendra