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May 2, 2005 5:07 pm

Update on Southern Illinois University ...

The story about criticism of Professor Jonathan Bean by his department colleagues for his use of James Lubinskas's article,"Remembering the Zebra Killings," from Horowitz's Front Page Rag is now drawing national attention. There is Scott Jaschik's"'Handout Hysteria' or Insensitivity" at Inside Higher Ed and Cathy Young's"A Left-wing Witch-hunt on Campus," Boston Globe, 2 May. In the meantime, Bean's critics have launched a counter-offensive in comments here at Cliopatria and Inside Higher Ed. Professor Marji Morgan, chairperson of SIU's history department, published a letter to the editor,"Academic Freedom and Academic Responsibility," Daily Egyptian, 28 April. Bean's critics have also released evidence of their claims against Bean in Moustafa Ayad,"History Faculty Release Evidence of Professor's Transgressions," Daily Egyptian, 2 May. Despite some signs that both camps want to de-escalate the situation, the department's public criticism of Bean and its release of Bean's private e-mail to his graduate assistants in the student newspaper is not likely to de-escalate anything.

Unfortunately, there have been inflammatory reports and graphics, such as this, which trace to David Horowitz's intervention in the case. They have sent some extra-ordinarily viscious e-mail to Bean's colleagues at SIU. If you write or call SIU, be civil!

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Irfan Khawaja - 8/4/2006

Yes--we don't know whether Bean's assigning the text was bad practice. We also don't know whether it was good practice. In other words, we can't, from this distance, fully appraise his pedagogical practices. But in that case, I don't see how we can fully appraise his colleagues' criticisms of his practices, either.

What I object to is the idea that on the one hand, we admit to agnosticism on the appropriateness of what he's done--and at the same time claim that he is being treated unfairly. Well, if the behavior really was inappropriate, how unfair has the treatment been? It depends on how inappropriate it was. Which is what we don't know.

Irfan Khawaja - 8/4/2006


I see your point, but with the Monty Python example, I have to agree with Michael Davidson that in its current form your question is unanswerable. We would need to know why the film was being used, ie to what pedagogical end. And if it was merely being used to twit the sensibilities of Christians, and I was a dept chair, I would not regard that as a legitimate pedagogical end. I would tell the relevant professor to skip the film and do some actual teaching. If there was some legitimate pedagogical goal, he should be able to explain it.

Irfan Khawaja - 8/4/2006

I absolutely agree with Steven except for his last paragraph. It is about bloody time that left academics got the sort of treatment that Bean is getting. But it is not a violation of academic freedom in either case. The whole point of having a department is to oversee what faculty are doing, not to slough the hard-core teaching off onto adjuncts and TAs while the faculty pretend that their pet ideological projects constitute a syllabus, and that they have carte blanche to do whatever they please under the guise of "academic freedom".

If the problem is that Bean is the only one getting the treatment, I agree that that is a problem. But if the "problem" stems from a conception of academic freedom minus accountability I have to ask: are we seriously telling the world that academic freedom is incompatible with accountability and quality control? It's quite an admission, if so.

Irfan Khawaja - 8/4/2006

I agree that there has been no convincing evidence of Bean's wrongdoing. Nor has there been any convincing evidence that his assignment made any sense. The whole problem with this controversy is the dearth of convincing evidence about everything--combined with the certainty among writers here that an injustice has been doing to Bean.

So: We don't really know what happened, but we know that it was wrong? (At Liberty & Power, this incoherent formula is combined with the injunction to write to the Dean and the President protesting something...we know not what.)

The role of a TA is pretty clear. A TA is a subordinate--an assistant--to the professor. But a subordinate is not (to use David Beito's phrase) a "conduit," and a professor who thinks that TAs are mindless "conduits" needs to leave academia for a while, get a non-academic job, and learn a bit about how the world works. I absolutely agree that rules on TAs should be applied consistently, as should any other rule.

As for "who is to judge?" the answer is obvious: the department. That is precisely what they are there for. The alternative is that no one is to judge, which is incompatible with any concept of departmental accountability or quality control.

There seems to be an assumption among many writers here that once a faculty member reaches a certain rank, accountability and QC are simply not issues. They are "givens." What this leads to, in practice, are departments where no one is held accountable for anything, and pedagogically, the sky is the limit. Eventually, the classroom becomes little more than a playpen for various people's ideological agendas, and the promotion of that agenda becomes the departmental operational definition of "teaching": to each his or her fiefdom, protected by an elastic definition of "academic freedom."

Why is there a rule that a TA cannot contradict a professor? Is the default assumption that professors are ex cathedra infallible, on par with Popes? In 11 years in academia, I can't say I've met the individual who deserved that level of deference.

Bean has apologized for his use of the Zebra reading. Maybe that was insincere and a matter of duress. But taken at face value, it is an admission that using it was a bad idea. Of course, in the first case, Bean cannot come out and tell us that it was, and in the latter case, his TAs had a point.

As for David's question "Whose course is it?" can't it be answered with the question, "Whose employee is he?" ?

Irfan Khawaja - 8/4/2006

Well, my having a valid point hardly depends on what anyone else says or does. My point cuts both ways, left and right. If SIU's department applies it only one way, that is something that deserves criticism--and something I have criticized.

