In his Saturday, September 20, afternoon speech to the 400 people rallying at the Indiana State House, Rev. Barber said he was told by his son, an environmental physicist, that if he ever got lost in mountainous territory he should walk to higher ground. This is necessary, Barber reported, because in the lowlands snakes congregate but if one climbs above the “snake line” snakes, being cold-blooded creatures, cannot live.
Referring to the snake line metaphor in an earlier speech Barber declared:
“There are some snakes out here. There are some low-down policies out here. There’s some poison out here. Going backwards on voting rights, that’s below the snake line. Going backwards on civil rights, that’s below the snake line. Hurting people just because they have a different sexuality, that’s below the snake line. Stomping on poor people just because you’ve got power, that’s below the snake line. Denying health care to the sick and keeping children from opportunity, that’s below the snake line” (Dave Johnson, “Let’s Get Our Politics Above the Snake Line,” Campaign for America’s Future, July 22, 2014).
Rev. Barber urged the newly formed Indiana Moral Mondays coalition to “go to higher ground,” where poverty is ended, everybody can vote, children can be educated, the sick can be healed, and everyone is respected.
In eleven years of blogging, I've only once received a serious threat of legal action for something posted here--serious, not in the sense that the claim had any merit, but in that the person making the claim had a real lawyer and there was a real prospect of a nuisance lawsuit being filed. The case involved jeweler and self-styled metaphysician David Birnbaum, whose curious case we noted last year, and whose story was then picked up by CHE. The trouble did not start, however, until almost six months later when The Guardian contacted Mr. Birnbaum for a story they subsequently ran about him. From that reporter Mr. Birnbaum discovered my original post about the allegations of academic identity theft from Prof. Hagberg. This posting agitated him, so he phoned me up at the office.
The conversation didn't get off to a good start because within the first twenty seconds he used the word "defamatory"; I cut him off and said to him, "If you call up a law professor and start throwing around the word defamatory, then the conversation is over." This sobered him up and we had a pleasant chat and he assured me the whole matter with Prof. Hagberg was a misunderstanding, that he had documents to prove it, that my post was very upsetting to his children, etc. It was an odd ramble. I said to him if he could send me documents proving it was a misunderstanding, then I would revise or remove the post accordingly. I told him to e-mail me the evidence.
Mr. Birnbaum didn't, in fact, have any real evidence, but he did e-mail me. He also cc'd his lawyer, which meant our correspondence was at an end. This was a litigator with a major New York law firm; my best guess is that this lawyer represents Mr. Birnbaum in disputes involving his high-end jewelry business, where there is probably hundreds of thousands (or millions) of dollars at stake. But I think as part of the cost of keeping his client, he also has to handle Mr. Birnbaum's vanity litigations (Birnbaum apparently made similar threats against Bard College as well, though in the end did nothing).
Fortunately, I have the best lawyer in the United States (truly!), a friend I went to law school with years ago. It's not just that he's really smart and a person of extraordinary integrity, it's that he has impeccable and shrewd judgment, and knows how to handle people--a huge part of successful lawyering is understanding how to get people to do what the law requires without actually having to bring suit (though bringing suit is, of course, the final recourse for certain wrongs). Over the years, my lawyer has recovered bonuses and security deposits wrongfully withheld, secured revisions to factually inaccurate statements in a book put out by a major publishing house, and assisted me in dealing effectively with sundry cyber-crazies. In none of these cases was a lawsuit ever filed (though in one, as I recall, a draft of the complaint did motivate the miscreant to do the right thing).
I think it's not really fair to ask several million Scots to vote on the question of independence without input from the philosophical community. Therefore, as a public service, I present the following poll:
Interesting item in IHE, addressing an issue I had not seen addressed elsewhere.
UPDATE: Philosopher Alan Weir (Glasgow) writes (he informs me that he is a member of "Academics for Yes," a pro-independence group, but that he here speaks in his personal capacity):
Mr. Marsicano’s piece on independence and Scottish Higher Education doesn’t get off to a great start, rounding up the Scottish population from 5.3 million to 6 million. Mr Marsicano states that Scotland received 13.1% of UK Funding versus 9% contribution to tax funding (Scottish population is 8.3% of the UK). The UK government document he quotes actually says:
"In 2012-13 Scottish Higher Education Institutions (HEIs) secured £257 million of UK Research Council grants (excluding Research Council institutes and infrastructure). This represents 13.1 per cent of the UK total"
But then goes on:
"Including Research Council funding (including grants, studentships and fellowships and spending on infrastructure), Scotland secured £307 million (10.7 per cent of the UK total)."
A somewhat different picture. The tax contribution in 2012-13 is actually 9.1% to be more precise (lower than normal because of tax breaks to encourage increases in oil exploration) but more importantly the presentation of the statistics fits in with the usual unionist line that Scots have been subsidised by the rest of the UK. This unionist claim is an egregiously false one. Over the last five years, Scotland has contributed 9.5% of UK tax revenue but received 9.3% of UK public expenditure, a fiscal transfer from Scotland to the rest of the UK (rUK) equivalent to about £8.3 billion, or about £1,600 per person. If one goes further back, e.g. to the oil boom of the 80s, Scotland was subsidising Margaret Thatcher’s government to the tune of 45% of its non-oil GDP per year. Can’t imagine Canadians being happy about transferring a tax windfall equivalent to nearly half of their non-oil GDP to the US.
