From the Letters to the Editor column of the March 2006 Perspectives

Emeritus Professors as Potential Threats

Edwin J. Perkins, March 2006

To the Editor:

This correspondence is aimed primarily at emeritus faculty like myself, but all part-timers should take notice. My focus is on the enhanced scrutiny of non-regular faculty by the lengthening arm of Homeland Security, which is making a more forceful impact on many campuses. From 2002 through the fall of 2005, I returned almost every semester to teach courses at the University of Southern California. About two weeks into the fall semester, I received an e-mail from our payroll department asking me to report to its new offices and show two types of identification—or alternatively my passport. Once I arrived in payroll's expanded domain, I realized immediately that something was awry. I had, unexpectedly, been ensnared in the web of Homeland Security and the national hysteria over terrorism.

Some non-regular faculty may have no serious objections to such demeaning inconveniences, but I reacted with a great deal of outrage and hostility. After all, I had been a member of the USC history department for over three decades. As it now stands, I will not be returning to the USC campus under the current conditions of enhanced surveillance. I, for one, do not wish to collaborate with an expanding police state. Fortunately, I am financially independent at this stage of my life, and I do not require the extra income. Others may not be so lucky, however.

In the future, emeritus professors, and other potential part-timers, may want to investigate the terms of employment at their respective universities and assess how much mindless scrutiny they might be willing to tolerate.

Emeritus professors as potential threats to national security? Where are we headed next? How about old-fashioned loyalty oaths? "Are you a member now, or have you ever been a member, of a terrorist organization? Yes or no." Signed: John Q. Historian. Of course, it's possible that the investigative powers linked to the Patriot Act may be restricted in 2006. But meanwhile everyone, including full-time faculty, remain possible targets.

—Edwin J. Perkins
University of Southern California, Emeritus