Let freedom ring - abroad, too
A recent press report states that the United States International Communications Agency canceled an American scholar's government-sponsored lecture tour of Africa because he had written an article critical of administration policy. If true, this act once more throws into focus the basic argument over the purpose of US official information and cultural affairs activities.
Should the program be, as some obviously feel, devoted solely to the expression of official policy through various media programs and lectures? Or should it be a publicly financed way of bringing to those in other countries a picture of the variety and freedom basic to the American system?
As one who has been a public affairs officer, responsible for the administration of an information and cultural program abroad, and an ambassador, I hold strongly to the latter approach.
With strong congressional support, this policy has applied to the Voice of America - although there are those who from time to time express uneasiness at the lack of control. After some backing and filling, the general policy has also applied to libraries abroad.
It is even more important that this approach apply also to those whom the US sends abroad as lecturers and professors.
It is the recognized task of the ambassador and the members of his embassy staff, including those in the ICA section, to promote and explain official policy. To seek to coopt those from the academic community into this same task will not only weaken the support of the academic institutions for official programs, but will destroy the credibility of those sent abroad under official auspices.
While it can, perhaps, be argued that there are other means by which those differing with official policy can find their way abroad, such limited means as are available usually permit travel only to major capitals and to Europe. Official funds extend the reach of our academic exchanges into areas not likely to be reached in any other way.
Visiting academic lecturers, in my experience, help the official program in three ways, even where they may disagree with aspects of official policy:
* They provide a continuing link with those, often in important positions abroad, who have been educated in the US and welcome the intellectual stimulation of visitors from American campuses;
* They demonstrate the freedom of expression which is at the heart of the system we are seeking to explain and promote;
* They open doors for those in the official family abroad, often to circles it would be difficult to reach in any other way.
Those who would exclude critics from US official programs fail to recognize the sophistication of the overseas groups we are seeking to reach. Those in audiences which would be reached by American lecturers are already aware of the variety of opinions existing in the US from reading the readily available US private media. They will be no more ''confused'' by the presentation of a different point of view by an officially sponsored academic lecturer than they may be by the differing views often expressed by visiting members of Congress.
To propose that those of varying viewpoints be permitted to go abroad under official sponsorship is not to suggest that we provide an official platform for those specifically intent on embarrassing this country and its leadership. My own experience has been that, where the traveling lecturer is well-chosen on the basis of his professional standing, he or she will recognize the responsibility involved. Many have gone out of their way to explain objectively different points of view existing within the US on the issues of the day. The fact that they have done this while clearly holding a point of view different from that of the government has added to their reception and to their credibility.
America has some of the finest universities and finest faculties in the world. These institutions and the people in them should be given every oppportunity to assist in projecting the totality of this nation abroad. If we really believe that freedom should ''ring,'' then we should demonstrate that fact responsibly in our official programs. This may take courage, but to do so will enhance our programs, our credibility, and, in the long run, the understanding and acceptance of what this country is seeking to do through its official policies.