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Category: General

Summing Up On Salaita and Academic Freedom

[ 30 ] August 25, 2014 |

Earlier this year, the Regents of the University of Kansas ended academic freedom in the state, making something called the “improper use of social media” a firable offense for tenured faculty. But give them this: they were honest about what they were doing. Phyllis Wise and the Board or Trustees at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, conversely, are almost comically dishonest about what they just did:

Since this decision, many of you have expressed your concern about its potential impact on academic freedom. I want to assure you in the strongest possible terms that all of us – my administration, the university administration and I – absolutely are committed to this bedrock principle. I began my career as a scientist challenging accepted ideas and pre-conceived notions, and I have continued during my career to invite and encourage such debates in all aspects of university life.

A pre-eminent university must always be a home for difficult discussions and for the teaching of diverse ideas. One of our core missions is to welcome and encourage differing perspectives. Robust – and even intense and provocative – debate and disagreement are deeply valued and critical to the success of our university.

If academic freedom means anything, tenured academics cannot be fired solely for expressing political views. And yet, if you look carefully at Wise’s letter, you will see not a single word about Salaita’s teaching record or his scholarship. To fire him for reasons not related to either is a definitive denial of academic freedom. Trying to square the circle, Wise attempts to argue that some isolated tweets suggested that Salaita is unfit as a teacher:

A Jewish student, a Palestinian student, or any student of any faith or background must feel confident that personal views can be expressed and that philosophical disagreements with a faculty member can be debated in a civil, thoughtful and mutually respectful manner. Most important, every student must know that every instructor recognizes and values that student as a human being. If we have lost that, we have lost much more than our standing as a world-class institution of higher education.

As I’ve said earlier, and as Timothy Burke has explained at devastating length, the problems with this argument are manifest and fatal. Salaita has an extensive record of university-level teaching. If there was any evidence that Salaita did not conduct himself in a “civil, thoughtful and mutually respectful manner,” it would presumably have surfaced during the many courses he’s taught. But there is no such evidence, and to assume that you can infer how someone will teach from how someone tweets is obvious nonsense. And to expand on Burke’s point, Wise’s unfounded assumption is not only insulting to Salaita, it’s insulting to the members of her faculty and administration who were allegedly unable to see that a candidate does not “value students as human beings.” This is an extraordinary claim, and given the paucity of the evidence to support it is a deeply offensive accusation.

Evidently, academic freedom is not absolute. If there was real evidence that Salaita was an anti-Semite, it might warrant an exception (although inferring it from 140-character bursts on social media requires a very high burden when this alleged anti-Semitism has not appeared in his teaching or scholarship.) But people making this allegation just don’t have the goods. The tweets that use the term “anti-Semitism” clearly assume that anti-Semitism is a bad thing if read in context (and even in isolation when given a remotely charitable reading.) Anti-semites generally do not tweet things like “[t]hat particular look has been used to dehumanize Jews for many centuries, to nefarious ends” and “I believe that Jewish and Arab children are equal in the eyes of God. Equal rights for everybody, Jewish, Muslim, Christian, etc.” And if his firing is to be consistent with academic freedom, that’s the whole ballgame. Some of his tweets, particularly the eliminationist one about Isaraeli settlers, are offensive, but that cannot be a firable offense if academic freedom is to retain any content.

One interesting thing about Wise’s statement, however, is that it does not seem to rely on the fact that the hiring process was not formally complete. The op-ed by Cary Nelson set the basic template for most UIUC apologists: set up a rhetorical shell game where a terrible argument that firing Salaita is consistent with academic freedom is paired with a terrible argument that he wasn’t really fired (even though he would have been teaching for at least a month prior to receiving pro forma approval.) When the weaknesses of one become apparent, just shift back to the other. While I’m sure their lawyers will be making different arguments, Wise’s logic suggests that Salaita could have been fired if he had a tenured position at UIUC formally rather than just de facto. (This should be terrifying to faculty there.) And I think there’s a reason for that. As Ben Alpers has argued, if taken seriously the assertion that Salaita wasn’t really fired would create chaos in academic job markets:

IANAL, but it seems to me that if Hoffman is correct about the labor law here, the entire academic employment system will be disrupted. If faculty are forced to see regents’ approval of hires as something other than pro forma, either hiring schools will have to wait an extra semester or year to bring faculty aboard or schools from which faculty are hired will be faced with tons of last minute course cancellations. The point is that this is not simply about a single letter sent to single faculty member: the academic employment system as currently constituted is absolutely reliant on what are widely seen as rubber-stamp stages of the hiring process being rubber-stamp stages of the hiring process. If Salaita’s hirefire stands, it will, at the very least, make it much harder for the University of Illinois to hire senior faculty (not because of boycotts, but because of due diligence on the part of potential hires) and may well affect other institutions as well.

