Los Angeles Times: A controversy that erupted recently in a government class at Orange Coast College offers a lesson in academic freedom at a time of national crisis and a reminder that, as Supreme Court Justice Felix Frankfurter once observed, the preservation of liberty is always closely related to the observance of procedural safeguards.
The facts of the flap remain contested and mired in emotions over terrorism and freedom. Four Muslim students say instructor Ken Hearlson called them "terrorists" and "murderers" in a class discussion. Hearlson denies that. He says he was speaking only about the terrorists and those who support them, not his students. He also apologized for remarks that he insisted were never intended to be personal and said that he regretted raising the subject of terrorism so close to the Sept. 11 attacks.
That didn't end it. College President Margaret A. Gratton hastily put Hearlson on paid leave. She acknowledged that the move was unusual but defended it by saying that quick action was needed to defuse an incendiary situation. The suspension and its speed only fueled the controversy. Students are split. The faculty, alarmed that the college removed Hearlson without following its procedures and concerned about the threat to an instructor's right to make controversial statements, has formed a task force to review Orange Coast's academic freedom policy.
Sensitive subjects: The college administration's reaction was troubling. To put an instructor on leave without following established procedures for evaluating grievances sent a dangerous message. It could stifle the faculty's desire to approach sensitive issues or voice controversial ideas. Students gain far too much power if all they have to do to get an instructor bounced is make an allegation. And how much faith can a community have in a learning institution that can't handle deep and sensitive subjects? That is not to say the administration shouldn't have disciplinary authority, but the facts should all be in before it acts. The instructors union should have had the opportunity to weigh in.
Personal attacks and name-calling have no place in any classroom. But some ideas will always offend some students. These are times when people with and without the authority to censor and discipline will scrutinize writers, teachers and others in the marketplace of ideas. Instructors in colleges and universities must be free to challenge students' preconceived ideas. That's the basis of true education.
St. Louis Post-Dispatch: When a quiet Egyptian named Mohamed Atta obtained a pilot license in the United States, his visa had expired. A chilling report in Time magazine makes it apparent that no question ever was raised about Atta's immigration status or background. Not then.
Not several days later when he trained on a Boeing 727 simulator outside Miami. Not when he bought a global-positioning device from a Florida aviation supply store, not when he traveled to Spain and returned without a valid visa, not when he inquired about crop dusters or was stopped for a traffic violation. Not ever
Atta again left the U.S. and returned on a business visa, with no apparent hurdles. On Sept. 11, having just turned 33, Atta is believed to have piloted American Airlines Flight 11 into the North Tower of the World Trade Center.
Of all the maneuvers the 19 Middle Eastern hijackers had to master to slaughter more than 5,000 Americans on their own soil, it appears the simplest were getting into this country and remaining here, even after at least some of their visas had expired. The Washington Post reported Friday that all 19 had entered the country legally on tourist or business visas.
The nature of the new threat will force the nation to drastically alter its immigration policies. Ironically, the morning of the attacks, the House was set to approve a measure to make immigration and citizenship easier, even for many who entered illegally. It was swiftly forgotten.
Screening: As the government considers ways to better screen and track foreign visitors for the very few who might do us harm, it's important to do so delicately, allowing the continued flow of millions of law-abiding people who enrich our schools, our economy, our culture and our neighborhoods. We can be more vigilant without becoming hysterical.
To that end, Sen. Christopher S. Bond, R-Mo., has introduced the "Visa Integrity and Security Act," which would harness computer technology to track foreign visitors. Visitors would carry identification cards with digitized fingerprints. Schools would be required to report to the INS if a visitor with a student visa failed to show up. And there were would be cooperative reporting and sharing of databases among the Immigration and Naturalization Service, the State Department, the CIA, the FBI and the National Crime Information Center.
The distant battlefield has moved inside our front door. The prosaic weapons of this new war and the quiet terrorists who wield them have been among us. Tighter immigration practices may not detect all those who seek to harm us. But it is a step that must be taken.