Posted Saturday, June 23, 2001

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Saturday, June 23, 2001

School cutting Nazi culture class

Kennesaw State fears suits over course

Mary Macdonald

A course titled "The Culture of Nazi Germany" is reviving too much painful history for Kennesaw State University. School officials pulled the course from the fall catalog after a top official said he was concerned the name --- if not the content itself --- could revive an image of the university as being anti-Semitic.

Ed Rugg, the chief academic officer, cited five discrimination lawsuits claiming anti-Semitism filed against the university by former professors. A course title and description emphasizing "Nazi," Rugg said in an electronic memo, could be misinterpreted and has the potential to scare off donors.

The lawsuits last decade "took a severe toll on KSU's reputation in the Jewish community, our personnel and financial resources, and our prospects for private fund-raising," Rugg wrote in an e-mail to the department chairwoman who authorized the course. ". . . that is not an experience that I, you, or the rest of the university want or can afford to repeat again."

Rugg and other university officials say the course will be reintroduced for spring semester, after a more lengthy review of its approach. But weeks after the withdrawal, the decision continues to upset faculty and students. Professors see a lack of regard for academic freedom to delve into sensitive subjects. Students see censorship.

"I don't like people determining for me what classes I can take," said Rob Anke, a senior majoring in sociology. "If it's not worth studying, no one will take the class."

The course was created by Sabine Smith, an assistant professor of German who has worked at the university for two years. Smith, a native of Germany, holds a doctorate in German studies from the University of California at Davis.

Smith said she had enlisted the assistance of other faculty, and sought suggestions from an Atlanta-based Jewish organization before the course was cancelled.

"It had never been my intention to glorify the Nazi regime," she said Friday. "Why did this phenomenon happen and will it happen again, especially in Germany? The answers to these questions are still being contested today. . . . KSU students of German studies should know more than the stereotypes regarding the Hitler regime."

The course was designed for upperclassmen, and would have focused on the legacy of the Nazi regime on modern-day Germany. Smith selected as the primary text "Shifting Memories: The Nazi Past in the New Germany," published by a reputable press.

Elaine McAllister, the 10-year chairwoman of the Department of Foreign Languages, approved the course as a fall offering. She did so without a formal review by senior faculty within the department, and without passing the outline to the dean of the college. Typically such review is required for permanent courses. But McAllister said the practice for a "special topics" course offered once or twice by professors --- as this was designed --- is to allow the department chair to decide.

"I never questioned her ability to deliver the course content," McAllister said. "If I had, I wouldn't have signed off on it."

McAllister and Rugg dispute who made the final call to pull the course. McAllister says she was told to withdraw the course. Rugg says she agreed it needed more review. Both said the decision followed a complaint made by someone on campus.

The university is committed to presenting the course, if it is properly prepared and reviewed, Rugg said.

"We're not afraid to approach this topic," he said. "I think this course is valuable. . . . If I'm anything, I'm too sensitive. Because of the context of Cobb County, because of the context of our recent lawsuits."

Many universities and colleges have courses that cover the Third Reich, the Holocaust, and related topics. Harvard University last spring offered a course entitled "Mass Culture in Nazi Germany: The Power of Images and Illusions."

But with the best intentions, professors can end up lending credence to the Nazi culture, said Jay Kaiman, Southeast regional director for the Anti-Defamation League. "It has to be a course that's very well structured," he said. "And you have to know what you're doing." Academics who support the course at KSU describe its withdrawal as a case of hyper-sensitivity.

"My interpretation is the administration panicked," said Melvyn Fein, a professor of sociology. "They were afraid of what the reaction would be. With undue haste, they pulled this thing."

The image of the university is a concern, McAllister said, but so is academic integrity.

"We should worry about the reputation of the institution, because it reflects on us. But, as a university, if we are supposed to educate rather than indoctrinate, there are issues we need to address with students in a responsible manner. And I think that's the manner in which Dr. Smith intended to do it."

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