I assume that Wise does not want to think that senior faculty she’s trying to attract that she will start arbitrarily overturning dean-approved hires at the last minute as a routine practice. But if I were in that position, I think it’s pretty clear that UIUC cannot be trusted.

But the problems the precedent creates for the academic job market are just the beginning. There are serious First Amendment problems here. Salaita may well have a good argument in civil court. And it’s hard to believe it’s a coincidence  that Salaita was fired after pressure was brought by the development office.

But perhaps it will be shown in court that UIUC was within its formal legal rights when it discarded the basic norms of the profession and callously destroyed someone’s career on false implicit pretenses. And ultimately it doesn’t matter whether Salaita was fired because Wise disagreed with his political views, the Board of Trustees disagreed with his views, wealthy donors disagreed with his views, or any combination thereof. His firing was a disgraceful attack on academic freedom no matter what motivated it, and reflects a situation that’s probably only going to get worse.

…Claire Potter has more.

The Wire: It’s No 24!

[ 199 ] August 25, 2014 |

Dylan Matthews dug up Neil Genzlinger’s New York Times’ original review of The Wire. To say the least, it hasn’t aged well.

It’s all served up in dialogue heavy with police-speak and dealer-speak, sometimes unintelligibly so. The language is supposed to be realistic and maybe it is realistic, but it often feels self-conscious, like an overly thick Southern accent. That’s too bad, because when Mr. Simon and Edward Burns, who are credited with the writing of the first five episodes, pull back a bit, they sometimes achieve a rough eloquence.

”That’s what I don’t get about this drug thing,” McNulty tells D’Angelo in the second episode. ”Why can’t you sell the stuff and walk away? You know what I mean? Everything else in this country gets sold without people shooting each other.”

The real questions about ”The Wire,” though, involve not the style, but the audience’s level of tolerance. This is a series that requires commitment; it’s difficult to imagine a viewer dropping in for, say, Episode 3, then checking back again at Episode 8.

Yet ”The Wire” doesn’t have the pulsating, addictive urgency (or the obvious good guys and bad guys) of ”24,” which just completed a spectacular first season on Fox. It shows us a more realistic version of life, complete with down time, yack sessions, drunken story-swapping. Police officers (and drug dealers) are human!

I want to be fair here. First, there weren’t a lot of shows like The Wire in 2002 and so reviewers weren’t necessarily expecting the sort of long story The Wire was offering. On the other hand, The Sopranos had already pioneered this. Second, there’s probably a lot of regrettable reviews out there of art that was later widely acclaimed. Third, it does take a few episodes to really get into The Wire, although Genzlinger seems to have watched most of the first season here.

But still, to compare it unfavorably to 24. That is a very 2002 thing to do.

Recording the Police: A Felony

[ 139 ] August 25, 2014 |

This is some disturbing footage. In Petersburg, Virginia, the police arrested people next door to the home of JaQuan Fisher. He started recording them. The police then attacked Fisher violently. His sister then recorded that. It is that footage shown in the link. Fisher was charged with 2 counts of felony assault on law enforcement and pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor charge. Even though he did nothing wrong at all. This is emblematic of both the routine police violence against African-Americans and how African-Americans become “criminals.” Their basic rights are violated, they try to resist those violations, and they get charged with felonies.

Once again, what happened in Ferguson is not unique. It is par for the course in this nation that has empowered the police to commit widespread violence against people of color without consequence.

Don’t Forget That Troubling Jaywalking Incident!

[ 94 ] August 25, 2014 |

I don’t know about you, but I’m pretty confident that if a unarmed white kid from suburbs was shot dead by the police we wouldn’t be informed by the Paper of Record that he was “no angel” because of a minor alleged shoplifting. And this!

He had taken to rapping in recent months, producing lyrics that were by turns contemplative and vulgar.

But were his jeans too baggy?

The Fake Disillusionment Con

[ 77 ] August 25, 2014 |

Shorter Thomas Frank and Cornel West: I’m going to pretend to be deeply disillusioned that Obama didn’t turn out to be the Scandinavian social democrat there was absolutely no evidence he was.