As I've said, this is not a case where any party to the dispute gets my sympathy, at least not on the basis of the facts I know. In Bean's case, I don't see what he was trying to accomplish with this handout, and I don't understand how to process the use of the handout plus his apology.

In the department's case, as I've said elsewhere, I found the co-signed letter vague to the point of vacuity. It is meant for the general public and yet nothing in it explains what Bean has done wrong.

The SIU dept chair's letter to the Daily Egyptian struck me as particularly mealy-mouthed and evasive. Bean's handout, she tells us with great authority, conceals necessary "context." Like what? Why exactly do we need to know biographical facts about the author of the article to evaluate what he is saying? Nothing in her letter explains the point, which raises the question of why she went public with it in the first place. The entire approach is an obvious, transparent case of the fallacy of poisoning the well.

But all of this merely reinforces the point I am making about TAs. Why should TAs have to defer to such people without contradiction--whether to Bean, to his colleagues or to the department chair? Are these people really in a position to get on their high horse about their "authority" as historians and tell a TA, "Oh well, I am the All Knowing Professor, so run along little child, and come back some day when you know something." The response should be: Gee Professor, let's see the evidence right now that YOU know something! It is hardly obvious that these ones do.

The irony is that in bringing up the TA issue, the SIU department has unwittingly brought the real underlying issue here to light, and not in a way that enhances their credibility as a department. Why--exactly--are TA's not allowed to contradict their professors? What is the rationale for that rule, again? Is it that the professors are such geniuses? Not really. Is it that they're just so unbelievably, blindly competent? No again. Could it be, perhaps, that the rule merely serves to cover up sloth, incompetence and an untrammeled will to abuse one's authority? There's a bipartisan question worth pursuing.

Maybe the people who are claiming to protect the TAs --like the dept chair--should be publicly forced to confront that question. And if so, maybe something useful can come of this otherwise exceedingly silly controversy.

Irfan Khawaja - 8/4/2006

That I can agree with.

Irfan Khawaja - 8/4/2006

Do I always give this much attention to silly controversies? No, but sometimes I do.

I deal with discrete events, too. The problem with this one is that the information is poor, crucial questions are unanswered, and the available evidence leaves something to be desired of every party to the dispute.

Irfan Khawaja - 8/4/2006

I have to say, I've begun to find these weekly "Professor's Academic Freedom" stories increasingly puzzling. I've read all of the links above--and then some--several times and it seems to me the most obvious questions on all sides of the issue have gone entirely unasked and unanswered.

First, I do not quite understand what Bean is alleged to have done wrong.

Second, I don't understand why, if he hasn't done anything wrong, he has apologized.

But third, given that he has apologized, I don't understand why anyone thinks his "academic freedom" is under attack for his being criticized for what he himself acknowledges to be wrong.

Fourth, I don't understand why, if he has apologized, we should be defending him.

Fifth, I don't understand the point of the emails we're being asked to send.

Sixth, what exactly was the pedagogical point of the handout?

These questions may seem intrusive, but if it's not my place to ask them, it's not my place to write emails on Bean's behalf, either.

I asked basically the same set of questions in the cases of Hans-Hermann Hoppe and Ward Churchill, and never got anything like a satisfying response. It seems like everytime some academic somewhere gets into trouble with someone, we're asked to prejudge the dispute as a matter of "academic freedom under assault" and send messages of solidarity before we have any clue as to what is really going on. The default assumption is: when an academic is criticized, we have to circle the wagons, because the criticism is probably a form of McCarthyism.

I understand that Bean is an HNN blogger, but isn't it blatant partiality to act as though because he is "one of us", he MUST be right?

There is a great deal of criticism here of David Horowitz's "interventions" into the academy. I've previously criticized Horowitz, and am hardly apt to defend him. But how are these "interventions"--and solicited interventions--all that different from Horowitz's? More civil, maybe. But more informed? I don't see how they can be.

How are we supposed to judge a complex case from afar on the basis of a few newspaper items? The cold fact is that there is no way to do so. One press item focuses on one part of the case, another on another. We get bits and pieces and dribs and drabs--some dribs contradicting the last drab--and yet the demand to send emails to the dean or whomever acknowledges none of this. No one could assemble a full picture from such items. The irony is that the case is about partiality in the use of sources!

I think it's time to call a moratorium on these "let's email the dean" things. Let them work it out for themselves at SIU. If it comes down to a real showdown between Bean and authentic McCarthyites, yes, let's stand behind him. But a guy being called on the carpet for mistakes that he himself acknowledges to have made does not *obviously* fit that description.

Irfan Khawaja - 8/4/2006

Ralph writes:

"Despite some signs that both camps want to de-escalate the situation, the department's public criticism of Bean and its release of Bean's private e-mail to his graduate assistants in the student newspaper is not likely to de-escalate anything."

The following aren't meant to be criticisms of Ralph; they are just questions raised by this passage.

1) How would outsiders sending emails to Bean's colleagues de-escalate the situation, if that's desirable? (I am not saying Ralph is insisting that we send emails; my point is that the request has been made by others.)

2) Bean has been quoted in the press as saying that he has been badly treated. Is it wrong for the department to respond in the press to defend itself? I don't see why.

