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N.C. professors refuse to be silenced

November 30, 2001 | Page 4

Dear Socialist Worker,

David Horowitz's Web site labeled them "America's Enemies," and Rush Limbaugh urged his radio audience to harass them. But faculty at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill are undaunted. The 135-member Progressive Faculty Network has continued its series of antiwar teach-ins that made headlines in mid-September.

"People are really looking for information," said Rashmi Varma, an organizer and professor. With colleagues Catherine Lutz and Elin Slavick, Varma helped to plan the first teach-in, "Understanding the Attack on America." Held on September 17, it drew a standing-room-only crowd of 1,000--and a vicious right-wing backlash.

By the next afternoon, the university chancellor's office had received some 600 letters, phone calls and e-mails demanding that the faculty organizers be muzzled or fired. Instead, Chancellor James Moeser went on record before the state legislature to defend academic freedom.

Faculty members appreciate this public defense of their free-speech rights, but Varma emphasized that they don't want their antiwar message to be lost. "NPR didn't want to hear our message," she said. "They wanted to know if I was a U.S. citizen and if we had tenure. They only wanted the dirt."

Despite problems with the press, the Progressive Faculty Network is succeeding in getting its message out. Since September, the network has sponsored four teach-ins, with a fifth planned for after Thanksgiving.

"People come to learn," she said, "and they get shocked in the sense that they thought they would hear about women and Islam. They didn't think they would hear about women and Christianity, women and Zionism, and women and patriotism, too."

Nancy Welch, Burlington, Vt.

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