There’s not much point in dwelling in the individual arguments, which are the same lazy ones Frank has been making repeatedly in his profit-taking Salon column whether they’re being made by Frank or West. I did enjoy this question, though:

What on earth ails the man? Why can’t he fight the Republicans? Why does he need to seek a grand bargain?

Let’s leave aside the notable lack of any meaningful grand bargain pursuit in his second term, despite Republican control of the House. The idea that he “won’t fight the Republicans”…what can you say? Yes, who can forget the overwhelming Republican support for the ARRA, AVA, the consumer protection bureau, Dodd-Frank, the repeal of DADT, putting a Democratic majority on the D.C. Circuit, etc. etc. Why does Obama insist only on seeking longstanding neoliberal Republican priorities like huge expansions of Medicaid? WHY WON’T OBAMA FIGHT THE REPUBLICANS EVER?

The Real Power of the University

[ 32 ] August 25, 2014 |

In the corporate university, money is what counts. Without public support, universities have become captured by the wealthy donors and corporations who fund them. This is a major contributor to the shunning of majors like German and Philosophy (and to a slightly lesser but still significant extent, History) that means advisers receiving word from high to encourage students not to sign up for those majors, cutting positions, even retrenching departments. To replace them, Supply Chain Management* and other majors that train people to be functionaries of 21st century capitalism without providing them any sort of broad-based liberal arts education or critical thinking.

As the corporations capture the universities, it’s hardly surprising then that the university would begin following the free speech patterns of the corporation, i.e., none for employees. See the case of one Salaita, Stephen:

While many of the emails are fairly similar, some stand out. For instance, there is an email from Travis Smith, senior director of development for the University of Illinois Foundation, to Wise, with copies to Molly Tracy, who is in charge of fund-raising for engineering programs, and Dan C. Peterson, vice chancellor for institutional advancement. The email forwards a letter complaining about the Salaita hire. The email from Smith says: “Dan, Molly, and I have just discussed this and believe you need to [redacted].” (The blacked out portion suggests a phrase is missing, not just a word or two.)

Later emails show Wise and her development team trying to set up a time to discuss the matter, although there is no indication of what was decided.

At least one email the chancellor received was from someone who identified himself as a major donor who said that he would stop giving if Salaita were hired. “Having been a multiple 6 figure donor to Illinois over the years I know our support is ending as we vehemently disagree with the approach this individual espouses. This is doubly unfortunate for the school as we have been blessed in our careers and have accumulated quite a balance sheet over my 35 year career,” the email says.

There is no indication that Wise based her decision on the fund-raising issues, only that these topics were raised in communications to her. A spokeswoman for Illinois said via email that the chancellor receives many suggestions about many issues. She said that she didn’t know if the chancellor met with foundation officials about Salaita but said that the rationale behind the chancellor’s decision was the one she discussed in the email to the campus.

This is the future. If you threaten the beliefs of the fundraisers, you are fired. If you shine a bad light on the university administrators seeking to move up the food chain to ever more lucrative positions, bye-bye. If you dissent from the left, I hope you enjoy the Daniel Payne method of survival on the street. Right now, Stephen Salaita has no job and no money. It’s a dark world out there right now for academics, as free speech and academic freedom decline to their lowest levels in at least 60 years.

* Or as I like to call it, How to Exploit Bangladeshis.

The Worst Person in the World

[ 67 ] August 25, 2014 |

Daniel Payne longs to shame the poor while capitalizing “The Left” as often as possible:

Here’s What Happens Without Stigma

That’s easier said than done. The Left wishes to make it a no-big-deal kind of thing because the Left wants the citizenry as dependent upon government as possible. “Once Stigmatized,” the New York Times reported a few years ago, “Food Stamps Find New Acceptance.” One food bank employee told a gainfully-employed young man to sign up for the program because “there was enough aid to go around and that use would demonstrate continuing need.” Eight years into Mike Bloomberg’s mayoral tenure, the number of residents on food stamps had hit over one-and-a-half million people; a stunning 20 percent of households nationwide were enrolled in SNAP. Over half of illegal and legal immigrants from Central America are on some form of welfare; both the Mexican and United States governments encourage illegal aliens to sign up for food stamps. In the mid-90s, Republicans passed and President Clinton signed a “workfare” reform law, which established significant work standards for welfare recipients and reduced welfare rolls significantly—which is presumably why the Obama administration moved to gut these requirements a couple of years ago: if there’s one thing at which the Left truly bristles, it’s an independent citizenry that can provide for itself without the Left’s benevolent help.