3) It's not clear to me that an email is "private" unless the exchange is specified as "private" from the start. Unless Bean specified confidentiality, or the emails are fabricated, I don't see what is wrong with their being made public.

Irfan Khawaja - 8/4/2006

What does a "right to assign an article" mean in a context where no one is resorting to the use of force? Criticism from the administration or one's colleagues and the withdrawal of TAs are not force-initiations. So it's not accurate to say that anyone is not "dancing around the issue". "Rights" are a non-issue.

Evidently not even Bean thinks he was RIGHT to assign the article, since he's apologized for using it. So someone remind me: what is the issue here?

Irfan Khawaja - 8/4/2006

Correct--point taken, you haven't urged anyone to write or call the University, and I didn't say you had. But you have described the matter under the description of "to lynch a colleague," and described Bean as "under siege," neither of which are neutral descriptions of events, or for that matter, descriptions that "discern as best we can from what we know."

It's worth noting right up front that "discerning as best we can from what we know" can be equivalent to "discerning nothing of significance" when the sources of information are as bad as the ones in this case. I have, for instance, so far not seen one cogent description of the pedagogical purpose of Bean's handout. Well, was the purpose a good one or a bad one? It matters. Nor, coming from the other direction, have I seen a strong claim that the handout falsified facts. Was it false? That matters.

You take issue with Bean's colleagues' having published criticisms in the campus newspaper. So public criticism of a colleague is "inappropriate"--even when he fully concedes the criticism? Why? And if public criticism of a colleague is inappropriate, why is public criticism of the colleagues' colleagues appropriate? So Bean's colleagues deserve public criticism for publicly criticizing Bean--for a decision for which he's publicly criticized himself.

This is not to suggest that I think Bean's colleagues come across particularly well, either. Here they are as "undersigned history faculty members" dressing down their colleague, and "taking responsibility" for his malfeasances. Wow. I'm about to be impressed. And what do they say? Absolutely nothing of substance. The Lubinskas article, we are told, is distorted and inaccurate. How? No answer. Its statistics are wrong. Which ones? No answer. It repeats inflammatory rumors. And we know It exploits students' lack of training in dealing with source material. As for specifics, mum's the word.

I so far have not been able to identify a single party to this dispute that deserves any sympathy.

Irfan Khawaja - 8/4/2006

Yes, I read the original source. The letter doesn't assert an "unqualified" right to assign the reading because he doesn't have one! He has a right described in precisely the way they describe it, and I would say that it is PRECISELY the issue of the teaching assistants that is the issue. Just what was he expecting of them? He saddles them with this handout, suppresses its source and nature, then expects them to walk in lock-step with the whole endeavor. So far I have not been able to discern why or to what end. And I can well imagine that the TAs didn't, either.

The TAs are offended because they HAVE been put in an untenable position. Here is this inflammatory Front Page thing they're supposed to teach. What to do with it? Well, his email of response to them did not exactly strike me as a model of pedagogical guidance. So if he feels entitled to emote all over their inboxes--which is what he did--what exactly has become of his obligation not to create a hostile environment or put his TA's in an untenable position? He's flouting it. And his flouting it is now being touted as an instance of "academic freedom" and his "right" to teach whatever he wants, however he wants.

Well. That's an interpretation that only makes sense if one pretends that TAs can be shoved out of the picture without further ado. But they're the ones doing the bulk of the teaching. If they're so easily dispensable, try teaching the class without them. But that is exactly what the complaining is now about: the TAs are gone! So who's going to lead those discussion sections now? Not what I would call a "non-issue."

Irfan Khawaja - 8/4/2006

Regarding the TA-lockstep, this account seems as credible as any of the others, and that's what it describes. I don't see why it's any less credible than anything else I've read.

But if you grant the lockstep rule, your understanding of academic freedom seems to be: the professor has the right to do whatever he wants, and the TA must obey, no matter how stupid or pedagogically inappropriate the professor's actions, and no matter how justified the TA's criticisms.

So: If the professor cooks up crazy pedagogical schemes, and has a lockstep rule, that is "academic freedom." If in such a situation, the TA complains, and is 100% right, that is merely "funny"--but his/her complaints are not an expression of academic freedom. (Apparently TAs don't have any.) If the professor suffers adverse consequences from the TA's (legitimate!) complaints, that becomes a violation of his academic freedom--i.e., his freedom to function as an incompetent dictator without constraints or accountability.

I am not saying that this describes Bean. I'm saying: that's where your defense of Bean has ended up. But this is simply not a tenable conception of academic freedom. It's an undisguised argument from authority functioning to rationalize out-and-out irresponsibility. No profession, including academia, can function under such principles.

Jonathan Bean - 5/13/2005

P.S.: I will stand corrected if I am 42 feet, rather than 30 feet from his door.

Jonathan Bean - 5/13/2005

At, Michael Davidson writes:

"this article gives a badly slanted version of less than half of the story. I find it disturbing that many comments are being made here based on a poor secondary source -including some from professional historians who should know better. I would love to be able to add some substantive detail, but legal restrictions prevent me.

The impulse here is to sound off, but given the poor state of public knowledge on this matter, it is ill-advised.

