Blogs > Cliopatria > Depoliticizing the Classroom; depoliticizing the process

Jun 3, 2006 12:26 am

Depoliticizing the Classroom; depoliticizing the process

Conservative siteson the net are enthusiastically reporting that Juan Cole of Informed Comment and the University of Michigan has been denied an appointment at Yale. The appointment would have been to Yale's Center for International and Area Studies, with affiliations in history and sociology. There are reports that, in early May, the University's history department voted 13 to 7, with 3 abstentions, in favor of the affiliation with it, but that more recently the University's Senior Appointments Committee voted against the appointment by a substantial majority. This comes after a widespread campaign in the conservative press (New York Sun and Washington Times, for example) and internet sites (Campus Watch, Front Page Rag, and Powerline, for example) against the appointment.

At some level, of course, academic appointments are always political. Qualified human beings making decisions is the essence of politics. Yet, partisans both left and right ought to shun making or denying academic appointments on merely ideological grounds. If a distinguished conservative scholar were denied an appointment at Yale because of her or his conservatism, partisans on the right would be, er, rightly outraged. Academic conservatives at ACTA, Critical Mass, and Phi Beta Cons can't both take heart from the denial of Juan Cole's appointment and continue their campaign for a"depoliticized classroom." However ideological Juan Cole may be, he is no Ward Churchill and conservative ideologues sullied the decision-making process by their ideologically-motivated public campaign against Cole's appointment at Yale. Meanwhile, the University is still without a distinguished scholar of the post-Caliphate Middle East.* In the current world, that seems like a yawning gap in scholarship.
*NB: I stand corrected on that. Abbas Amanat is a Professor of History and of International and Area Studies at Yale.

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Irfan Khawaja - 8/4/2006

Thanks for that piece of information. If Luker opposes the deletions, I sure do hope he'll make that fact known, presumably in another post that disallows comments.

In any case, in light of the new information, I'll merely infer that my criticisms ought to have been formulated in such a way as to include all of the relevant parties, i.e., everyone involved in the process of deleting the posts. Consider this note an amendment to anything I've previously said on that score. In other words, if the shoe fits you, dear reader, wear it with my blessings.

Irfan Khawaja - 8/4/2006

Your pointing of my "lazy self" to your "evidence" is a transparent bluff. All that those links contain are criticisms of Cole. There is no evidence in them whatsoever of a causal connection between the criticisms and the decision.

Let me remind you for the nth time of what you asserted (I have to remind you, given how many times you've deleted my reminders): "conservative ideologues sullied the decision-making process by their ideologically-motivated public campaign against Cole's appointment at Yale."

You've presented no evidence whatsoever that they were part of the "decision process," much less that they had any appreciable influence on the decision. You keep pointing to those articles as though they could magically save your thesis. Sorry, they can't, and linking repeatedly to Joel Mowbray's article doesn't help your case.

What agitates me is precisely your insistence on making accusatory claims without backing them up--indeed, without even seeing the need to do so. You're both practicing and rationalizing character-assassination here, and you apparently want to do it with impunity. There is no good reason you should be allowed to get away with it.

On a related subject, it's amazing that you're permitted to accuse someone of "casual bigotry," and are then entitled to close the comments on the subject, as though your say-so were the unrebuttable end-of-the-matter. This isn't the way rational discourse works. You can call me a troll, call this a diatribe, and delete whatever you and your colleagues deem "unacceptable" by your "standards". But it won't change the facts.

Irfan Khawaja - 8/4/2006

Yes, you have "standards" all right.

The best articulation of them is this:

1) When one of your Head Honcho Bloggers says stupid things he can't substantiate, and gets challenged to substantiate them, delete the challenges on the premise that if no one sees them, no one will discern the intellectual impotence involved.

2) When all else fails, appeal to that catch-all vacuity--"civility"--to hide the fact that none of the relevant parties can actually defend what they've said or what they've done.

3) Then tell the offender to please go away, the better to carry on with the mutual masturbation tableau that was taking place before he came on the scene.