This is what you get when you “remove stigmas.” At one time, public assistance was looked upon as a moderate failure—not an irredeemable sin or uncorrectable wrong, but something you wanted to avoid if possible. European socialists realized a long time ago that such well-intentioned opprobrium served to weaken the dependent bond between citizen and state, which is why you can find single mothers on 20 years of welfare across the pond: continental leftists figured this game out a long time ago, well before the sad sacks at Richmond Public Schools. If you want to see the future of American welfare in the hands of people like Superintendent Bedden, look to Europe, where many countries have de-stigmatized their way into astronomical debt levels and widespread, chronic citizen helplessness.

Look to Europe indeed. The horror, the horror.

Honig on Salaita

[ 30 ] August 24, 2014 |

As is so often the case, Bonnie Honig’s letter to the UIUC chancellor regarding the firing of Steven Salaita is illuminating and provocative; she asks what it would mean to read Salaita’s tweets not with an eye on the alleged boundaries of acceptable discourse, but with empathy:

This is what I thought at the time this story first broke: Here is a man of Palestinian descent watching people he may know, perhaps friends, colleagues, or relatives, bombed to bits while a seemingly uncaring or powerless world watched. He was touched by violence and responded in a way that showed it. In one of the tweets that was most objected to (Netanyahu, necklace, children’s teeth), Salaita commented on a public figure who is fair game and who was promoting acts of terrible violence against a mostly civilian population. I found that tweet painful and painfully funny. It struck home with me, a Jew raised as a Zionist. Too many of us are too committed to being uncritical of Israel. Perhaps tweets like Prof. Salaita’s, along with images of violence from Gaza and our innate sense of fair play, could wake us from our uncritical slumbers. It certainly provoked ME, and I say “provoked” in the best way – awakened to thinking.

King MVP?

[ 86 ] August 24, 2014 |

There is of course no serious controversy over the Al Cy Young award this year, although since our blog is the home of some commenters who are slightly bigger (although far, far less annoying) White Sox homers than Hawk Harrelson, I guess I have to briefly explain why. (While we’re here, said homers have been repeatedly offended that I called the White Sox team that has been outscored by 70 runs despite a rookie slugging .600 “horrible.” For the record, with the emergence of Abreu I hereby upgrade the White Sox from “horrible” to “very bad.”) The question of whether King Felix or Sale has been better on an inning-by-inning basis is an interesting one; Hernandez has a significantly better xFIP, Sale has a better K rate. But for the Cy Young award that’s not the question. The question is whether you’d rather have (so far) 191 innings of Felix or 136 innings of Sale and 45 innings of the pitching-like stylings of Andre Rienzo. This question is only difficult if you use the same kind of logic that causes you to not see a dime’s worth of difference between Ted Cruz and Barack Obama.

The really interesting question is whether Hernandez has been the most valuable player in the league. I was prepared to scoff at the idea when a commenter brought it up, but in fact it’s a strong case. He’s the leader and fWAR and 3rd in bWAR. Interestingly, neither Fangraphs or Baseball Reference have Trout as the 31 position player; fWAR likes Alex Gordon and bWAR likes Donaldson. Keri does a good job of explaining why, but essentially the best measurements suggest that Trout has been a below-average CF while Gordon and Donaldson are exceptional defensive players. (The Dewan +/- reaches the same conclusion; Gordon and Donaldson have been exceptional, Trout below average.) I’d still be inclined to vote for Trout, clearly the best hitter, because we can’t be as precise about defensive numbers. (If Gordon was the CF and Trout the LF, I might change my mind.) But Gordon could be the best; he’s a fantastic defensive LF on a team winning its division on defense and a solid hitter. On the philosophical question, I might vote against a pitcher in a too-close-to-call case because of the CY Young, but otherwise think they should be fully considered (as the rules require). The “only every fifth day” argument is dumb; value is value.

If I had to vote today, I’d have it:

1. Trout
2. King Felix
3. Gordon
4. Cano
5. Donaldson

But this isn’t a year with a runaway winner like last year; unless someone really pulls away in September, it’s close enough and the defensive metrics aren’t quite precise enough to answer the question definitively. You can make a decent case for several players. (Also, the Mariners have two MVP candidates and another top-10 player, which explains how they’ve compiled the second-best run differential in the league despite playing several players who dream of being replacement level for much of the year.)

Sunday beer thread: 50 states by beer

[ 247 ] August 24, 2014 |

Thrillist ranks the states by beer. A few assorted thoughts:

1) This is a pretty good list, all things considered.