Dr. Michael R. Davidson
Lecturer in HistorySIU Carbondale"

For someone who does not want to "sound off," Davidson has done an extraordinary amount of it--without saying anything but "you don't have all the facts." The facts which I can state here would include the clear grievance procedures which the TA (who was the unknown accuser at the beginning), the chair, the dean, and the letter signers ALL violated. The dean drew up bogus "hostile environment" charges in dismissing my TAs -- a legal term of art that means nothing outside of civil rights law and there are procedures to follow there, too.

Curious that Davidson has invested so much on the blogosphere concerning my case. We share the same corridor, he and I, along with a number of the letter signers. Since he has never contacted me, I must ask whether his considerable web activity is an expression of his support for the other side's version of events? Why has he not contacted me?

Elsewhere, he has corrected Boston Globe columnist Cathy Young: My Lord, he is a Republican (or was in Maine), although only a non-tenure track lecturer at SIUC. So, in a half century there has been one "conservative" Republican or Libertarian in a rather large department! Whoa. Be still, my evenhanded heart. Conservatism run amuck at SIU! A true Millian "marketplace of ideas." I rest easy now with a comrade at arms, only 30 feet from my door.

Jonathan Bean

Ralph E. Luker - 5/12/2005

It may be, David. We still don't know how things are resolved in the matter. It may be that, as in so many things, the end of the academic year is a blessed thing.

David Silbey - 5/12/2005

Strangely enough, I understand that it's a metaphorical usage. It strikes me as an _overheated_ metaphorical usage.

Ralph E. Luker - 5/11/2005

It's a metaphorical useage, obviously.

David Silbey - 5/11/2005

I thought I understood your previous remark to be saying that the remark wasn't false and therefore wasn't an _ad hominem_, and I was inquiring because I believed the same thing you just said. So, perhaps, a miscommunication/interpretation on my part?

(In any case, I'm a little concerned about using the word 'lynching' to describe the situation. Whatever the rights or wrongs of the situation at SIU, I hesitate to describe it in terms that recall the forcible and brutal murder of an innocent.)

Ralph E. Luker - 5/11/2005

David, My understanding is that an ad hominem attack is an attack on the person, as opposed, for example, to a criticism of opinion, action, or interpretation of fact. Since it is an attack on the person, it would be ad hominem whether it is true or false, wouldn't it? I'm open to being corrected about that.

David Silbey - 5/11/2005

Does an _ad hominem_ attack have to be false for it to be _ad hominem_?

Ralph E. Luker - 5/11/2005

Mike, You haven't shown that any accusation by me has been a false one -- even if a false accusation about action, rather than person, were ad hominem. So, no apology for you!

Michael R. Davidson - 5/11/2005

Gee Ralph, first you attack me, and then cast aspersions upon my professionalism. As a medievalist, my Latin has had to be pretty darn good - and I should not have to remind you that a false accusation is an ad hominem attacks.


P.S. Last post directed to Ralph until I receive an apology from him - and my apologies to everyone for participating in the waste of bandwith which the last few posts here have produced.

Ralph E. Luker - 5/11/2005

Mike, How's your Latin? Just to remind you: ad hominem means comment on the person; comment about outrageous behavior is not ad hominem.

Michael R. Davidson - 5/11/2005

"Ahh, thanks for the reminder. What can I say? You've never been lynched, so you have little hesitation about running off to participate in one. I've seen mob action and prefer to keep my distance from it."

I suppose an outrageous ad hominem attack was inevitable, but the source is surprising. I thought better of you Ralph.


Ralph E. Luker - 5/11/2005

Ahh, thanks for the reminder. What can I say? You've never been lynched, so you have little hesitation about running off to participate in one. I've seen mob action and prefer to keep my distance from it.

Michael R. Davidson - 5/11/2005

You assume incorrectly.

"Re: Leaping to Conclusions (#59877)
by Ralph E. Luker on May 2, 2005 at 11:02 PM
There are several of us here at Cliopatria who have had the experience of attempted lynchings. I hope that you are never on the receiving end of a rope, Mike. It tends to shape perceptions of how the world works sometimes."

As for the rest of your comments, I have heard them ad nauseam. I have added what I able to add to the story, and to do more than that would be unethical.


Ralph E. Luker - 5/11/2005

By "various bloggers," I assume that you mean "Jonathan Bean" since he is the only blogger I'm aware of who I've used the word "lynch" in connection with. Really, Michael, your calls for dispassionate journalism do not square with your advocacy of a particular reading of the situation in your department. You, your department, and your dean need to face the fact that leaving a course unserved by discussion section leaders and then going public with collective criticism of a colleagues selection of a single reading in a course is just really strange and, on the face of it, appears to be unprofessional conduct.

Michael R. Davidson - 5/11/2005

"If published accounts of what's happening in your department are all worthless, why are you citing Ayad's story in the Daily Egyptian of May 2?"

Robert, this is a classic straw man argument. I have never stated that the accounts were 'worthless'. See the letter posted in the beginning of this thread, and my first response to Ralph for the 'why?'

"Do you think that the excerpts from emails between Jonathan Bean and his TAs that were included in that article support the public charges made by your dean, your department chair, and 8 professors in your department?

If really think so, you need to connect the dots for those of us who are not at SIU."

