Some at Winthrop critical of CIA's visit

A recruiting visit from the CIA is causing a stir at Winthrop University.

More than 20 professors and staff members plan to picket and rally today while the government agency hosts a lunchtime recruitment meeting at Dinkins Student Center.

"Our collective idea is that the CIA has a right to recruit on campuses. We don't have the power to stop that," said Chris Van Aller, a political science professor. "We merely say that lately, the CIA has been accused of doing a number of reprehensible things that, at least in my opinion, are not in the national interest."

Van Aller cited the CIA's interrogation tactics and allegations of torture as among the issues that he finds troubling. The CIA has come under criticism in recent months for what human rights groups and some Washington lawmakers call its inhumane treatment of terror suspects.

President Bush and others have defended the CIA's tactics, saying they are an important tool in preventing domestic attacks.

An e-mail was circulated among faculty and staffers this week, sharing news of the event and inviting them to join in a picket line and rally.

"We suspect that many of you, like the undersigned faculty and staff, have been frustrated by how hard it is for citizens to influence decisions made in Washington," the e-mail stated. "If those of us who are concerned about the course of U.S. foreign policy cannot take action about something taking place in our own back yard, how can we possibly aspire to take meaningful action about what takes place in the world outside of Winthrop?"

A different e-mail from the school's career development office asked professors to let students know about the CIA recruiting visit.

Faculty members are careful not to call today's activities a protest.

"I have mixed viewpoints about the CIA," said Carol Marchel, an educational psychologist in the center for pedagogy. "I don't think everything they do is bad. I want our students to see there are different sides of every issue."

A marketplace for ideas

On Tuesday, the school defended the CIA's right to recruit on campus -- and the faculty's right to speak out.

"A university campus is by definition a marketplace for ideas, with students able to listen to a variety of perspectives, analyze and decide for themselves," Winthrop spokeswoman Rebecca Masters said in an e-mail to The Herald.

George Little, a CIA spokesman, said recruiters are occasionally met by protesters, but not very often.

"The CIA, the agency, is as forthright as it possibly can be at these recruiting sessions to showcase the many career opportunities we can offer," he said.

Little said recruiters describe the CIA's mission and talk about various job opportunities during the visits.

The CIA contacted Winthrop's career development and service learning office to arrange the session. This is the first time in at least several years Winthrop has received such a request, officials said.

Today's recruiting session is a follow-up to a visit last week in which a CIA representative participated in a Winthrop graduation fair geared toward students graduating in December.

The recruiter will be in Dinkins from noon until 1:30 p.m. Faculty members plan to hold their event outside the building from 11:30 a.m. until 1:30 p.m.