2) I’m not quite enough of a Washington homer to seriously dispute the top 3. (I think CO/WA is a close call, but the case for CO at #3 is pretty solid). I’ve also had enough MI beers at this point to feel at least a little confident that its placement in the top 5 is pretty much indisputable. But I can’t accept MI over WA. It’s just not conceivable. I can see how the mistake would be made–if you compare the top breweries in terms of visibility and distribution, MI might appear to be stronger (Bells and Founders a great deal better than Redhook and Pyramid). And there are some impressive and innovative breweries coming out of Michigan these days, including Jolly Pumpkin and North Coast. But my sampling of smaller regional MI beers, while quite strong, doesn’t stand up to Washington’s offerings. Here, working from memory only so I’m sure I’m forgetting something important and deserving, is a first draft at a no particular order top 10 for Washington: Old Schoolhouse; Black Raven; Maritime Pacific; Reuben’s Brews; Boundary Bay; Two Beers; Airways; Bale Breaker; Big Time; Valholl; Elysian. Of the smaller MI breweries I’ve sampled multiple beers from, only one or two (Kuhnhenn, obviously) would I seriously consider placing on this list. WA beer is much closer in quality to the big three states than a midwest or east coast beer drinker might realize because the other big three export some of their best beers widely; in Washington it’s really only Elysian, among the stronger breweries, that has any notable distributional reach. I suppose I should go be a proper beer tourist in Traverse City, Grand Rapids, and Ann Arbor before I’m express too much certainty here, but I’m not seeing it.

3) I haven’t had enough beer from WI or VT to have a strong opinion here–I’ve had virtually nothing from Wisconsin, as New Glarus is hard to find around Dayton. Vermont beers I’ve actually had haven’t really impressed (and no, I’ve never managed to get my hands on Heady Topper). But by all accounts these are states much like WA, so I’ll withhold judgment.

4) I am very skeptical about PA ahead of NY. And the growth in OH, thanks in part to some minor changes in the law, is really impressive these last few years. The greater Dayton area had zero breweries in 2010, and we’re months away from double digits now. (I’m writing from the tasting room for Warped Wing, the best but by no means the only strong contender of the new Dayton breweries.) Several new Cincinnati Breweries, in particular Rhinegeist, are excellent.  If we’re not ahead of PA today, we probably will be soon.

5) We now have an additional reason to feel sorry for esteemed LGM commenter Anderson.

“With very best wishes. I look forward to seeing you in London! Yours ever Tony Blair.”

[ 24 ] August 24, 2014 |

Jimmy Carter may have been well to the right of the Democratic majority in Congress and tried to create policy from such an untenable position.

Bill Clinton may have signed NAFTA, created Don’t Ask Don’t Tell, and ushered in welfare “reform.”

Barack Obama may not have lived up to the dreams of those naive enough to believe any president could bring in hope and change.

But at least the Democratic Party has never elected someone as antithetical to its core principles as the British Labour Party and Tony Blair, who is a terrible human being.

Tony Blair gave Kazakhstan’s autocratic president advice on how to manage his image after the slaughter of unarmed civilians protesting against his regime.

In a letter to Nursultan Nazarbayev, obtained by The Telegraph, Mr Blair told the Kazakh president that the deaths of 14 protesters “tragic though they were, should not obscure the enormous progress” his country had made.

Mr Blair, who is paid millions of pounds a year to give advice to Mr Nazarbayev, goes on to suggest key passages to insert into a speech the president was giving at the University of Cambridge, to defend the action.

Mr Blair is paid through his private consultancy, Tony Blair Associates (TBA), which he set up after leaving Downing Street in 2007. TBA is understood to deploy a number of consultants in key ministries in Kazakhstan.

Human rights activists accuse Mr Blair of acting “disgracefully” in bolstering Mr Nazarbayev’s credibility on the world stage in return for millions of pounds.

The letter was sent in July 2012, ahead of a speech being given later that month by Mr Nazarbayev at the University of Cambridge.

A few months earlier, on December 16 and 17 2011, at least 14 protesters were shot and killed and another 64 wounded by Kazakhstan’s security services in the oil town of Zhanaozen. Other protesters, mainly striking oil workers, were rounded up and allegedly tortured.

Tony Blair is like the love child of Bill Clinton, George W. Bush, and Lanny Davis. Combine neoliberal economic policies, warmongering, and profiting off of advising dictators and you have quite the individual.


[ 26 ] August 24, 2014 |

I figure there is more than 0 interest in watching Michael Sam sack professional “bro” Johnny Manizel on loop.

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