Apparently I have not made myself clear enough to you. I WILL NOT provide substantive detail on this case which is not either public domain, or relates directly to me. In any case, you have already established what would satisfy you, and it is something which I cannot provide:

"Re: A Single Standard Applied Only to Bean (#59879)
by Robert L. Campbell on May 2, 2005 at 11:33 PM

I'll believe what's being said about the TA's by Bean's opponents when the TA's confirm it, by speaking for themselves."


Michael R. Davidson - 5/11/2005

Ralph, given your comments on various bloggers here being on the receiving end of attempted lynchings, I could say the same thing about you. It is neither here nor there.

Ralph E. Luker - 5/11/2005

Michael, It's pretty clear that you have a lot more invested in a particular reading of this case than your demands for dispassionate accuracy would seem to suggest.

Michael R. Davidson - 5/11/2005

Ralph, I have several 'old-fashioned' views of journalism. One of them is that journalists should report accurately. So, no, it is not, IMHO, putting too fine a point on things to note the irresponsibility of printing a 'Correction' which made errors in BOTH of its points.

Another 'old-fashioned' view of journalism I have is that journalists should check their facts - thus me 'going out of my way' to provide information to the Boston Globe which they could confirm. Seeing as the 'Correction' stated that I was the one who did the reporting, I can infer that that fact was NOT checked.

Another 'old-fashioned' view of journalism I have is that a story should be fully reported. Seeing as the press has, in part, portrayed this as a case of political persecution, it should have been of interest to them to fully explore the political persuasions of the faculty members in the department. I have been contacted by a grand total of 0 journalists, hence my letter to the Globe, and my footnote here.

Finally, Ralph, the raison d'etre of linking the _Daily Egyptian_ story was clearly stated in my letter - so readers could 'gain fuller perspective on what is occurring'. That does not translate into a judgement on the quality of that, or any other piece of journalism - in fact, it reinforced my overall view of the reporting on this matter.


P.S. By the by, if you ever think that I am getting 'lynched', I hope you investigate far more fully than you did in this case before jumping into the fray. Ciao.

Robert L. Campbell - 5/10/2005


I share Ralph Luker's incredulity. If published accounts of what's happening in your department are all worthless, why are you citing Ayad's story in the Daily Egyptian of May 2?

Do you think that the excerpts from emails between Jonathan Bean and his TAs that were included in that article support the public charges made by your dean, your department chair, and 8 professors in your department?

If really think so, you need to connect the dots for those of us who are not at SIU.

The information in the May 2 article hardly suffices to dispel the widespread interpretation that Bean's opponents were opposed to him politically, longed to run off campus a colleague whose politics are at loggerheads with theirs, and rolled out their suppressive apparatus when they thought they had an acceptable pretext.

Robert Campbell

Ralph E. Luker - 5/9/2005

Michael, Aren't you stretching here a bit for the attack on published accounts of the SIU donnybrook? You're critical of the Cathy Young's article in the Boston Globe. You write to correct her statement that there's no Republican in the history department at SIU. They publish a correction to the error you called attention to. Then you complain that the correction is in error because you weren't required to declare a party registration in Illinois. Isn't that putting _too fine a point on things_ when you'd gone out of your way with them to establish the fact that you were a registered Republican before moving to Illinois? Beyond that, in order to correct _some_ published accounts of the story by referring us to another published account of the story. Given that, published accounts of the story can't be all bad, can they?

Michael R. Davidson - 5/9/2005

The following appeared in Cathy Young's op-ed in the Boston Globe today:

"Correction: Last week's column stated that Jonathan Bean is the only Republican in the history department at Southern Illinois University at Carbondale. Michael R. Davidson, a lecturer in the department since last year, reports that he is also a registered Republican."

The fact that the 'Correction' itself is in error on both its points underlines the press irresponsibility which, IMHO, has been the most newsworthy aspect of this case.

Young's op-ed on 5/2:

"The victim of this left-wing McCarthyism, history professor Jonathan Bean, identifies himself as a libertarian but is widely regarded as a conservative on the campus; he serves as an adviser to the Republican and Libertarian student groups at the university. (There are reportedly no Republicans among more than 30 faculty members in his department.)"

Lets have a look at our errors:
1. The 'Correction' states that Young's 5/2 column stated that Bean was the department's only Republican. The column in fact stated that Bean 'identifies himself as a libertarian' and 'there are reportedly no Republicans'.

2. The 'Correction' states that 'Michael R. Davidson. . . reports that he is also a registered Republican.' In fact, in a letter to the editor which I sent last Monday (I have appended it to this post), I stated:

'There is at least one Republican in the SIUC History Department – me (an investigation of voting records in Windham, Maine, where I was registered to vote until moving to Illinois last year will confirm this).'

I am not, as Young stated in her 'Correction', a registered Republican, as Illinois voter registration did not allow me the opportunity to indicate a party preference.

In any case, had any reporter actually done their job properly, they would have found out that one of the central arguments for those who were saying this was about a 'Lynch Mob', a 'Witch-Hunt', or 'Left-Wing McCarthyism' was bunk.