Moreover the difference between Scotland’s research funding ‘tax contribution share’ and the 10.7% funding last year was around £46 million, under one thirtieth of one per cent of Scottish GDP. We’d be perfectly happy to make up such a difference should it occur in any particular year, as part of a combined Scottish/Republic of Ireland/rest of UK research framework. Scottish unionists, however, might not be keen on expanding the already existing joint funding arrangements between the UK and Ireland as they tend to be ‘Little Britishers’ and lack the outward-looking civic nationalism of Scottish nationalists. But I don’t think this view is widely shared in England where not only cooperation with our immediate neighbours but EU funding is becoming ever more important. As to Scottish membership of the EU, Mr. Marsicano would be better listening to constitutional lawyers such as Prof. Douglas-Scott, Professor of European and Human Rights Law at Oxford University (Legal Research Paper Series No. XXX July 2014) than a politician such as Barruso, almost certainly primed by the UK government to advance the unionist campaign (known internally as ‘Project Fear’ and replete with scare stories on pensions, demolished by the UK Government’s own Department of Works and Pensions, unsubstantiated claims of intimidation of universities by Scottish Government ministers which the author here repeats and much much more).
One also has to consider the prospects for UK funding if Scotland says no to independence and continues to subordinate its parliament to a parliament answerable to an electorate 84% of whom are English. UK research and science budgets are already being cut. The Campaign for Science and Engineering (CaSE) has noted that “the cumulative erosion of the ring-fenced science budget will be over £1.1bn from the beginning of SR10 period up to 15/16”. A No vote would mean a substantial reduction in funds available for universities in Scotland because of the further planned cuts of £25 billion in UK public sector funding plus further reductions to the Scottish budget through the reform or abolition of the Barnett formula which governs half of Scottish public expenditure. Fuelled by the myth of the Scots as subsidy junkies there is almost universal agreement in England that Scottish public expenditure must be drastically reduced and the proposed enhanced devolution powers in the event of no to independence provide a perfect opportunity to do this.
Finally, the anti-immigration policies of the British government are widely recognised in the UK higher education sector as posing a serious threat to universities, whereas the party in power in the Scottish Government, the Scottish National Party, has repeatedly said it wishes to increase immigration into Scotland and use the wider powers of an independent government to bring this about.
I’ve written at far too much length on all these matters at
Thanks to Jerry Dworkin for pointing me to this fine piece by Rebecca West from The New Republic in 1914; an excerpt:
A little grave reflection shows us that our first duty is to establish a new and abusive school of criticism. There is now no criticism in England. There is merely a chorus of weak cheers, a piping note of appreciation that is not stilled unless a book is suppressed by the police, a mild kindliness that neither heats to enthusiasm nor reverses to anger. We reviewers combine the gentleness of early Christians with a promiscuous polytheism; we reject not even the most barbarous or most fatuous gods. So great is our amiability that it might proceed from the weakness of malnutrition, were it not that it is almost impossible not to make a living as a journalist. Nor is it due to compulsion from above, for it is not worth an editor's while to veil the bright rage of an entertaining writer for the sake of publishers' advertisements. No economic force compels this vice of amiability. It springs from a faintness of the spirit, from a convention of pleasantness, which, when attacked for the monstrous things it permits to enter the mind of the world, excuses itself by protesting that it is a pity to waste fierceness on things that do not matter.
But they do matter. The mind can think of a hundred twisted traditions and ignorances that lie across the path of letters like a barbed wire entanglement and bar the mind from an important advance....We must dispel this unlawful assembly of peers and privy councillors round the wellhead of scholarship with kindly but abusive, and, in cases of extreme academic refinement, coarse criticism.
A lawsuit is now inevitable, and it will presumably have a defamation claim added to the constitutional and contractual claims. The Chancellor should resign: she's a disgrace. I again urge other philosophers to join the boycott. It gives me no pleasure to say that, since now the boycott has no end in sight. But the conduct by the Chancellor and the Board is such an egregious violation of the basic norms and integrity of academic institutions, that firm and public action is now imperative.
ADDENDUM: The Board of Trustees is also a disgrace--even in Texas, the Board has not done anything this egregious in a long time:
August 22, 2014
Earlier today, you received a thoughtful statement from Chancellor Phyllis Wise regarding the university’s decision not to recommend Prof. Steven Salaita for a tenured faculty position on the Urbana-Champaign campus.
In her statement, Chancellor Wise reaffirmed her commitment to academic freedom and to fostering an environment that encourages diverging opinions, robust debate and challenging conventional norms. Those principles have been at the heart of the university’s mission for nearly 150 years, and have fueled its rise as a world leader in education and innovation.
But, as she noted, our excellence is also rooted in another guiding principle that is just as fundamental. Our campuses must be safe harbors where students and faculty from all backgrounds and cultures feel valued, respected and comfortable expressing their views.
