You’re on the List….

Via Kathleen: a report that Miguel Tinker Salas, Arango Professor of Latin American History and Chicano Studies at Pomona College, received a visit from the Los Angeles County Sheriff/FBI Joint Task Force on Terrorism. The visit appears to have been due to the fact that Tinker Salas, who is from Hugo Chavez’s Venezuela, gave a talk in Washington, DC, on US policy toward Venezuela. The men who visited Tinker Salas may have “only affiliated with the Sheriff’s department,” but it’s still a troubling story.

Here are the details of an email sent to the Pomona College community:

On Tuesday, March 7, Miguel Tinker Salas, Arango Professor of Latin American History and Chicano Studies, was visited in his Pearsons Hall office by two men from the Los Angeles County Sheriff/FBI Joint Task Force on Terrorism. To avoid rumors, I wanted the Pomona College community to be aware of the facts.

The agents asked Professor Tinker Salas a number of personal questions as well as questions about the Venezuelan government and the Venezuelan community in the U.S. During the meeting, they told him that he was not a subject of investigation. The tone and content of the questioning, however, troubled him deeply. He was also troubled by the fact that the agents reportedly questioned some of the students outside his office while waiting to see him.

Miguel, as all of you know, is a superb Wig Award winning teacher and a fine scholar on Latin American history, politics, and culture who is sometimes asked by the news media to comment on topics related to his research, including Venezuelan politics. The College supports him and his scholarly work without reservation.

I am extremely concerned about the chilling effect this kind of intrusive government interest could have on free scholarly and political discourse. I am also concerned about the negative message it sends to students who are considering the pursuit of important areas of international study, in which they may now feel exposed to unwarranted official scrutiny.

The College is currently consulting with legal advisors about the most effective way to register a strong official protest about this intrusion into our scholarly and educational activities, and we will take appropriate action as soon as their advice is received. We are also asking for their help in assuring that all members of the College community are fully informed about their rights and their options in such situations.

David Oxtoby

And an email sent by Tinker Salas to his colleagues:

Estimado/as Colegas,

I write to inform you that yesterday during my office hours (Tuesday 2:30-4:30) I was visited by two agents of the LA County Sherrifs/FBI Joint Task Force on Terrorism (JTFT).

The arrived at about 2:40-2:45 pm sat out side my office while attended to a students, and then asked to see me.

They had with them a copy of my profile from the Pomona Web page, and other materials I could not see.

After identifying themselves, they proceeded to ask about my relation to Venezuela, the government, the community, my scholarship, my politics. They were especially interested in whether or not I had been approached by anyone in the Venezuelan government or embassy to speak up on Venezuelan related matters. In addition, they raised a whole host of other troubling questions, too long to summarize here.

After they departed, the three or four students who were outside my office informed me that these individuals had asked them about my background, my classes, what I taught, my politics and they even wrote down the cartoons that are on my door.

I consider this to be an attempt at intimidation and cast on matters of academic freedom.

I am planning a response, and I am open to your comments.

saludos

Miguel

While the story is still developing, the “visit” raises all sorts of troubling questions, many of which have already been asked by Kathleen. Is Venezuela now no longer to be trusted? Why is Venezuela seen as a threat and does it have something to do with socialism (and will Bolivia be added to the blacklist)? What do these events say about academic freedom, especially given the work of folks like David Horowitz? And, as Kathleen pints out, Tinker Salas, who is a full professor, is relatively protected. What if he had been an assistant professor, an adjunct, or a graduate student?

Update: I’m getting a number of Google searches for more information on Tinker Salas. Kathleen has the most complete version of what has happened in the last few days. Short version: the FBI apologized, sort of, for putting Tinker Salas and the Pomona College community in an “uncomfortable situation.”

2 Comments »

  1. Sparky Said,

    March 12, 2006 @ 2:52 pm

    What’s the big deal?

    In America, a person has the right to refuse to answer a police officer’s questions. (Professor Tinker-Salas would know better than I do whether that’s equally true in Venezuela). They even told him that he was not the subject of their investigation. If he didn’t want to talk to them, he could have just asked them to leave.

    After having willingly answered the officer’s questions, however, it is somewhat ridiculous for the professor to complain. And it is simply gibberish to suggest that this incident has anything to do with academic freedom.

  2. Chuck Said,

    March 12, 2006 @ 3:05 pm

    I think David Oxtoby’s comments speak to your argument pretty clearly. While he may not have been required to answer the questions, Tinker Salas clearly felt that questions were troubling, and such treatment can have a “chilling effect” on academic discourse, especially if the professor in question was not protected by tenure and by the respect of his colleagues. I think it’s reasonable to argue that such treatment might inhibit someone from expressing their politics as openly as they might otherwise.

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