September 07, 2004

Going After Gordie

Today’s issue of the Brandeis student newspaper, the Justice, has a fascinating front-page article about sociology professor Gordon “Gordie” Fellman, and a hit-piece on him that appeared over the summer in David Horowitz’s Frontpage Magazine. The popular prof, who has taught at my alma mater for more than 40 years, comes under attack in the Front Page article for, among other things, being a rabid Marxist who indoctrinates his students in the ways of America-hating.

The Front Page article, written by Horowitz acolyte Thomas Ryan, is overheated and contains all sorts of distortions, as pointed out in The Justice piece by neoconservative American Studies professor Jerry Cohen, Fellman’s friendly rival for more than four decades. It also gets lots of things wrong- while Fellman’s politics may be so leftist that he makes Michael Moore look like William F. Buckley, he has never claimed to be a Marxist, and besides, his views are more tinged with pacifism than those of most of today’s academic left. However, like the proverbial broken clock, the piece is right on occasion.

I took a class, “Sociology of the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict,” with Fellman my junior year, and I should say first of all that I liked him very much. On more than one occasion I attended his office hours, and we always had lively discussions. Gordie -he always insisted on being called by his first name- was a charismatic and engaging figure, and was always respectful of my and others’ opinions- even when, as often, my views dissented from his (this was around the beginning of my starting-to-question-leftism phase).

And that’s the thing- in a class of 40 or so students, myself and one or two others were the only ones who ever disagreed with anything Fellman had to say. He would talk, they would nod. Most of the class had previously taken Fellman’s signature course, “War and Possibilities of Peace,” and had read his book, “Rambo and the Dalai Lama,” and were thus thoroughly versed in Gordie-speak- to the point where I would often see students quoting him verbatim both in campus publications and in other classes. I must have heard the phrase “paradigm shift” more times in that one semester than I have in the ensuing six years.

I hesitate to throw around the b-word- brainwashing- but it got so laughable that at one point I jokingly brought up that ‘90210’ storyline about Kelly’s professor who started a cult. And this was back when the big issues of the day were Tibet, Mumia, and the war in Kosovo- from what I’ve heard, the rhetoric emanating from Gordie’s disciples only got worse in the ensuing years, considering 9/11, Iraq, and other recent world events. Fellman, to his credit, held his own in a surreal appearance on “The O’Reilly Factor,” just a few weeks after September 11.

Now I should say that I generally take anything coming from Horowitz’s operation with a rather large grain of salt- especially since, according to Josh, some of what appeared in the Front Page article appears to be based on off-the-record information, and none of it is based on the on-the-record testimonials of any student. I should also say that I distinctly remember, in my time at ‘deis, quite a groundswell of people who didn’t quite buy into the Fellman worldview and weren't particularly happy about its ubiquity around campus. But in four years at the school and four more reading the Justice regularly, I have no recollection of any such thoughts ever appearing in print before.

At any rate, I salute the current Justice editors for having the stones to run the generally balanced piece, because such a story never, ever, would’ve been possible when I was on The Justice- our first rule was always “first, hurt no one’s feelings.”

Posted by Stephen Silver at September 7, 2004 11:14 PM

Yeah, the hurt no one's feelings thing sort of vanished just prior or just after last fall's incident (at least in the news section). Though disturbingly, sometimes this leads to over sensationalizing e.g. the Jesus at Purim article...

Posted by: Igor at September 9, 2004 11:52 AM
Post a comment

Remember personal info?