Yeah, standards. Very impressive.

Irfan Khawaja - 8/4/2006

How about a highly politicized blog where some people's comments get deleted because they happen to make challenges that certain bloggers can't answer? At Cliopatria, a mere request for evidence is too hot to handle, and gets treated as though it were hate mail or pornography. And yet the people running the blog masquerade as guardians of intellectual virtue. What a joke.

Methinks "depoliticization" ought to start closer to home.

Irfan Khawaja - 8/4/2006

Consult a logic textbook for the meaning of the Latin phrase "ad hominem." An adverse judgment of a person's actions is not an ad hominem argument, much less an "extended" ad hominem. An ad hominem argument is one that impugns someone's argument by way of judgments on their character. I've done no such thing. I've pointed out that you have no argument. I don't need to cite the moral character of your actions for additional support of that claim. Your actions are a separate issue, and I've treated them separately.

I don't think anyone here really needs direction from you on the precise form that a question must take--whether "simple" or "complex." I certainly don't. For a person so reticent about the central issue here, you are rather free with unsolicited and unwanted advice.

The fact remains that however welcome to my opinion you think I am, you can't answer the challenge I posed. You find the challenge so intolerable that you can't bear to see it in print. That doesn't quite sit well with the pious declamations you've offered about conservative policiticization versus your depoliticized aspirations for academic life.

As for "belaboring" things, you are the one who insists on belaboring the Cole candidacy, the conservative response to it, and the phantom causal relation between those things. I'm merely responding to your belaborings and pointing out how evidentially ill-founded they are--a fact you can neither acknowledge nor respond to.

This is what a debate really looks like, Ralph. It doesn't look must like the love-fest to which you've all become accustomed here. And if you find the task of providing evidence--or the challenge to provide it--so irksome, maybe it is time to admit that honest debate is not something you're interested in or up to. That admission would at least have the salutary effect of puting your sanctimonious lectures about ACTA, Juan Cole, Martin Kramer, David Horowitz, etc. into useful perspective.

Ralph E. Luker - 6/7/2006

Your link to a source for the Juan Cole quote doesn't go anywhere, but it points to a secondary source -- one I suspect is hostile to Cole -- rather than to the original source, in which a reader might see those words in context. If you read _only_ online sources that are hostile to Cole, of course you're going to be re-enforced in your suspicions of his candidacy. Moreover, if you don't see a difference between Brooklyn taxpayers raising questions about the intolerance of Tim Shortell's comments and the organized campaign in the rightwing press and net against Cole's candidacy while it was under consideration, you've ignored a difference between public and private institutions and shrugged your shoulders to the threat against all of us when we may be candidates for a position at any institution. Even Martin Kramer is smart enough to deny that he, as a biased outsider, had any influence in the denial of Cole's candidacy at Yale. I'd say further that if your going to insist that all candidates for positions in Near Eastern Studies positions be sympathetic to Israel's current regime, you'll also want to insist that all candidates for positions in Jewish Studies be sympathetic to the Iranian regime.

Robert KC Johnson - 6/7/2006

As I said in my original comment, I don't know who the other candidates for this position were. But it seems to me far from clear that the History decision was academically inspired and the senior appointments committee decision was politicized. That might, in fact, be true--but we have leaks from neither side, and I don't see any reason to assume that only the decision of the senior appts committee was politicized. Indeed, in mapping Cole's career, it seems that his profile, even within the profession, was substantially helped by support for the anti-Israel arguments and criticisms of US foreign policy he presented in his blog. So it's hard for me to see Cole as a good example for a principled ivory tower academic demonized by politics. He's gained as much, and perhaps more, from his political stances than he's lost.

So, basically, if I believed that the appts committee decision was politicized but the History decision wasn't, I'd be quite sympathetic to Ralph's argument here. But I see little evidence at this stage to support that view--although, clearly, some could come out if people start talking.