Mike Davidson
Lecturer in History
SIU Carbondale

"To the Editor,

It is extraordinarily unfortunate that Cathy Young, largely from a position of ignorance, has chosen to sound off regarding the current controversy in the SIUC History Department. Her op-ed piece, like almost all press reports to date, presents such a small portion of the story that the picture painted is almost unrecognizable to persons, like myself, who are all too familiar with the details of this case. I would encourage Boston Globe readers to read the article by Moustafa Ayad in today’s Daily Egyptian so they can gain fuller perspective on what is occurring. [$1178]

For my part, I would like to add one correction to Young’s piece. There is at least one Republican in the SIUC History Department – me (an investigation of voting records in Windham, Maine, where I was registered to vote until moving to Illinois last year will confirm this).

I sincerely hope that the Globe will produce a responsible piece of investigative journalism should it cover this case further.

Dr. Michael R. Davidson
Lecturer in History
SIU Carbondale

Michael R. Davidson Ph.D.
History Department
Mailcode 4519
Southern Illinois University
Carbondale, IL 62901-4519
Phone: 618-536-2233
Fax: 618-453-5440"

Robert L. Campbell - 5/4/2005


I raised Life of Brian as an example because, under a politically correct academic regime, the complaints of devout Christians about a movie that parodies the life of Jesus would be discounted--no matter what the pedagogical context was.

Whereas the objections of African-Americans to a piece about murders committed by a gang of black racists would be taken as dispositive--no matter what the pedagogical context was.

Anyway, that's what I was trying to get at. I think Steve Horwitz has already made the point better than I could.

Robert Campbell

Ralph E. Luker - 5/3/2005

Do you always give as much attention to an "exceedingly silly controversy" as you have to this one? There really is a sense in which I suspect that your being a philosopher rather than a historian influences your view of things and is a part of the reason that your perspective is in such a minority here. We are used to dealing in discrete events as the bread and butter of what we do. We're much less inclined to abstractions than philosophers are. What may seem to you a trivial matter because grist for our mill.

David Timothy Beito - 5/3/2005

By the way, as I said, I don't personally follow a lock-step policy. I urge my teaching assistants to feel free to disagree with me. Many, many of my colleagues have a different philosophy, however, and I would never think to challenge them. If a teaching assistant complained, I think the proper response is: "learn the ropes first and do your work. Someday, if you are good enough, you might get your own course where you can do things differently."

Instead, the chair at SIU choose to appease them by undecutting one and only one faculty member.

David Timothy Beito - 5/3/2005

You might have a valide point if Bean's accusers supported the creation of similar "rights" for teaching assistants in other cases. As long as they don't and apply a single rule to one person, their arguments fall completely flat.

Teaching assistants are forced to teach in lockstep in countless number of departments every day without any controversy (mostly by non-conservatives). Besides, as I have said many times, the letter from the professors did not limit itself to the t.a. issue.

Finally, I would urge you to look at Bean's course readings list which includes Malcolm X, Rosa Parks and many other diverse perspectives; frankly more diverse than many leftwing professors might assign.

Steven Horwitz - 5/3/2005

I do think faculty need to be held "accountable" and completely agree with Ralph that the way to do so is "in-house," preferably in the department. Going to the media (and let's remember, the department went there first) with what should be handled within the university, is just way out of bounds. Administrators need standards of responsible behavior as well.

In fact, I do think faculty should be able to criticize each other's choices - that's part of academic freedom too. But when that only happens in one direction and/or when administrators start mucking around and pulling TAs or issuing statements, that's when it becomes a problem.

Ralph E. Luker - 5/3/2005

Irfan, If you, Bean's colleagues, David Horowitz, and several of us in the conversation here have your way, every decision about every reading assignment is subject to external review. I hope that you have all of your explanations at the ready.

Ralph E. Luker - 5/3/2005

I don't think that anyone is arguing for no accountability. I do think that many of us are arguing that accountability takes place in a department or in an administrative appeal process. Taking the case public seems inappropriate to me. It also seems inappropriate to me to leave Bean without TA's in two of three discussion sections of his course in which there are 270 enrolled students.

Ralph E. Luker - 5/3/2005

It isn't normally bad practice to assign a reading. It is normally bad practice to go public in a student venue with criticism of a colleague's single selection of a reading. I don't see that that is so difficult to understand.

David Timothy Beito - 5/3/2005

Please note that the title of the course was Civil Rights and Civil Disorder which makes the reading topic to be germane.

Again, as I have said, many, many faculty believe in the theory that teaching assistants should be limited to the role of conduits between the professors and the students and that it is essentially the "professor's course." If are going to impose a rule for Bean that gives the t.a's "rights" to act otherwise, let's be consistent and apply it to everyone. Who's course is it?

Ralph E. Luker - 5/3/2005

Very well said, Steven!

Ralph E. Luker - 5/3/2005

We don't, in fact, know that Bean's way of assigning this document was bad practice. We have a selected release of his private e-mail to his graduate students -- selected with an eye to justifying the public rebuke by a faction (about 1/4th) of the members of his department. To assume that he deleted the reference because he wanted to hide the source is to assume the worst in a colleague's motives -- a fairly uncollegial form of behavior. I don't assume that we known all that there is to know about the case. I do know that these eight colleagues have created a public wound that they'll have some difficulty healing -- even if that's what they wish to do.

