UPDATE: The Gawker site has some fun with this.
ANOTHER: CHE also has a story, which points out that in October 2012, Mellen Press called on its authors to defend the publisher's reputation at various on-line fora. As opposed to suing critics, that seems like a quite sensible and constructive response! I'm still mystified, though, how the Press could think suing a librarian, and thus bringing the wrath of all the world's academic librarians down on you, was a smart strategy. I also think that a sensible public relations person would advise the Press to withdraw the suit and do a mea culpa, at the same time defending the quality of its catalogue against the criticisms. (There is apparently a separate libel suit by the individual who founded Mellen Press, Herbert Richardson, against the same librarian for a different set of comments about Mr. Ricahrdson's prior professional career. If, in fact, the statements in question are false, that separate suit might have merit.)
AND YET ANOTHER: This story has some bearing on Mr. Richardson's personal suit agains the librarian, and sugests the allegations there are also, alas, without merit.
In the earlier thread discussing the survey about philosophy publishers, Leslie Green (Oxford) posted the following startling comment, which deserves separate notice, so I'm reposting it here (with the links restored, they didn't come through in the comment apparently):
A professional librarian at McMaster University’s library complained, in a 2010 blog-post, that Mellen was a poor publisher with a weak list of low-quality books, scarcely edited, cheaply produced, but at exorbitant prices. Librarians are expert at making such judgments; that’s what universities pay them to do. And the post made a key point about the public interest: ‘in a time when libraries cannot purchase so much of the first-class scholarship, there is simply no reason to support such ventures.’
No one likes bad reviews; but Mellen’s approach is not to disprove the assessment, pledge to improve its quality, or reconsider its business-model. It is to slam McMaster University and its librarian with a three million dollar lawsuit in the Ontario Superior Court, alleging libel and claiming massive aggravated and exemplary damages. The matter is pending.
The lawsuit is threadbare. With respect to the parts of Mellen’s list with which I am familiar, the librarian’s statements noted above are all true and the quality judgments are correct. (And this survey suggests that would be a common assessment.) Moreover, on the facts in this situation, it is obviously fair comment, and public policy considerations strongly suggest that university librarians enjoy a qualified privilege with respect to their assessments of the quality of the books they consider buying for their universities. It would be a disaster for universities, students, researchers and the taxpayer if aggrieved publishers were permitted to silence discussions of the quality of their publications by threats of lawsuit.
McMaster University’s response to this appalling tactic has been surprising. Public silence. No one at McMaster has spoken in defense of the librarian or the University; no University administrator has pushed back against the crude threat to academic freedom that this represents. (But then the President of McMaster’s list of the seven ‘McMaster Principles’ omits mention of academic freedom.) Are the McMaster faculty, administration, and faculty associations already so cowed by libel-chill that they are afraid to speak up? Or are they unaware of Mellen’s attack? Or—and this is just as worrying—is it that McMaster values its professional librarians so little that it is willing to let them bear the brunt of such harassment, so long as the University itself can avoid vicarious liability?
Let’s hope someone at McMaster forcefully says ‘enough’ to this sort of bullying. Universities have a negative duty not to abridge the academic freedom of their members; they also have a positive duty to see to it that others do not do it either.
I do hope some of the reporters who cover higher education who read this blog will investigate. The conduct by Mellen Press described here is just appalling and the apparent silence, so far, of McMaster University troubling.
UPDATE: Useful links here (scroll down) to earlier cases where Edwin Mellen Press sued or threatened to sue critics. In the case of Lingua Franca (now defunct, for unrelated reasons), the Press lost its libel action.
ANOTHER: More information here, including the "notice of action."
Some details here. Will the other miscreants from Dershowitz to City Councilman Fidler now recant? They've been whacked by both the Mayor and the New York Times, as well as the rest of the civilized world.
UPDATE: More on Mayor Bloomberg's remarks here, which are apt and funny.
ANOTHER: An interesting piece on Professor Dershowitz's hypocrisy on these issues.
It's a new day. But it's about time! The key quote:
The sad truth is that there is more honest discussion about American-Israeli policy in Israel than in this country. Too often in the United States, supporting Israel has come to mean meeting narrow ideological litmus tests. J Street, a liberal pro-Israel group that was formed as a counterpoint to conservative groups like the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, has argued for vibrant debate and said “criticism of Israeli policy does not threaten the health of the state of Israel.” In fact, it is essential.
A propos the attack on academic freedom at Brooklyn College, longtime reader Ruchira Paul passes on this letter sent to President Gould from Zujaja Tauqeer '11, and Ms. Tauqeer kindly gave her permission for me to post it on the blog. By way of background, Ms. Paul notes that, "Zujaja Tauqeer belongs to the Ahmadiyya Muslim community and came to the US from Pakistan with her parents. The state of Pakistan sanctions legal and social persecution of Ahmadis."
