Impact of terrorism on colleges examined

Dr. James Castagnera stands at the fence line in West Bank as a member of the Academic Fellowship on Terrorism in 2007.
Dr. James Castagnera stands at the fence line in West Bank as a member of the Academic Fellowship on Terrorism in 2007.

by Emily Landgraf

The effects of terrorism on the higher education system of the United States are explained in Dr. James Castagnera’s latest book, Al-Qaeda Goes to College: Impact of the War on Terror on American Higher Education.

Castagnera, associate provost and associate counsel for academic affairs, was granted a fellowship in 2007 and was invited to travel to Israel to study counter-terrorism techniques. After the 10-day trip in May, one of Castagnera’s colleagues, Tim Furnish, asked if anyone from the trip wanted to propose titles for new books about terrorism. Castagnera proposed his idea and then began his work.

Castagnera’s interest in the subject of terrorism is one he’s had for quite some time. He grew up in Jim Thorpe, Pa., which is located close to Pottsville, where 10 of the infamous Molly Maguires were hanged for acts of domestic terrorism in 1877.

“In a sense, I’ve been interested in terrorism my whole life,” he said.

According to Castagnera, the book came together fairly quickly. He wrote a weekly column, which appeared in various local publications, and taught several courses that involved discussions of domestic terrorism, so he was already well-informed on the subject.

The book begins with Castagnera’s own memories of the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001. He then recounts the anthrax scare at the Hamilton Post Office, a short drive from Rider’s Lawrenceville campus.

“The FBI was here investigating our labs,” Castagnera said.

Rider also had its own anthrax scare at the time. According to Castagnera, white powder was found on a table in the Admissions Office where the mail was left.

“Thankfully, it turned out to be powdered sugar,” he said.

The rest of the book details different kinds of terrorism and the impact that terrorism has had on the higher education system.

“Rider reacted just like all the other schools after 9/11 and the Virginia Tech massacre,” Castagnera said. “It forced us to re-evaluate security.”

Castagnera has had a hand in this process at Rider. He is part of the Student Welfare Consultation Team, which meets about once a month to discuss security issues, including how to deal with students who may be a danger to themselves and others.

According to Castagnera, violent incidents on college campuses are a serious problem.

“That is the most important issue that we’re dealing with,” he said.

He devotes a good deal of time to describing these incidents. He thinks that the American higher education system has, overall, benefitted from the various terror attacks over the years.

“I think we are better for having to respond to those threats,” he said. “It’s made the industry more professional.”

Castagnera writes about terrorist incidents that are not widely known, such as the bombing of a mall in Jerusalem in the early ’90s. A large number of Americans were in the mall at the time, and their families filed a lawsuit against Iran as a state sponsor of terrorism. Through a series of legal decisions, the families are now suing universities and museums for Persian artifacts in order to be compensated for their losses.

Castagnera also describes the effects that increased security has had on academic freedom. According to Castagnera, many people in the academic community believed that the increased security measures would infringe on civil liberties. However, he does not believe that this has to be the case.

“I think it’s possible to be secure and free,” he said. “We just need to find the balance.”

Al-Qaeda Goes to College is Castagnera’s 17th book. It will be available on April 30.

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