The topic was Cuba, the place was Loyola University.
At a dinner among academics, Yale University Professor Carlos Eire noted that at the same time that former Chilean dictator Gen. Augusto Pinochet was arrested in 1998 in London for human rights crimes, Cuban dictator Fidel Castro was warmly received in Spain.
Castro, Eire recalled saying to his colleagues, “has killed thousands more people than Pinochet ever did.”
“Then another professor stood up and said ‘That’s a lie!’”
Castro’s death on Nov. 25 has thrust into sharper focus for Eire and other professors like him the deep divide in academia over the former dictator’s legacy. Many have taken to social media and press interviews to praise Castro as a hero who thumbed his nose at the United States and was a champion for oppressed people around the world.
Eire, a professor of history and religion who arrived from Cuba at the age of 11, finds himself in an apparent minority of professors when it comes to judging Castro's legacy.
“There’s a faulty sense of history” said Eire, who wrote an opinion piece in the Washington Post titled “Farewell to Cuba’s brutal Big Brother” that has been shared widely on social media.
“Very well educated people can be very stupid,” Eire said, adding that even among liberal intellectuals who may see themselves as bleeding hearts, there is “stealth bigotry.”
Most professors’ public remarks about Fidel Castro’s legacy have resembled those of Peter Schwab, a professor of political science at Purchase College, at the State University of New York, who praised the former Cuban leader in a New York Times letter to the editor.
“Although many Cuban exiles in Miami gleefully welcomed Mr. Castro’s death,” Schwab wrote, “his impact on politics in the third world was positive, while the model health care system his government developed and the educational opportunities he provided all Cubans will remain as among his greatest domestic achievements.”
Drew University professor Althea Spencer Miller wrote a lengthy Facebook tribute to Castro, lamenting how his “complex life and politics were vilified here in the U.S.”
“He improved the lives of many actually forcing upon them the conditions for that improvement,” Miller wrote. “May he RIP!”
I have become marginalized here at Yale because of my political views. About 97 percent of the Yale faculty is liberal, and thinks Castro has done great things and that you should overlook his human rights abuses.
- Yale professor Carlos Eire
Eire said that it baffles him when people press him to say something positive about Fidel Castro’s legacy.
“They say ‘But they get free health care and free education,’” Eire said. “The Third Reich did too, but nobody would praise the Nazis.”
In the liberal academic environment, says Eire, who describes himself as politically independent, he finds himself “marginalized.”
A survey by the Econ Journal Watch of the voter registration of faculty at 40 leading U.S. universities in the fields of Economics, History, Journalism/Communications, Law, and Psychology, found that among 7,243 professors, 3,623 were registered Democratic and 314 Republican.
“I have become marginalized here at Yale because of my political views,” he said. “About 97 percent of the Yale faculty is liberal, and thinks Castro has done great things and that you should overlook his human rights abuses.”
“They see their political views as being objective, and anyone who does not agree with them is stupid or evil.”