Here is Ms. Tauqeer's letter:
As Greenwald reports, city officials are now explicitly threatening to withhold funding to the College if the event goes forward. As Greenwald also notes, this is rather obviously unconstitutional.
Dear President Gould,
I hope this letter finds you well. As a Brooklyn College alumnus, a Rhodes Scholar, and the commencement speaker and class representative for the 2011 graduating class, I urge you to continue upholding the principles of academic freedom and to allow the Political Science Department to co-sponsor, as originally planned, the panel discussion on the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement that has been scheduled to take place at BC.
As you and Provost Tramontano are aware, I know all too well how fragile freedom of speech can be. As a beneficiary of political asylum by the US, I am horrified to see the kinds of perverse tactics used to marginalize minority communities and viewpoints in less developed countries being introduced in an American public educational institution for the express purpose of stifling the freedom of speech, and therefore the freedom of conscience, of students and faculty. Elected officials and trustees who hold the public trust are now trying to force you to join them in betraying that very trust. They are seeking to deprive the Political Science Department of its right—and responsibility—to sponsor discussions that may conflict with the convictions of those in a position of power.
As a Rhodes Scholar selected from Brooklyn College, I have tried my utmost to represent my alma mater as a progressive institution whose commitment to freedom and toleration vindicate the sacrifices students and alumni like myself have made to pursue a liberal arts education here. Though in the past BC has stumbled in its effort to preserve civil liberties on campus, I am confident that as president you will capably show that academic freedom, so crucial to critical scholarship and democratic citizenship, is non-negotiable.
I recall at this time the motto of our school—nil sine magno labore. We cannot ensure for future students and faculty the freedoms promised to them as citizens of this country if we as an institution back down from the effort needed to uphold those very freedoms now when they are threatened by vested interests. If I can support you in any way in helping to make this case to my fellow alumni, our elected officials, and our donors, please do not hesitate to call upon me.
Zujaja Tauqeer ‘11
Glenn Greenwald has a good column on it; here's what seems to me the key bit:
In sum, the ugly lynch mob now assembled against Brooklyn College and its academic event is all too familiar in the US when it comes to criticism of and activism against Israeli government policy. Indeed, in the US, there are few more efficient ways to have your reputation and career as a politician or academic destroyed than by saying something perceived as critical of Israel....
But this controversy has now significantly escalated in seriousness because numerous New York City elected officials have insinuated themselves into this debate by trying to dictate to the school's professors what type of events they are and are not permitted to hold. Led by Manhattan's fanatical pro-Israel "liberal" Congressman Jerrold Nadler and two leading New York mayoral candidates - Council speaker Christine Quinn and former city comptroller William Thompson - close to two dozen prominent City officials have signed onto a letter to college President Gould pronouncing themselves "concerned that an academic department has decided to formally endorse an event that advocates strongly for one side of a highly-charged issue" and "calling for Brooklyn College's Political Science Department to withdraw their endorsement of this event." As a result, the "scandal" has now landed in The New York Times, and - for obvious reasons - the pressure on school administrators is immense.
Imagine being elected to public office and then deciding to use your time and influence to interfere in the decisions of academics about the types of campus events they want to sponsor. Does anyone have trouble seeing how inappropriate it is - how dangerous it is - to have politicians demanding that professors only sponsor events that are politically palatable to those officials? If you decide to pursue political power, you have no business trying to use your authority to pressure, cajole or manipulate college professors regarding what speakers they can invite to speak on campus.
These elected officials are cynically wrapping themselves in the banner of "academic freedom" as they wage war on that same concept. They thus argue in their letter: "by excluding alternative positions from an event they are sponsoring, the Political Science Department has actually stifled free speech by preventing honest, open debate." But if that term means anything, it means that academia is free of interference from the state when it comes to the ideas that are aired on campuses.
The danger posed by these politicians is manifest. Brooklyn College relies upon substantial grants and other forms of funding from the state. These politicians, by design, are making it mandatory for these college administrators to capitulate - to ensure that no campus events run afoul of the orthodoxies of state officials - because obtaining funding for Brooklyn College in the climate that has purposely been created is all but impossible....
That's the nature of politics in general: it requires subservience to empowered factions and majoritarian sentiment. That's what politicians do by their nature: they flatter and affirm convention. That's exactly the reason politicians have no legitimate role to play in influencing or dictating the content of academic events. It's because academia, at least in theory, has the exact opposite role: it is designed to challenge, question and subvert orthodoxies.
That value is utterly obliterated if school administrators live in fear of offending state officials. That is exactly what is happening here, by intent: making every college administrator petrified of alienating these same pro-Israel factions by making an example out of Brooklyn College. That's why anyone who values academic freedom and independence - regardless of one's views of the BDS movement - should be deeply offended and alarmed, as well as mobilized, by what is being done here.