Steven Horwitz - 5/3/2005

If the real complaint here is the assigning of a historically questionable source, *regardless of the particular argument it espoused*, then I think it's time for the History dept chair at SIU to indeed be consistent. I would expect to see her scouring the syllabi of all her faculty for similar lapses in historical judgment. And since the complaint about this particular source seems to have come not from departmental colleagues but TAs, then I'm sure she'd be open to similar complaints coming from historian colleagues at other universities across the country and world. So to my colleagues at L&P and Cliopatria, I encourage you to find copies of syllabi of Bean's colleagues at SIU and write the department chair with readings you find to be historically questionable. <Swift mode off>

Bottom line to the SIU history department: if a conservative TA complained about being forced to teach a faculty-chosen reading on the Great Depression (taken from a left-alternative press website) that mistated by a factor of three the size of the fall in the money supply in the early 30s so that the author could argue that the Fed bore no responsibility for the length and severity of the depression and place the blame squarely on the shoulders of "laissez-faire capitalism", would you write a letter to the student newspaper criticizing that faculty member's choice of sources and argue it was violating historians' standards of classroom instruction?

I will stand by my interpretation of this matter as being about academic freedom until I see a shred of evidence that the standards being applied to Bean are being applied elsewhere in the department.

Robert L. Campbell - 5/3/2005


1. My apologies for misidentifying you.
2. I was referring to your series of commments here and at L&P. I didn't say you'd posted here or there.
3. If your Dean has a consistent policy on TAs who object to course material, it shouldn't be that hard to predict what she will do.

Robert Campbell

Sharon Howard - 5/3/2005

I disagree with that, actually. I think if we as teachers assign problematic texts on particularly sensitive issues, we should not be surprised sometimes to be asked why, and should be prepared to explain. I too am disquieted by the hostility of the faculty in this case. It does look disturbingly aggressive. But at the same time there do seem to be legitimate reasons for questioning the assignment. Not because of what it is about, but because of the way in which it was assigned. And bad teaching practice is still bad practice even when the teacher has won awards.

"There are some modes of assigning material that are not acceptable in our discipline: to use undocumented website material as a valid historical account; to remove material from a source without indicating such editing; or to conceal the intellectual context for evaluating a source by removing information about the author and the source's provenance." ($592)

And, by the way, I agree with those voices (even the not so disinterested ones) saying that we should be a little more cautious in making judgements about this case based on the information currently available to us.

Michael R. Davidson - 5/2/2005

1. It is Mike Davidson.
2. I have not posted on L and P.
3. Your question was unanwerable, as it required me to speculate on what my Dean might do.


Robert L. Campbell - 5/2/2005


I'll believe what's being said about the TA's by Bean's opponents when the TA's confirm it, by speaking for themselves.

At this point, it's not clear to me that the complaints about the article on the Zebra killings truly originated with two of Bean's TA's. Or, if they actually did, what the complaints were.

There is also a question about which kinds of conmplaints, made by whom, would be taken seriously by other faculty members or by administrators. Mike Richardson, who has been telling everyone here and at L and P that we are jumping to conclusions, would not give a direct answer when I asked him whether Evangelical Christian TAs who complained about the use of MOnty Python's Life of Brian in a course would be allowed to quit working for that professor in the middle of a semester. Would those TAs be able to induce a department chair, a dean, and a significant bloc of departmental faculty to blast their former professor in public?

Such insinuations as the one that appeared in the April 12 letter, signed by 8 of Bean's colleagues, that the article constituted "white supremacist propaganda" suggest that somebody... maybe a TA, maybe another faculty member... was using a crude ideological criterion to decide what was acceptable class material. There is far more freight, in the statements made by Bean's opponents on the faculty, than their professed exclusive concern for the welfare of 2 TA's can carry.

Robert Campbell

Ralph E. Luker - 5/2/2005

On the basis of evidence at hand, I found it and still find it shocking that a substantial faction of a history department would publish criticism of a department colleagues choice of reading matter in a course. I don't think that Professor Bean has any obligation to explain to your satisfaction why he chose that particular article. Really, I don't. I chose not to interrogate your syllabi. Bean is an award winning teacher. His colleagues and the rest of us, including you, owe him the benefit of any doubt. He's been making these kinds of decisions for quite some time and getting awards for his decisions.

Robert KC Johnson - 5/2/2005

I'm still waiting for evidence of Bean's wrongdoing. The emails quoted in today's SIU paper presumably are the "worst" that his critics have, and they strike me as excuplatory for Bean--they show that his course was anything but racist or ideologically one-sided. The attitude of his critics, as expressed in the "Big Muddy" piece, seems to be that his assigning any article on the Zebra killings is unacceptable, since such a topic "needs to be used responsibly." (Who is to judge what is "responsible"--bean's critics?) The suggested "dialogue on race" chaired by the professor who organized the anti-Bean letter is laughable.

I'm also unclear what sort of power is being attributed to TA's by Bean's critics. From what it sounds like, the TA's questioned Bean's decision to assign this piece and he disagreed with their criticisms. While I wouldn't have assigned this piece as an optional reading in a survey course, Bean and not his TA's have authority on what to assign for the course. There's nothing (at least that I've seen) to suggest that the TA's were even forced to teach the document in their sections. If they were, and if they were forced to present Bean's opinions (two big "ifs," based on what we've seen), they easily could have said, "According to Prof. Bean, this document should be interpreted in the following way . . .," thereby upholding the letter of the regulations holding that they couldn't contradict the professor while making it clear to the students what their opinion of the piece was. Instead, this seems like little more than a "mobbing" of a professor that the departmental majority found ideologically unappealing.