As to the public campaign against Cole: my position on this has been pretty consistent, I think. Academic freedom doesn't entail freedom from criticism. Cole has said some highly dubious things (most recently, his bizarre comment that "If Israelis want to be a state, they, both genders, should take the criticism like men and stop being crybabies about 'anti-Semitism.'") ( At Brooklyn, we saw a similar thing in the Shortell case, where, after his election as department chairman, strong criticism greeted his previous statements on religion, Karl Rove, and the positive political effects of the death rate of elderly Americans. Like Cole, Shortell chose to defend himself not by pointing out concretely how his accusers had misrepresented his views, but by using personal attacks and claiming that academic freedom means that outsiders can't comment on personnel matters in the academy.

Whether that view is right or wrong (and I think it's wrong), from a practical standpoint, it's simply unsustainable. The academy as an institution can't realistically expect in this information age to say that outsiders shouldn't be able to comment on professors' ideas. What we should do, if such attacks are misguided, is to respond to them, and to prove their misguided nature. That's supposed to be what academic exchange is about. Cole has a widely read blog. If, as he claimed, his critics had misinterpreted him and quoted him out of context, he was almost uniquely well positioned to demonstrate the fact. But he didn't follow that course.

Jonathan Dresner - 6/6/2006

Typically, the wire service version has become a zombie error, and is now the basis for policy discussions. Talk about reasonable doubt...

Ralph E. Luker - 6/6/2006

Nothing personal, you understand.

Manan Ahmed - 6/6/2006

I have also looked at the original and Cole's translation and found it quite correct and his reading to be spot-on within the context.

Jonathan Dresner - 6/6/2006

HNN has standards, and tries to maintain a civil environment by selectively moderating discussion. That is longstanding HNN policy; I'm in favor of it and I find that it's worked pretty well. No, it's not absolute freedom and sometimes we delete things instead of preserving them in perpetuity like neurotic archivists.

If you don't like it, I highly recommend Blogger as an excellent starter-blog service, or Wordpress, if you want a bit more in the way of features and care less about layout.

Jonathan Dresner - 6/6/2006

neither your nor my Farsi are good enough for us to know the truth of the matter

That's why you ask other people. Brian Ulrich, for example, who strongly argues that Cole's reading is correct.

If the translation is correct, I don't see why Cole needed to respond to anything else Hitchens said: sometimes the evidence supports you....

Ralph E. Luker - 6/6/2006

KC, This may be one of those issues on which you and I are just going to have to agree to disagree.
First, neither your nor my Farsi are good enough for us to know the truth of the matter between Juan Cole and Christopher Hitchens. Hitchens is known to love his bottle and Cole's suggestion that he was in his cups at the time was probably a facetious was of dismissing the seriousness of what Hitchens wrote.
More importantly, I think that you, Erin O'Connor, and academic conservatives generally are eventually going to have to choose sides on this: is it that we want to replace "their guys" with "our guys" in the classroom or are we aiming at a wide-ranging spectra of attitudes in the academy that doesn't represent a triumph for any camp? If the former, then you, Erin, the Phi Beta Cons and others can look with indifference (as you do here) on the highly organized campaign against Cole's appointment at Yale. If so, then all of us need to be prepared for organized public campaigns against our appointments whenever we are candidates for positions. If you really do favor a depoliticized academy, then you must join in condemning the smears of Juan Cole by whoever. Frankly, I don't know whether he was the best candidate for Yale's position or not. What I do know is that the decision shouldn't become subject to campaign fodder in the Wall Street Journal, New York Post, Washington Times, Front Page Rag, etc.

Robert KC Johnson - 6/6/2006

I'm currently in Israel and don't have a computer with me, so have only limited internet access, but wanted to raise two points on the Cole matter.

First, Ralph (and the IHE piece on Cole) might be right in framing this decision as a politicized appointments committee overruling an academically inclined decision by History. But there are two other possible scenarios: an academically inclined appointments committee overruling a politicized decision by History; and both being politicized. Given the fact that the pro-Cole History vote was apparently narrower than the anti-Cole appointments committee vote, and given that the academy isn't exactly a hotbed of Zionist sentiment susceptible to the anti-Cole public campaign, I'm not sure that the first of these three scenarios is the most likely.