The primary defense being offered by these would-be censors - we just want both sides of the issue to be included in this event - is patently disingenuous. In his lengthy email exchange with me yesterday - printed in full here - Dershowitz told me that his objections were not to the holding of the event itself, but to the sponsorship of it by the Political Science Department, especially given the lack of any BDS opponents. For those reasons, Dershowitz claims, "it is crystal clear that the political science department's co-sponsorship and endorsement of these extremist speakers does constitute an endorsement of BDS."
But nobody proves the disingenuousness of this excuse more than Dershowitz himself. Like the BDS movement, Dershowitz is a highly controversial and polarizing figure who inspires intense animosity around the world. That's due to many reasons, including his defense of virtually every Israeli attack, his advocacy of "torture warrants" whereby courts secretly authorize state torture, his grotesque attempt to dilute what a "civilian" is and replace it with "the continuum of civilianality" in order to justify Israeli aggression, and his chronic smearing of Israel critics such as author Alice Walker as "bigots".
Despite how controversial he is, Dershowitz routinely appears on college campuses to speak without opposition. Indeed, as the Gawker writer who writes under the pen name Mobutu Sese Seko first documented, Dershowitz himself has spoken at Brooklyn College on several occasions without opposition. That includes - as the college's Political Science Professor Corey Robin noted - when he was chosen by the school's Political Science department to deliver the Konefsky lecture in which he spoke at length - and without opposition. He also delivered a 2008 speech at Brooklyn College, alone, in which he discussed a wide variety of controversial views, including torture. As Professor Robin noted, when Dershowitz agreed to speak at the school, "he didn't insist that we invite someone to rebut him or to represent the opposing view."
Nor did any of the New York City politicians objecting to this BDS event as "one-sided" object to Dershowitz's speech given without opposition. Why is that?
In fact, it is incredibly common for academic departments to sponsor controversial speakers without opposition. I speak frequently at colleges and universities, and always express opinions which many people find highly objectionable. As but one example, I spoke at the University of Missouri School of Law last September, in an event sponsored by the law school itself. As this news account from the school's newspaper notes, I spoke at length about the highly controversial ideas in my last book, and that speech was followed by a panel discussion of like-minded civil liberties and civil rights advocates.
The way that happens is exactly how it happened here: a student group decides it wants to invite speakers or host an event and then seeks organizing support from one of the school's departments. That does not remotely connote departmental agreement with all or any of the ideas to be aired; it simply reflects a willingness to help students organize events they think will be beneficial. As Professor Robin told me about the BDS event: "The student group explicitly asked us if we would like to 'endorse' or 'co-sponsor' the event; we explicitly opted for 'co-sponsor.'"
I hope readers will take a moment to e-mail Brooklyn College President Gould (firstname.lastname@example.org) urging her to continue to stand firm for academic freedom and the First Amendment. In situations like this, academic leaders need to know that if they cave into craven politicians that will cost them standing in the academic world, and that by standing firm, as President Gould has done so far, she has earned respect and recognition for her integrity from the academic community. I would also urge all departments at Brooklyn College to join as co-sponsors of this event, as a way to make clear that the integrity of the university is at stake. (Ordinarily, I would not encourage a Philosophy Department to co-sponsor an event featuring Judith Butler, but...she does have a PhD in philosophy! And, from what I've read, she's more articulate and interesting on this topic than on most topics she writes on.)
UPDATE: Here, as a sample which anyone is free to borrow, amend etc, is what I wrote to President Gould:
Dear President Gould,
I know I speak for many in the academic community in congratulating you on your strong and principled stand in defense of academic freedom at Brooklyn College. Yours is undoubtedly the morally and legally correct posture, and I hope you will feel free to call on me and others for support in light of the campaign of political intimidation now being waged against you and your institution. You should feel free to share this correspondence, as you deem appropriate, with others.
My father, now 80, graduated from Brooklyn College more than a half-century ago, where he studied philosophy. He is as appalled by this disgraceful campaign against the College as I am.
Please remain firm in your commitment to principles central to the integrity of the academy.
Karl N. Llewellyn Professor of Jurisprudence
Director, Center for Law, Philosophy & Human Values
University of Chicago
1111 E. 60th Street
Chicago, IL 60637
ANOTHER: My father Maurice, Class of 1954 from Brooklyn College, writes: "Thank you for mentioning me. You are correct in describing me as appalled by what is taking place. Our
public forums are infested with ignoramuses whose malicious conduct would make any fascist proud."
MOVING TO FRONT FROM JANUARY 21
The petition is here, and I would urge all readers to sign given the unjust and politically motivated treatment to which he has been subjected. It was prepared by philosophers Alan Hajek (ANU) and Jeff Jordan (Delaware). When you sign, put your institutional affiliation in the comment section.
UPDATE: I hope other bloggers, including those in other academic fields, will publicize this petition.
ANOTHER: Philosopher Mahrad Almotahari (Illinois/Chicago) writes:
I wanted to thank you for drawing attention to Abbas Farsani's situation. I hope some good will come of it. My impression of the Iranian philosophy scene is that Kant, Nietzsche, and Heidegger are huge, but that recent Anglo-American authors are being read more and more, even in the seminaries in Qom.