David Timothy Beito - 5/2/2005

First, I have not seen any credible evidence that he forced the teaching assistants to be in lock-step.

Again, if he did, my answer would be, so what? I have several colleagues who *do* enforce a lockstep rule on the theory that teaching assistants should not differ in section with the professor. Those that do are often blacklisted by these professors as "undercutting the professor." Apparently, professors who hold this view operate under the theory that it is the duty of the teaching assistant to be a conduit between the professor and the students and that it is "the professors" course.

I happen to encourage my teaching assistants to freely disagree with my lectures or reading in section but nobody has ever dreamed of restricting the right of my colleagues who feel otherwise. If some teaching assistant dared to go over their heads to the chair and claim a "right" to dispute the professor, or his readings, in section, he would probably laugh them out of his office. Again, if we're going to enforce new "rights" for the teaching assistants, let's at least be consistent.

Second, the criticisms voiced in letter go far beyond the specific issue of teaching assistants and strongly imply that Bean was wrong to have his students read the article a such. Moreover, as I said, it is evasive as to whether he even had a right to assign it (teaching assistants or no teaching assistants). My sense, based on the language used in the letter, is that the teaching issue is secondary to the concerns of Bean's critics.

As I said, Bean, and Bean alone, is being subjected to this standard.

David Timothy Beito - 5/2/2005

Excuse me. That should be "academic responsibility" not "obligation."

David Timothy Beito - 5/2/2005

It is quite clear that Bean was intimidated and felt family pressure to "turn the other cheek" in the vain hope that would appease his critics. I might too have done so under the circumstances.

David Timothy Beito - 5/2/2005

Criticism is fine. As has often been said, sunlight is the best disinfectant and nobody should be free of criticism. This is not the issue at hand, however.

Bean apologized because he was under tremndous pressure. The original sources in these matters usually provide the best clues. Here is what the original letter said regarding academic freedom.

While it affirmed academic freedom (most people who try to limit it usually make this claim) it then qualifies this right be stating that Bean had an "obligation" (enforced by who?) not to nurture a "hostile environment." Leaving aside the issue of the teaching assistants (in my view a non-issue), please note that at no point does the letter affirm an unqualified right of Bean to assign the reading. They use the typical wiggle language which is so common among enemies of academic freedom. If my colleagues wrote a letter like this about me, I would assume that they were gunning for my job, not just criticizing my decision to assign an article. Here is what the letter said:

"We strongly believe in the rights of academic freedom and in a professor's right to choose course material. Academic responsibility, however, demands that professors promote the free exchange of ideas without creating a hostile environment, running the risk of nurturing racist attitudes among their students, and putting their teaching assistants in an untenable position."

Robert L. Campbell - 5/2/2005


David Beito and Charles Nuckolls, over at Liberty and Power, have been calling for emails to the Dean of Liberal Arts and the President of SIU. Ralph Luker hasn't made such calls.

I've been trying to figure out what the hell is going on at SIU. I've also wondered why Bean apologized for assigning the article, if he thought nothing was actually wrong with doing so. But it's occurred to me that perhaps he was intimidated. Or perhaps he thought that the complainants would leave him alone if he apologized. Yet from where I sit, Bean's adversaries don't seem like the sorts of people who would ever accept an apology from him... And so on and so on.

I do know that the public statements recently made by the Dean of his college and by some of his adversaries on the faculty are a long way from reassuring. If they are not trying to silence Bean on ideological grounds, a good deal of their rhetoric is, at the very least, unnecessary.

Some of his adversaries now insist that we outsiders are drawing conclusions without knowing all the facts--yet they adamantly refuse to provide the facts that are allegedly being left out. (Such claims are made regularly by university administrators who have done something dirty and want to cover it up.)

Since Jonathan Bean is a Liberty and Power blogger, I hope he will step forward and explain what he thinks is going on. That would help to answer your questions, and mine, and a lot of other people's.

Robert Campbell

Ralph E. Luker - 5/2/2005

As a matter of fact, I haven't urged anyone to write or call SIU. As Jonathan Dresner points out, we are not leaping to conclusions, but discerning as best we can from what we do know. That's always the case for historians -- if not for philosophers. It seemed to me initially and it seems to me now that it was inappropriate for Jonathan Bean's colleagues to publish their criticism of his decisions in the campus newspaper. The dean's actions had already left two sections of his class without discussion leaders. There is plenty in this for those of us who are not at SIU to be critical of. It's a case that should not have gone beyond the dean's office -- and Jonathan Bean's colleagues have some responsibility for containing the fallout from it.

David Timothy Beito - 5/2/2005

Do members of the history believe that Bean had an unqualified right (as a matter of academic freedom) to assign the article or not? With one apparent exception, they keep dancing around this issue.

I contend that he did have this right. I know many colleagues both in history and elsewhere who assign all sorts of *required* readings (including newspaper stories, partisan animal right screed). These same colleagues would never think to assign another reading in each case to provide "balance" or make them "optional" lest they offend teaching assistants