Thrawn Rickle 63

The Professor and the Cadet

© 2002 Williscroft

It all started with a simple email.

Air Force Cadet Robert Kurpiel was assigned the job of finding publicity on various campuses for the annual Air Force Academy Assembly. This is a forum hosted annually by the Air Force Academy to bring together Political Science Students from across the nation to discuss issues in the news. This year’s subject was the balance of security and liberty in today’s terrorism driven environment.

Here is Cadet Kurpiel’s email:

Dear Sir or Ma’am

The Air Force Academy is going to be having our annual Academy Assembly. This is a forum for mainly but not only Political Science majors, discussing very important issues dealing with politics. Right now we are in the planning stage for advertising and we would appreciate your help in the follow (sic) areas.

Do you know of or have methods or ways for interschool advertising and or communications? What would be the best way for us to advertise at your school whether it is sending you the fliers and you making copies or by perhaps putting an advertisement in your local publication? We would appreciate your input and the cost of what your recommend.

Thank you for your time and consideration.

Very Respectfully,

Cadet Robert Kurpiel

I’m not sure how many History Departments and Political Science Departments received this communication, but I suspect the number was quite large.

In particular, one email found its way to the desk of Professor of History Peter Kirstein at St. Xavier University in Chicago, a fine old Catholic Liberal Arts University.

Here is the professor’s unedited email response to Cadet Kurpiel:

From:  Peter Kirstein
Sent:  Thursday, October 31, 2002 1:46 PM
To:  Kurpiel Robert C4C CS26
Subject:  Re: Academy Assembly

You are a disgrace to this country and I am furious you would even think I would support you and your aggressive baby killing tactics of collateral damage.

Help you recruit. Who, top guns to reign death and destruction upon the nonwhite peoples throughout the world? Are you serious sir? Resign your commission and serve your country with honour. No war, no air force cowards who bomb countries with AAA, without possibility of retaliation.
You are worse than the snipers. You are imperialists who are turning the whole damn world against us.  September 11 can be blamed in part for what you and your cohorts have done to Palestinians, the Viet Cong, the Serbs, a retreating army at Basra.

You are unworthy of my support.

Peter N. Kirstein

Professor of History

As you can imagine, this communication did not go over very well with the Cadet and his colleagues. Within a few hours the professor’s rantings had received worldwide distribution as outraged veterans and serving members of America’s military forwarded these communications to friends and colleagues.

Apparently, St. Xavier University was overwhelmed with email traffic, so that the professor was obliged to do something. Perhaps he was asked to apologize to Cadet Kurpiel. Here is what he wrote to Capt. Borders, who was in charge of the Academy Assembly:

Dear Captain Borders,

I have expressed to Cadet Kurpiel my regrets over what I communicated to him in my e-mail. I did not mean to impugn his character. I am sure he is of the highest character. I should have written him in a more thoughtful and contemplative manner.

As one who believes in non-violence and the avoidance of conflict, I could have been more circumspect and creative in my communication with him. Cadet Kurpiel has sent me several generous, thoughtful and impressive e-mails. He has also expressed “apologies” for the unwarranted national distribution of a private e-mail correspondence which has caused me and others to receive 100s of e-mail messages.

I hope this update on my response and the cadet’s kind communication will serve to inform the public that this issue has been resolved with dignity and honour between myself and Cadet Kurpiel.

I remain respectfully yours,

Peter N. Kirstein

Professor of History
Saint Xavier University

This “apology” did not sit well with the people the professor had offended with his first email. In fact, it seemed to make things even worse. So much so, that the President of St. Xavier placed a personal letter on the University website for all to see and read.

There is insufficient room here to reproduce that letter, but you can find it at the St. Xavier University website.

The worldwide response to that letter prompted more concrete action from St. Xavier.

This letter was the first to shed some reasonable light on the problem, but it still wasn’t sufficient. The University received tens of thousands of letters from around the world, from men and women who took issue with the professor and his high-handed words.

Toward the middle of November, another message appeared on St. Xavier’s website:

During recent weeks Saint Xavier University has attracted national attention because a tenured professor of history sent a young Air Force Academy cadet some e-mail containing inflammatory, anti-military comments.

Professor Peter N. Kirstein, an avowed pacifist, quickly apologized to the cadet and to the Air Force Academy for his e-mail message, but in the meantime thousands of other interested parties have taken offense.