I sometimes receive emails from curious Iranian philosophy students asking how they might make their way to a good graduate program in philosophy. Once I was contacted by a seminary student who loved Steve Yablo's work and was eager to study with him. I suspect that they feel comfortable contacting me because of my Iranian-sounding name. These students often have a remarkably accurate picture of the professional philosophical landscape--which programs are good at which subfields. I can only attribute that to the Phil Gourmet.
For those looking for academic employment, there are two main options: tenure track and non-tenure track. Check back for the latter in my second post of the day, when I’ll be writing about the issues facing non-tenure track faculty, especially adjuncts. But in this post, I’ll focus on issues related to tenure.
Tenure is a hallmark of the academic profession. It has long existed to provide safeguards for those entrusted to examine the hard issues and research questions that may not be popular or even popularly understood. It guarantees a right to due process before dismissal from employment. And our society would be much worse off without such protections.
But tenure has gotten a bad rap. According to much of public opinion, and unfortunately according to some in power in universities and our nation’s legislatures, tenured professors are paid too much to work too little, and can’t be removed from duty even if they’re doing a terrible job. Little attention is paid to the ways that tenure advances our society, and the public message instead focuses on the myths about the tenure system. As a result, lawmakers and university leaders have, at times, taken to undermining tenure, whether because they believe the myths about it or as a shortsighted financial “solution” in a bad economy.
The APA stands with other academic associations and disciplinary societies in supporting tenure and working to preserve this important practice. For philosophers who feel their tenure rights have been violated, our Committee on the Defense of Professional Rights of Philosophers can be an excellent resource and ally. The APA, like the American Association of University Professors (AAUP), censures institutions when “conditions for academic freedom and tenure are unsatisfactory at a college or university”; these institutions are also marked in Jobs for Philosophers so that applicants considering employment with such institutions can be aware of their censured status.Unfortunately, I don’t anticipate that attacks on tenure will go away anytime soon, but so long as we are around to do so, the APA will continue to fight for the institution of tenure and for our tenured members’ rights.
MOVING TO FRONT FROM EARLIER TODAY
The Department of Political Science at Ben-Gurion University, home to some fierce critics of Israeli policy towards the Palestinians, now faces threat of closure. There is a petition against the move here, though it is unfortunately written: one needn't believe that the views of members of the Department are "brave" or even intelligent or commendable, to nonetheless recognize that to close a department as political retribution is a horrible precedent and a complete betrayal of the premises of a university. Joseph Raz, Hartry Field, and others from our part of the academic community have already signed. Please do the same.
(Thanks to Jim Pryor for the pointer.)
UPDATE: Not a bad letter of protest from Michael Walzer, whose political positions have been mostly reprehensible for quite some time now, but this time he gets it right.
My colleague Michael Kremer calls my attention to this CHE story about a U.S. Court of Appeals decision (for the Sixth Circuit, which includes Michigan, Ohio, Tennessee, and Kentucky) affirming a lower court's decision (in a bench-trial, i.e., the judge was the trier of fact) against a tenured professor who had been fired by Thomas Cooley Law School, an independent law school in Michigan. The main takeaway from the opinion is that one should take a look at how your school defines tenure!
The court declined, quite unsurprisingly, to adopt the fired professor's view that "tenure" means "lifetime employment," holding instead that "tenure" meant what it meant in the faculty member's contract with the school. Cooley, perhaps unsurprisingly, set a very low bar for termination of tenured faculty, though it did include some procedural requirements (amazingly, Cooley failed to satisfy them initially, but, during the first iteration of this lawsuit, it went back and followed the rules, but reached the same outcome). Curious, I looked at the University of Chicago rules, and they define tenure as "indefinite tenure" (unlike Cooley) and specify "adequate cause" as the standard for termination, thus making clear that the employment relationship is not "at will" (the latter is the norm in the reactionary United States, though not in other Western nations, which is one reason there is so much resentment towards tenure). "At will" employees can be terminated for almost any reason whatsoever (though not ones that involve prohibited forms of discrimination, e.g., based on race or age or disability).
In the Cooley case, the professor had declined to teach the classes she was asked to teach. To be fired required only a vote of the faculty as well as certain advance notice of the proposed action. That procedure was, in fact, specified in the terms of employment. That procedure is extraordinariily weak, and should certainly give any prospective faculty member pause. But faculty might want to examine their faculty handbooks to see what "tenure" means at their institution. (Many institutions, though not all, explicitly incorporate the AAUP interpretation of tenure--their website is down, or I would have added a link.)
