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Academic Senate Chair Robert Cherny's Remarks
at March 24 Malcolm X Plaza Event


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March 24, 2003

I'd like to read you a resolution passed by the Academic Senate on March 11. The title of the resolution is "Against Unilateral Military Action in Iraq":

"Whereas the United States in general and California in particular face fiscal crises of unprecedented scope and depth; and

"Whereas the United States is hovering at the edge of a war with Iraq that could cost over a hundred billion dollars, first in warfare and then in the rebuilding of Iraq; and

"Whereas public funding for social services and schools -- from preschools through primary and secondary schools as well as colleges and universities -- would be likely to suffer profoundly, and for an undeterminable period of time irremediably, from the drastic cuts accompanying a wartime economy; and

"Whereas such cuts would seriously constrain access to public colleges and universities, and to the high-quality education without which the future of students for years to come, and the well-being of the country, would be severely damaged; and

"Whereas diplomatic efforts and weapons inspections continue in Iraq [this was as of March 11] the international community has not lent its support for war against Iraq; and unilateral pre-emptive action against Iraq by the United States would undermine the basic foundations of international law; and

"Whereas war by its very nature is antithetical to the values of the academy; and

"Whereas a war with Iraq would jeopardize the lives of American soldiers as well as the lives of Iraqi civilians, who have already suffered enormously under the current Iraqi regime; therefore be it

"Resolved that the San Francisco State University Academic Senate urge the government of the United States of America to work with the United Nations to obtain compliance by Iraq with United Nations Security Council resolutions concerning the disposal by Iraq of any nuclear, chemical and/or biological weapons; and be it further

"Resolved that the San Francisco State University Academic Senate urge the government of the United States to work with the United Nations to fully support the work of the international weapons inspectors in Iraq; and be it further

"Resolved that the SFSU Academic Senate oppose unilateral pre-emptive war against Iraq."

Let me focus on one part of that resolution: That war is antithetical to the values of the academy. What are the values of the academy? We value rational analysis. We value the drawing of conclusions based on evidence. We value trying to understand all sides to an issue. Wars collapse these efforts. Wars collapse these subtle distinctions. Wars often produce demonization of less opponents.

During World War I -- a time period that I study in American history -- things became so absurd that sauerkraut was renamed 'liberty cabbage.' That's one example of demonization that is at the level of absurdity. We see similar things going on around us. Please don't be a part of that. It's vitally important to preserve the university as a place of rational analysis and reasoned discourse. We have to be aware of the importance of respecting other points of view as we expect others to respect our own.

Let me add a quick personal note. In 1968 I was a student at Columbia. The war in Vietnam at that time was in its fourth year and many of us were very frustrated. We'd been marching and marching in New York and in Washington against the war and nothing happened.

In 1968 all over the country students occupied buildings in protest against the war. But that didn't change the war much, if at all. What did bring some change in 1968 were the students who went into the snow of New Hampshire and transformed that year's presidential primary into a referendum on the war and dumped the sitting president.

So I encourage you to turn this coming presidential election into a referendum on the war, to put your energies and all of your efforts into changing American politics.

Thank you.

NOTE: Remarks were transcribed from a recording of the event.

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