From the beginning of this incident, Saint Xavier University has worked to achieve four objectives: (1) to make things right with the cadet and the Air Force Academy; (2) to respond compassionately to the anger and anguish aroused in so many quarters; (3) to counsel and discipline Professor Kirstein in appropriate ways; and (4) to ensure that teaching and learning at the University will continue unimpeded.

The following actions have been or will be taken to make things right with the cadet and the Air Force Academy:

(1) Professor Kirstein sent a personal apology to the cadet and to the Air Force Academy. Subsequent correspondence between them has been open and respectful.

(2) The University extended an official apology to the Academy’s Superintendent, and as president of the University, I have agreed to accept an invitation to visit the Academy within the coming year.

(3) Saint Xavier University will send a delegation to the Air Force Academy’s upcoming Academic Assembly.

(4) Campus officials have attempted to respond to all cadets, parents, and members of the Academy staff who telephoned or wrote to the University. Any omissions in this regard have been unintentional.

To respond compassionately to the large number of men and women who somehow received copies of Professor Kirstein’s e-mail and thereby came to feel demeaned by his intemperate criticisms of the military, the University has done the following:

(1) Faculty, staff and administrators throughout the University have fielded telephone calls during the past two weeks, in each case listening sensitively to complaints and advice.

(2) We answered hundreds of e-mail messages personally, until the rising volume of correspondence made individual responses impossible.

(3) We cooperated with the press in an ongoing effort to ensure accurate and responsible coverage.

(4) We used web-page updates to summarize the University’s response to this emerging situation.

(5) We consistently admitted that Professor Kirstein’s e-mail message was unwarranted and unbecoming a scholar.

By far the topic of greatest interest to most people has been the University’s response to Professor Kirstein. After careful deliberation, I have decided to take the following actions on behalf of the University:

1.   Effective on the afternoon of November 11, 2002, Professor Kirstein was relieved of his teaching responsibilities for the current semester and reassigned to other duties.

2.   An administrative reprimand will be delivered to Professor Kirstein and placed in his personnel file.

3.   While on sabbatical leave during the spring semester of 2003, Professor Kirstein will submit his teaching, scholarship, professional development, and service record to peer evaluation within the norms of the University’s procedures for periodic review of tenured faculty. Professor Kirstein volunteered to have this review conducted earlier than it otherwise would have been.

4.   Any future faculty contract(s) extended to Professor Kirstein will include a binding addendum specifically requiring him to adhere both to institutional policies and to the norms of the American Association of University Professors in matters relating to the proper exercise of academic freedom and extramural activities.

No additional information will be released by the University with respect to the above actions or other personnel matters concerning Professor Peter Kirstein. This is in accord with University practice.
Professor Kirstein and the University community deeply regret the incident that began this chain of events. Saint Xavier University remains committed to the pursuit of teaching and learning in a campus community where all are treated with respect, caring and justice and where academic freedom is enjoyed for purpose of promoting quality teaching, careful research, critical analysis, thoughtful discussion, and programs of direct service to metropolitan Chicago and beyond.

So there you have it.

It is important to understand that this is not an issue of academic freedom or freedom of speech. It’s a matter of rational response by concerned parents and citizens to an individual who reveres Carl Marx on his website, teaches a revisionist version of history in his classes where terrorists are heroes and patriots are evil, and who attempts by word and deed to pervert and poison the impressionable young minds of students entrusted to St. Xavier University.

I have taken up the torch to have Professor Kerstein stripped of his professorial rank, and barred forever from teaching anything to anybody anywhere. He has a right to his opinion, but I want it to stop there.

If you are interested in helping in this cause, please contact me for the names and addressed of the members of the Board of Trustees of St, Xavier University. These good people have the power to remove Kerstein forever from being able to influence young people.

Together we can give the academic world a Christmas present that will reach far beyond the bounds of this single incident, setting a precedent that all future campus terrorist wannabees cannot miss: We will no longer tolerate lies, deceit and terror in the name of academic freedom.

Submariner, diver, scientist, author & adventurer. 22 mos underwater, a yr in the equatorial Pacific, 3 yrs in the Arctic, and a yr at the South Pole. BS Marine Physics & Meteorology, PhD in Engineering. Authors non-fiction, Cold War thrillers, and hard science fiction. Lives in Centennial, CO.

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