ADDENDUM: A medical school professor at a major research university writes with a striking anecdote about "tenure":
In regard to the meaning of tenure, as a Vice Dean whose portfolio included faculty affairs, I had the usual experience of being the interpreter of what “tenure” meant for my School in a larger University. The answer from the General Counsel’s office was very clear: we don’t definetenure. While it was not defined, I was instructed to apply that “’tenure’ means a promise of continued employment absent malfeasance.“ We had an interesting case where the expectations began to matter. A relatively junior faculty member in a basic science department (where salary comes through the university. In clinical departments the faculty comes through the university and the practice plan) achieved tenure, then immediately became a tenure slug. He/she did not apply for grants, taught so badly that no one in good conscience could allow him/her to lead a class, and came to the office sporadically. In order to provide some incentives, we froze the faculty person’s salary for several years. No effect. We threatened to reduce their salary by a few percent, but before we did we ran it by our faculty council. The council said they would rather fire a faculty person than reduce their salary. Regardless, the good news is that whatever the threat, my understanding is that the individual is now a model faculty member – back to being the person who earned tenure in the first place.
And for what it’s worth, in schools with a formal practice plan, despite tenure the presence of two committed pay points means that neither is obligated to provide the full salary unless there is an explicit contractual arrangement. So for practitioners, “salaries” go up and down with a flexible university base and an incentive plan for the practice elements.
The conflict centers on an administration proposal, offered in the early round of contract negotiations, that would in effect scrap previously negotiated job protections for tenured or probationary faculty members, as well as seniority-based protections afforded many academic staff members, and replace them with new rules governing the suspension or termination of such employees.
The administration's proposed contract language would give the university's president, or an administrator working on the president's behalf, the power to terminate such employees for a variety of reasons, including a "failure to meet professional responsibilities," a "failure to perform academic assignments competently," and a "financially based reduction in force."
Union officials have denounced the proposed contract language as an attempt to do away with tenure and have accused the university's chief negotiator of explicitly characterizing it as such. Last week the AAUP's national office began circulating a petition protesting the proposed contract language, which it described as offering "extremely broad" justifications for termination and replacing faculty peer review with the judgment of administrators.
There's a real issue lurking here, namely, faculty who abuse tenure. But the burden is on universities to act where "good cause" for termination exists. Tenure does not mean lifetime employment; it means only that a faculty member can only be terminated for cause, to which various procedural protections apply. The Wayne State proposals are clearly meant to do an end-run around the "good cause" requirement
MOVING TO FRONT FROM JULY 16--SEE UPDATE (AND COMMENTS NOW OPEN FOR FURTHER PERSPECTIVES)
Shame on Yale for participating in this--surely they could have leveraged their reputation to get the authoritarian capitalists who run Singapore to lighten up on this--but I guess they didn't make a credible threat not to participate at all if political speech were not permitted on campus. Perhaps this says something about Yale's priorities. What an embarrassment.
(Thanks to Matt Shafer for the pointer.)
UPDATE: Axel Gelfert, a philosopher at the National University of Singapore, writes:
I noticed your link to the WSJ article on Yale-NUS's 'ban' on political speech, and just for balance I thought I'd point out that this does not reflect the experience of politically active Singaporean students here. See for example this interview with student activist Bernard Chen: http://kentridgecommon.com/?p=10461
It is true that foreigners are not allowed to participate in party-political activities -- which, to be sure, is a more extreme restriction than, say, the United States's ban on party-political campaign donations from foreigners. But there is a robust amount of political speech at NUS -- not least thanks to the NUS Political Association ( http://www.nuspa.org/ ), the NUS Democratic Socialist Club (another University-recognized society), and the various Departments and Colleges. I've attended events on such topics as immigration, abortion, the Middle East, and freedom of speech, during which the debate lacked none of the vigour found at European or American university campuses.
While I have my own misgivings about how certain things are run in Singapore, I am somewhat taken aback by the amount of vitriol coming from a small number of people at Yale; clearly, they are more upset about how the Yale Corporation did not consult with the Yale College when railroading through the decision to start a joint campus in Singapore -- but this is hardly the fault of NUS (or even the Singapore government). Much of the criticism was not well-informed at all (e.g., specific political books were said to be 'banned' that are freely available in NUS's University Library -- don't Yale staff know how to do an online search of a library catalogue?) and quite self-serving -- I'm pretty sure NUS has contributed more to liberalization and social mobility in the last 20 years than Yale during the same period...
That's the bottom line here, from a Richmond newspaper, and certainly seems to fit the evidence, including the opaque statement issued by the Board: a board full of "business" people, interested in gimmicks (like on-line education), could not cope with an academic administrator who cared about education. You can get a sense for the strong support President Sullivan enjoyed among faculty leaders from this open letter signed by several dozen department chairs. But perhaps that's the real story here: she was an academic leader, but UVA is now in the grips of non-academics with very different agendas.
They aren't crazy enough, of course, to attack philosophy, probably the best department at the university, but this broad-based attack on these humanities subjects is a bad sign, and certainly not in the interests of philosophy or students who want to study German or ancient philosophy. There's a petition in support of Classics here and one in support of German here.