We agree, and write today to add our collective and unwavering support of Chancellor Wise and her philosophy of academic freedom and free speech tempered in respect for human rights – these are the same core values which have guided this institution since its founding.
In the end, the University of Illinois will never be measured simply by the number of world-changing engineers, thoughtful philosophers or great artists we produce. We also have a responsibility to develop productive citizens of our democracy. As a nation, we are only as strong as the next generation of participants in the public sphere. The University of Illinois must shape men and women who will contribute as citizens in a diverse and multi-cultural democracy. To succeed in this mission, we must constantly reinforce our expectation of a university community that values civility as much as scholarship.
Disrespectful and demeaning speech that promotes malice is not an acceptable form of civil argument if we wish to ensure that students, faculty and staff are comfortable in a place of scholarship and education. If we educate a generation of students to believe otherwise, we will have jeopardized the very system that so many have made such great sacrifices to defend. There can be no place for that in our democracy, and therefore, there will be no place for it in our university.
Chancellor Wise is an outstanding administrator, leader and teacher. Her academic career has been built on her commitment to promoting academic freedom and creating a welcoming environment for students and faculty alike. We stand with her today and will be with her tomorrow as she devotes her considerable talent and energy to serving our students, our faculty and staff, and our society.
We look forward to working closely with Chancellor Wise and all of you to ensure that our university is recognized both for its commitment to academic freedom and as a national model of leading-edge scholarship framed in respect and courtesy.
Christopher G. Kennedy, Chair, University of Illinois Board of Trustees
Robert A. Easter, President
Hannah Cave, Trustee Ricardo Estrada, Trustee Patrick J. Fitzgerald, Trustee Lucas N. Frye, Trustee Karen Hasara, Trustee Patricia Brown Holmes, Trustee Timothy N. Koritz, Trustee Danielle M. Leibowitz, Trustee Edward L. McMillan, Trustee James D. Montgomery, Trustee Pamela B. Strobel, Trustee
Paula Allen-Meares, Chancellor, Chicago campus, and Vice President, University of Illinois Susan J. Koch, Chancellor, Springfield campus, and Vice President, University of Illinois
Donald A. Chambers, Professor of Physiology and Biochemistry; Chair, University Senates Conference
Jerry Bauman, Interim Vice President for Health Affairs Thomas R. Bearrows, University Counsel Thomas P. Hardy, Executive Director for University Relations Susan M. Kies, Secretary of the Board of Trustees and the University Walter K. Knorr, VP/Chief Financial Officer and Comptroller Christophe Pierre, Vice President for Academic Affairs Lawrence B. Schook, Vice President for Research Lester H. McKeever, Jr., Treasurer, Board of Trustees
This story from British Columbia will be of special interest to readers as it involves the wife, Gillian, of the distinguished philosopher Jonathan Bennett. Her website about her decision and her dementia is here; it is worth every reader's time. Her courage and clarity of mind in the face of decline and mortality is a story worth sharing.
Here. (Thanks to Lorna Finlayson for the pointer.)
My own view is that it is not reasonable, or desirable, to expect Israeli academic institutions to adopt positions on questions of national policy (the boycott calls for a "refusal to associate with Israeli academic institutions that have not explicitly condemned the occupation"); the same is true in the U.S. What is known as "the Kalven Report" from 1967, after its lead author, Harry Kalven, a prominent First Amendment scholar at Chicago, got it right:
The instrument of dissent and criticism is the individual faculty member or the individual student. The university is the home and sponsor of critics; it is not itself the critic. It is, to go back once again to the classic phrase, a community of scholars. To perform its mission in the society, a university must sustain an extraordinary environment of freedom of inquiry and maintain an independence from political fashions, passions, and pressures. 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. It is a community but only for the limited, albeit great, purposes of teaching and research. It is not a club, it is not a trade association, it is not a lobby.
Since the university is a community only for these limited and distinctive purposes, it is a community which cannot take collective action on the issues of the day without endangering the conditions for its existence and effectiveness. There is no mechanism by which it can reach a collective position without inhibiting that full freedom of dissent on which it thrives. It cannot insist that all of its members favor a given view of social policy; if it takes collective action, therefore, it does so at the price of censuring any minority who do not agree with the view adopted. In brief, it is a community which cannot resort to majority vote to reach positions on public issues.
Unfortunately, then, this call for boycott seems to me misconceived, at least as regards academic institutions. The case for an economic boycott of Israel for its crimes is as strong as it has ever been, and only an economic boycott endorsed by significant trading partners will have the desired effects.
Well-above average for a journalist. The only bit that seems to me clearly wrong is that any of this shows the U.S. is "weak"; the U.S. doesn't care (about the suffering in Gaza, about Ukraine etc.), if there were political will to restrain Israel, the U.S. could accomplish it instantly. But otherwise, this piece makes a number of striking points.
Continental Philosophy Farhang Erfani, a philosopher at American University, provides a useful set of links to news, events, interviews, reviews, videos, etc. related to "Continental philosophy" (broadly construed)