Second, I don't see any contradiction between supporting a depoliticized classroom and opposing a Cole appointment. Cole's blog deals almost exclusively with topics that he teaches--Israel, US policy in the Middle East, Islam, Iran. And his syllabi, though billed as History courses, are remarkably presentist ( So it seems to me wholly reasonable that an outside observer could get some sense of the perspective Cole offers in his classes from reading his blog--especially since he doesn't provide his lecture notes or handouts publicly. If I were on the Yale appointments committee, I would have been concerned about classroom bias by Cole, especially on matters related to Israel, and to a slightly lesser extent on the role of US policy in the region. Academic freedom gives Cole the right to teach what he wants at Michigan and to publish what he wants in his blog. But the principle doesn't prevent Yale from deciding not to hire a teacher whose approach is biased.

I've also found telling Cole's response to his critics, which has generally followed a pattern of personal denunciation rather than refutation of specific criticisms. The best example is his feud with Christopher Hitchens, which Andrew Sullivan summarized and which I blogged a few weeks back.

Hitchens, it's worth recalling, made two allegations: 1.) that Cole badly mistranslated an Ahmadinejad speech on Iran's intentions toward Israel; and 2.) that this mistranslation supported Cole's consistent efforts to downplay Iran's threat to Israel. If true, Hitchens' allegations suggested that Cole was either (1) incompetent; or (2) duplicitous.

Cole responded not by refuting Hitchens' specific points, but by claiming (1) Hitchens improperly cited a closed list serv; and (2) Hitchens was drunk when he wrote his post. As Sullivan noted at the time, this type of response would hardly reassure the Yale appntments committee.

Jonathan Dresner - 6/5/2006

Ralph Luker does not have the authority to delete or edit posts (other than his own), comments or threads: he makes suggestions to HNN administration and final authority rests with the HNN editor and author of the post in question, usually in consultation with engaged co-bloggers.

Disputes involving long-time commenters or other bloggers always involve careful consideration, though that sometimes results in discussions continuing beyond the point of helpful clarity.

chris l pettit - 6/5/2006

to see a couple of ideological "scholars" go after each other when both are simply regurgitating the same nonsense that comes out of their mouths in countless other arguments.

For the record, Irfan, Ralph at least has his head on straight while you prefer to stick your head in the ground per usual. Aren't you the one who adopts the philosophy of the imposition of power ideology and abandons any sort of equality, law, justice, rights, etc? You have countless times in the past? Why is it then so hard for you to simply admit that a decent portion of what took place was ideologically motivated by one worthless and incorrect side or the other? I am surprised at your vehemence in insisting on the blind and narrow minded approach to this. In your world, you should just take the same position Ralph does...that for the most part this was an ideological battle and the exceptions to the rule were those individuals who actually approached it in a critical manner. Whether that ideology was neo-conservative, the insistence on "publishing" (particularly when much of the "publishing" is piss poor and ideological anyway), or just plain bigotry of one sort or was imposed and works well in your power based way of looking at things. But I guess that would kind of damper your ideological I guess you would prefer to look like a hypocrite. By the can build a decent case on circumstantial evidence and then shift the burden of proof to the other party in a court of law in certain cases...the other party then has to demonstrate why the circumstantial evidence is incorrect...but since you don't believe in law and only in the imposition of ideological rules that you believe in, why am I even trying to get through to you?