(Thanks to Kelvin Yang for the pointer.)
One thing that cyberspace makes very clear is that there is no position that is too absurd or depraved to not find a defender. Even the loathsome Rush Limbaugh had to back-peddle a bit on his abuse of the Georgetown law student who had the temerity to testify about contraception, but last week an economics professor at the University of Rochester came to Rush's defense. You can read a transcript of Ms. Fluke's actual testimony here (to which Landsburg pretends to be responding) and there's some good commentary on the mess of what passes for Landsburg's "mind" here (and follow the links therein). Philosopher John Casey also comments. There isn't a lot to add: Landsburg has embarrassed his department (most Free Market Utopians aren't as tone-deaf and confused as Landsburg) and his university, and the childish level of his rationalization hardly warrants further discussion.
But there is another aspect of this case that deserves notice. The University of Rochester President issued a rather strongly worded statement about the matter. I actually think President Seligman failed in his duties here. It is simply not his job to criticize members of the faculty, even if they are fools like Landsburg. A serious university leader can certainly issue a statement noting that the views expressed by Professor Landsburg are his alone, and not those of the University or President Seligman. But when he became President of the University, he lost his right to speak freely, especially when speaking in his official capacity: his job is to defend the autonomy and freedom of the faculty to express their views, however misguided he or others may deem them to be, and however misguided they actually are. The University of Chicago's Kalven Committee Report on the University’s Role in Political and Social Action from 1967, named after a distinguished First Amendment expert and longtime member of the law faculty here, put it well: “The university is the home and sponsor of critics; it is not itself the critic. A university, if it is to be true to its faith in intellectual inquiry, must embrace, be hospitable to, and encourage the widest diversity of views within its own community.”
A member of the Department of Philosophy and Religion there writes:
Just before Spring Break, the University of Northern Iowa administration “spared” the Department of Philosophy and World Religions (and a number of others) from the destruction of their majors, and instead scheduled them for “restructuring”. Since then, faculty have gotten a number of calls from people thinking that the department has been “saved”, along with our jobs. Nothing could be further from the truth. When we got the details, we discovered that the “restructuring” was really just a PR move, the department is to be gutted and the majors destroyed.
The original plan called for the firing (excuse me, buyouts or layoffs) of four tenured faculty members and the elimination of the majors, while keeping services courses and the minors. The new plan—wait for it—now calls for the firing of only four tenured faculty members and the “restructuring” of the majors with the Humanities major. Either way, the result will be a department without enough faculty to support a viable major in either Philosophy or Religion, so the majors will be eliminated in favor of a slightly beefed up version of a general studies or humanities major, perhaps with tracks using the minors, and the primary mission of the department will be reduced to service courses. It’s essentially the same plan with a PR twist, ending in the slow death of the department and another step towards reducing UNI, whose long term mission had been to be Iowa's teaching and liberal arts university, to a four year community and professional college.
UPDATE: This is revealing about the actual financial situation.
A faculty member at Northern Iowa writes:
Given the sorts of issues you track and publicize in your blog, I want to send you some information about what is happening (at lightning speed, and without any real consultation) at my university. These include issues like post tenure review, forcing faculty who haven't met university wide publishing goals to teach extra classes (without any warning or input as to the new criteria), shutting down the Price Lab School (we are the major educational college for our state), and this last week, announcing that they will be cutting large numbers of programs (including central programs like physics, philosophy & religion, etc.) and laying off many tenured faculty with the programs. This last cut was announced to the faculty union and the faculty senate last Monday, apparently they were expecting to ram it through in a couple of days (the Price Lab school closure happened, from Presidential announcement to Board of Regents approval, in less than a week), but they met enough resistance and strong enough legal arguments from faculty groups to give them pause. Still, they expect to go through with the cuts next week. As these groups were sworn to secrecy and since they also weren't even given official lists of all the programs being cut (they were merely shown overheads), information is hard to come by. Basically, if these changes go through, it will gut the character of the university as a comprehensive liberal arts institution. The AAUP is also involved, but I doubt they will be heard. it's also worth noting, as the union has documented, the diversion of money from the core mission of teaching students to areas like Administration and Auxiliary services (mainly athletics). There has been a cut anounced for athletics (nothing like what is coming for faculty), and as far as we can tell, no significant cuts for Administration.
Details of the new developments here. I expect this will go nationwide in one form or another. The difficulty, of course, is that the proponents of such measures do not generally have constructive intentions. On the other hand, tenure does mean only termination "for cause," and the failure of most universities to ever examine whether cause exists undermines the defensibility of tenure.
