Sunday, September 02, 2007

Is Fr. Harak beyond the pale?

I really like the young guys and girls at GOP, some of whom have beenconducting a campaign, to dissuade classmates from taking a course offered by Fr. Simon Harak. I think it's worth some discussion. I'll assume that the public statements and political activities highlighted by the bloggers (and by Professor McAdams at Marquette Warrior) are representative of Fr. Harak's non-academic activities. To my ear, they reflect a certain truculent softmindedness. Fr. Harak sounds like the kind of guy who, having rejected one set of simplistic pieties, embraces another. More succinctly, his politics seem silly.

But isn't the real question what he does in the classroom? I am sure that there are plenty of people who think my politics are misbegotten but what I do in class is not a reprise of this blog or other non-academic writing and speaking that I may do. In class, I have a responsibility to ensure that all serious arguments are thoroughly explored. I make a point of telling students that I routinely give "A"s to people who subscribe to (and argue well for) positions that I think are wrong.

It may well be that Harak does not do that. The "Center for Peacemaking" that he directs certainly does not sound like it is a place for activism and is not intended for serious study of what does and does not lead to peace.

But I am not enthusiastic about judging a teacher by the positions that he or she takes outside the classroom. Some times, as with Kevin Barrett's views on 9-11, outside activities suggest that someones capacity for critical thought is seriously impaired. On the other hand, Noam Chomsky is apparently a brilliant linguist even if his political writings suggest, at best, a 40 watt bulb.

Maybe there are some views that are so reprehensible as to exclude someone from the university. But I'd prefer to err in favor of permitting a broad swath of opinion.

Fr. Harak is teaching an introductory Theology course. Isn't the better approach to challenge him to fairly introduce (as he may already plan to do) even those important theological perspectives with which he may disagree?

Students certainly have a right to criticize faculty. But people with whom we disagree - even strongly - may turn out to be very good teachers.


John McAdams said...


I think Harak's comments do put him in the Kevin Barrett category.

Some links to various of his comments.

Worse than his naive opinions is the arrogant and abusive tone he took toward one student who disagreed with him:

Having said that, I doubt that Brian Collar's little campaign will actually dissuade any significant number of students from taking his course.

Students don't seem to mind controversial professors. If he grades students in an obviously unfair way, that would (and should) hurt his enrollments.

Anonymous said...

Professor Esenberg,

Thanks for your link and comments about Simon Harak.

Unfortunately, Simon Harak is a uniquely evil – possessed, I absolutely believe – man.

How else to describe someone who would actively, passionately support one of the most horrific dictators of history, and perhaps the worst dictator of our current generation – Saddam Hussein.

Unfortunately for us, Harak’s poison has landed at MU. But rarely in life do we get to choose the battles we are asked to face. Thus, the need for action.

And a uniquely bad man calls for unique action in response.

Did we expect that leafleting Harak’s class would elicit a uniform response by students? No. But frankly, that was not the chief objective. The chief objective was to inform Harak – and Marquette University, frankly – that students were aware of his disgusting past and ready to take action, however meager, against him.

I wish it were the case that Marquette thought that dismissing genocide was cause enough to bar someone from teaching at our University. Unfortunately, that is not the case. As such, someone – actually, a lot of people – is obligated to speak out against Harak, if nothing else, for the victims of Saddam Hussein.

I wish that Marquette faculty felt more responsible for stewardship of the University. Besides John McAdams, there isn’t a single Marquette faculty member who seriously challenges – on behalf of students, alumni, and just maybe the interest of what’s right – the deranged leadership of much of the Administration and the likes of a Theo. Dept. that would hire Harak.

I’m so glad that you’ve taken notice of Harak, but I wish that your first post on him had come earlier (Spring?) when we could have used another voice in the chorus of complaints against this crazed lunatic, rather than just now to mildly criticize the only action being taken against an enabler of Saddam Hussein.

I love so much of the faculty. It’s been a blessing to be an Economics student at Marquette. But it’s time for you folks to get serious about confronting the awful stench that too often creeps in before it’s too late for MU as a whole.


Rick Esenberg said...


Thanks for the info.


You may be right about Fr. Harak but I am leery of excluding folks on the basis of their politics. (People who think like us will tend to lose that game.) You certainly are free to raise questions about the guy and obviously have raised some fairly serious ones.

illusory tenant said...

He may be right about Harak being possessed by evil demons? If I was at Marquette I'd be leafleting Brian. He seems way crazier than Harak.