Professors sign petition to avoid war against Iraq

Elaine Helm

Nearly 50 Northwestern professors, from departments including math, law, radiology and political science, have signed an online petition opposing a U.S. attack on Iraq and encouraging public debate.

Professors from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Harvard University posted the Web site (www.NoIraqAttack.org) on Sept. 24 after professors from the University of Minnesota circulated the petition among colleagues. More than 13,000 professors and about 15,000 other individuals have signed the petition.

“As educators we need to be aware of the need for discourse,” said NU classics Prof. Daniel Richter. “I don’t need to teach students to oppose this war, but I want to teach students to think about the consequences.”

Although signatures on some Internet petitions easily may be forged or mass produced, NoIraqAttack.org’s webmaster, Jim Krehl, said the site uses an e-mail verification system that does “work toward preventing mass amounts of spoofed names.”

“While it’s not impossible or necessarily difficult to (automate signatures), it’s very hard to do undetectably,” Krehl said. “(For example), if we saw that a large number of signatures were from the same e-mail provider and came from the same IP or computer, we’d know that they’d be suspect.”

Recalling student protests of the Vietnam War and even the Gulf War, Weinberg mathematics Prof. Jared Wunsch said he has been alarmed by the minimal amount of debate on college campuses about President Bush’s proposal to invade Iraq with or without international support.

He said having “no particular knowledge about Iraq that anyone who reads The New York Times doesn’t have.” But he said university professors should use their knowledge and influence to guide discussion.

“To a certain extent we’re perceived as people who know something,” Wunsch said. “We have a public voice, and we have an obligation to try and spread our views through that voice.”

NU professors have voiced opposition to an attack on Iraq in other forums as well. Doug Cassel, director of NU Law School’s Center for International Human Rights, wrote a column published in the Chicago Tribune on Oct. 13 that argued a pre-emptive strike on Iraq would be unjustified, weaken national security and cause unnecessary bloodshed.

Mark Witte, an economics lecturer who signed the NoIraqAttack.org petition, said President Bush has not proven to the world that Iraq poses an immediate threat to the United States and its allies.

“Without more current aggression on Iraq’s part, it’s hard for us to justify attacking,” Witte wrote in an e-mail. “Further, it’s not clear to me why deterrence that seemed to work well against strong countries like the USSR can’t work well against Iraq.”

As a professor at a private university, Witte said he feels more free to voice his opinion than other professors at public universities that rely on the approval of state legislatures for funding.

“The university culture very much promotes people speaking their minds,” he said. “Private universities like it when their professors are outspoken.”