Here; an excerpt:
[W]e must press for changes to the REF, formerly the RAE. In my experience, this operation, though initially a stimulus, has in the longer run had appalling effects. It has generated a vast amount of premature publication and an even larger amount of unnecessary publication by those who have nothing new to say at that particular moment, but are forced to lay eggs, however addled. In the social sciences, it has discouraged the writing of books, as opposed to specialist articles, and by making peer review the ultimate arbiter it has very probably enshrined orthodoxies and acted as a curb on intellectual risk-taking and innovation. Everywhere, it has led to an unwelcome shift in academic priorities, for younger faculty have been encouraged to do all they can to secure outside research grants which will allow them to escape from teaching, which they now regard as a vastly inferior activity; and it has induced vice-chancellors to emulate football clubs by buying in outside ‘stars’ on special terms and conditions. The RAE has also been absurdly rigid in its requirements. A few years ago, a colleague in another university published a huge book, based on a vast amount of archival research, meticulously documented, beautifully written and offering a new and formidably argued reinterpretation of a major historical event. I remarked to a friend in that university that this great work would certainly help their prospects in the RAE. ‘Oh no,’ he said. ‘We can’t enter him. He needs four items and that book is all he’s got.’ At a meeting of the editorial board of a multi-volume historical project, the question arose of what should be done if, by any chance, some of the chapters submitted proved to be unsatisfactory. The obvious answer was to delay publication until they had been properly revised. But it was at once pointed out that this would be very hard on the other contributors, who were relying on their work appearing in time to be included in the REF. So if the worst happens, we shall face an intolerable choice: should we meet the REF deadline at all costs? Or is our primary obligation to ensure the quality of the completed work? There must be hundreds of scholars who are currently confronting the same dilemma.
(Thanks to David Owen [Arizona] for the pointer.)
The video is here, and a letter to the Chancellor from a UC Davis faculty member is here. (The first paragraph of the letter is dispensable, but the rest is quite sound.) I only hope that the parents of some of the students terrorized needlessly by the police are lawyers or have access to lawyers.
(Thanks to the many different readers who sent me these links.)
UPDATE: UC Davis philosophers have sent the following apt letter to the Chancellor:
Dear Chancellor Katehi,
We are saddened and disappointed by the way that the University decided to handle the removal of the students' encampment on the Quad on Friday afternoon.
Until now we used to take pride in the way UC Davis was able to handle the students' protesting against the tuition hikes in what seemed to us an enlightened and non-confrontational manner, especially compared to other occurrences at Berkeley and elsewhere.
We do not question the University's right to remove the students' encampment (although there are reasons to question the wisdom of such a move). But we do object to the way UCPD decided to resort to what are unquestionably violent methods in order to deal with a peaceful, non-violent protest. Pepper-spraying students who were sitting on the ground and posed no direct or indirect threat to the police officers strikes us as a vastly overblown reaction.
Surely skilled and highly trained police officers could have come up with a better way to remove the students' encampment in the face of non-violent, passive student opposition?
It seems to us that the general principle the University should abide by is that violence is never an appropriate response to peaceful, non-violent civil disobedience. We hope you will agree with this assessment, and call on you as the highest officer of the University to see to it that such principle informs the actions of University officials at all times.
Aldo Antonelli, Lesley Byrns, David Copp, Gerald Dworkin, Joel Friedman, Cody Gilmore, James Griesemer, Elaine Landry, Robert May, Roberta Millstein, Bernard Molyneux, Marina Oshana, Adam Sennet, Jan Szaif, Paul Teller, Michael Wedin
I do hope philosophers concerned with academic integrity will not forget about the outrageous editorial misconduct at Synthese that we discussed at length last Spring, for which the editors have failed to apologize or make amends for, notwithstanding a petition signed by several hundred philosophers. I hope those committed to a boycott will continue to decline to submit to Synthese or referee for that journal, and will exert appropriate social pressure on colleagues who try to rationalize continued support of the journal. I hope junior scholars will recognize that the taint from this episode has now also given them, if nothing else, self-interested reasons to publish elsewhere. For those who missed this sad saga, these earlier posts will bring you up to speed: first, second, third.
...all because he wrote a blurb for a book, which none of the critics appear to have read. What a world. (I should add I've never met Professor Mearsheimer, and I share Professor Chomsky's skepticism about his and Walt's thesis about The Israel Lobby, but the hatchet jobs on him and Walt, which continue to this day, are such a travesty for academic freedom and honest intellectual discourse, that I hope readers will look at Mearsheimer's measured response to the latest smear and make sure to share it widely with colleagues and friends.)
UPDATE (9/28): Prior to this tempest in a teapot about a blurb (!!!) on a book no one seems to have read (other than Professor Mearsheimer!), I'd not heard of Gilad Atzmon, the author who is apparently so verboten in certain circles that one can't even recommend anything he has written. I found this interview with him illuminating and clarifying about his position, and it certainly confirms Mearsheimer's description of his outlook at the link, above. Of particular relevance is this part of the interview:
I think that when it comes to Israel and ‘Jewish power’ every humanist, including myself, has a conflict to handle. I would formulate it as such: ‘how can I tell the truth about Israel, the Lobby, and Zionism and still maintain my position as a humanist’. It took me very many years to learn to differentiate between the wheat and chaff. I learned to distinguish between Jews (the people), Judaism (the religion) and Jewishness (the ideology). This differentiation is not free of problems, because, as we know, most Jews themselves do not know where they stand on those three. Most Jews do not know where Judaism ends and Jewishness starts.