Ralph...I did see you deleted my comments about Parsig and wondering where we went from here. The fact that Irfan and KC are even acknowedged as being "scholars" at all outside of their narrow and frankly indefensible ideological frameworks is disgraceful enough to those of us dedicated to logic, rationality, critical analysis and the pursuit of reason over imposition of ideology. You imitate their ideological missteps at times, but sometimes, as in this case, sometimes wisdom and reason comes from the most unsuspected of sources.

it is sad to see this website turn into a forum for "scholars" who come upon non-ideological and critically defensible thoughts and ideas about as often as I come upon snow in Florida...and there are exceptions to that rule...Dr. Dresner, Oscar, Dr. Beito, Dr. Levine, and others included. Then again...i wonder if it ever was a forum for critical thought...most of the more intelligent articles and posts get barely a touch on the main page...maybe because the wing nuts on both sides who come and post here simply can't understand them since they do not have an ideological bent one way or another?

its just fun to watch you two go after each other...the self righteousness and arrogance is staggering. And, no, I do not deny my self righteousness in castigating you both...but at least my positions are critically defensible, stand up to analysis, are consistent, are not hypocritical, stay within the realm of human rights and the rule of law, and recognize that 98% of humanity is simply trying to impose their own little twisted ideologies on one another without realising that we are humans first and then split into our myriad of artificial and ultimately incorrect little hierarchies. Once again, ignorant humans trying to preserve their own little fiefdoms instead of trying to progress and enhance the spirit of manking and humanity as a collective.

Sad really...if there is a god...he is definitely shaking his head at the two of you (if you believe in the interventionist sort of thing).


Ralph E. Luker - 6/5/2006

If I have no argument, then, pray tell, what is it that agitates you to go on at such length and give me "unsolicited and unwanted" advice. I have pointed your lazy self in the direction of the available evidence and, yet, you seem to think that debate consists in repeated demands for "evidence," knowing full well, as I've acknowledged, that some of it is shielded from public view. Since I've pointed your lazy, ranting self to what evidence there is, there doesn't seem much point in continuing the discussion.

Ralph E. Luker - 6/5/2006

History News Network does not have a monitored commenting system that allows ad hominem remarks to be screened out in advance. Thus, they can only be deleted after the fact. Your persistent demands for "evidence" can be made with a simple question, need not be fleshed out with extended ad hominem, and ought to recognize that opinion, even your opinion, relies on drawing connections between pieces of evidence, when some of the evidence is shielded from public view. You are welcome to your opinion. I will continue to express mine. Let's not belabor this.

Jonathan Dresner - 6/5/2006

It's not clear how much my opinion matters here, but I'd note that even David Horowitz has gone out of his way to voice support for the rights of faculty with whom he disagrees; would it be too much to expect self-styled academic neutrality advocates to note, and possibly condemn, a highly public politicized hiring process?

Ralph E. Luker - 6/5/2006

Erin, I'm sorry, but my statement isn't a mis-statement of fact. It says that three sites cannot do both of two things. You point out that two of them, in fact, do not. Fair enough. Do either of those sites condemn the politicized campaign against the appointment of Juan Cole at Yale? If not, their campaign to depoliticize the classroom rings a bit hollow. It sounds more like: let's replace their partisans with our partisans. Are there any instances in ACTA's report that raise questions about a conservative professor's course description?

Erin O'Connor - 6/5/2006

Your misstatement of facts about both ACTA's blog and Critical Mass remains intact in your post, despite the fact that I brought your error to your attention two days ago. Inside Higher Ed's coverage of the Cole case refers to your post and quotes the passage that contains your misstatement of fact. While IHE elides the names of ACTA's and Critical Mass from its quotation, it also points readers to your original post, which continues to misrepresent the facts. Please correct your post so that it no longer makes false statements about ACTA's blog and Critical Mass.

Ralph E. Luker - 6/3/2006

It's good to have your assurance that neither ACTA nor Critical Mass take heart in the denial of the job offer to Juan Cole at Yale. They, at least, seem to be consistent in that regard. The Phi Beta Con allies of ACTA and Critical Mass in supporting the findings of ACTA's report, "How Many Ward Churchills?" however, do not bother with the inconsistency. They cheer both.

Erin O'Connor - 6/3/2006

Ralph, could you please quote the phrases that show that ACTA or Critical Mass "took heart" at Juan Cole not being hired by Yale? I can't find the name Juan Cole on the ACTA site, and the only mention of Juan Cole on Critical Mass is an entry from October 1, 2002, which simply quotes him.