Likewise, most Jewish anti Zionists fail to admit that they actually operate in Jewish exclusive political cells. We are dealing with a very peculiar political identity indeed. It is racially oriented and deeply racist. It is supremacist, yet it is saturated with victimhood. This identity conveys a universal image – yet in truth, it is driven by tribal interests.
In my writing....I restrict myself to issues to do with Jewish ideology (Jewishness). I try to grasp that unique sense of chosen-ness and observe how it comes into play within politics, culture and practice....
When I discuss Jewish Power, I am strictly referring to the ability of Jewish interest groups to mount political pressure. And it is very important to realise here, and I must emphasise that Jewish power is not at all a conspiracy. It is explored — in the open —through organisations that are set to mount pressure and serve Jewish interests. Such groups are AIPAC, AJC, CFI, LFI, and so on. Zionists are open about, and proud of their lobbying powers....
There is no doubt in my mind that the maintenance of the Holocaust is there to sustain the primacy of Jewish suffering at the centre of every possible political discussion. With this heavy cloud over our head, we are not going to be able to respond properly (ethically) to the crimes committed by Israel in the name of the Jewish people. Hence, I do believe that the Holocaust must be stripped of its religious status or primacy in general. It must be discussed openly and treated as a historical chapter. I believe that this will happen soon and I am very proud to be amongst those who lead the discourse in that direction.
It's clear that given a choice between formulations of his position, Mr. Atzmon more often than not chooses the one that will provoke and invite the most offensive interpretations. But it's equally clear that there's nothing in the positions articulated above that marks him as an anti-semite, in the Sartrean or any other offensive sense of the term; his position is cosmopolitan, though, for reasons of autobiography I suppose, he errs on the side of polemic mainly against the anti-cosmopolitan tendencies embodied only in one ideology. He does not deny the Holocaust or the gas chambers or the mass murder of the Jews and others; he does deny that the Holocaust is unique in human history and he objects to the political uses to which the event has been put. I'm not sure how persuasive his position is (unlike him, I generally think laws against Holocaust denial are morally justified), but the hysterical reaction to it, and to Professor Mearsheimer's straightforward blurb of Atzmon's book (which I've also not read), does nothing to advance honest intellectual discourse. If there's a non-hysterical analysis and critique of the actual substance of Atzmon's position, please send it to me and I'll add a link.
ANOTHER: Chris Bertram (Bristol) directs me to an anti-Zionist blog, which does have a somewhat more sober critique of Atzmon (though it is a bit thin on supporting evidence, and I think misunderstands both 19th-century anti-semitism and Atzmon's position--but read it for yourself and compare it with the linked interview, above).
This is an interesting read; an excerpt:
[T]he growth in the ranks of administrators (85 percent) and associated professional staff (240 percent) has far outstripped the increase in faculty (51 percent) between 1975 and 2005. "Generally speaking," he [Benjamin Ginsbrg, the author] writes, "a million-dollar president could be kidnapped by space aliens and it would be weeks or even months before his or her absence from campus was noticed.”
Ginsberg lays at administrators’ feet a host of perceived ills: the increased curricular focus on vocational education instead of one grounded in the liberal arts; an emphasis on learning outside the classroom in lieu of core academic disciplines; the transformation of research from an instrument of social good and contributor to human knowledge to an institutional revenue stream; and the limiting of tenure and academic freedom.
The larger result, he argues, is that universities have shifted their resources and attention away from teaching and research in order to feed a cadre of administrators who, he says, do little to advance the central mission of universities and serve chiefly to inflate their own sense of importance by increasing the number of people who report to them. "Armies of staffers pose a threat by their very existence," he wrote. "They may seem harmless enough at their tiresome meetings but if they fall into the wrong hands, deanlets can become instruments of administrative imperialism and academic destruction."
And for reasons known only to editors desperate for content, she's being interviewed in IHE. Shame on them!
UPDATE: Philosopher David Auerbach (NC State) disagrees, in part, with my assessment: "Actually the Riley interview in IHE is great. She reveals what she's up to (and how dumb she is) almost completely; and many of the comments are superb in their dissection. I think it's (sometimes) useful to give fools an airing. (I would add that I think there's a real skill (and work) on the part of the interviewer.)" Fair points.
Eric Schliesser (Ghent) has the details and pertinent links. Her political views are a bit odd, but that hardly justifies the sanction. I'm less sure this is an academic freedom issue, though it is certainly a violation of any meaningful principle of freedom of speech.
(Thanks to Tim O'Keefe for the pointer.)