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Yes, Steven Salaita Was Fired, And No, It’s Not Defensible

[ 396 ] August 9, 2014 |

Via Corey Robin, Inside Higher Ed has an essay by current opponent of academic freedom Cary Nelson giving an extended defense of the firing of Steven Salita, along with a counterpoint from current supporter of academic freedom John K. Wilson.  It’s a close call which one ultimately makes the stronger case against the firing, and that’s not because Wilson fails to do the job.  Let’s start with the most important way in which Nelson and other supporters of the firing are trying to obfuscate the issue:

I should add that this is not an issue of academic freedom. If Salaita were a faculty member here and he were being sanctioned for his public statements, it would be. But a campus and its faculty members have the right to consider whether, for example, a job candidate’s publications, statements to the press, social media presence, public lectures, teaching profile, and so forth suggest he or she will make a positive contribution to the department, student life, and the community as a whole. Here at Illinois, even the department head who would have appointed Salaita agreed in Inside Higher Ed that “any public statement that someone makes is fair game for consideration.” Had Salaita already signed a contract, then of course he would have to have received full due process, including a full hearing, before his prospective offer could be withdrawn. But my understanding is that he had not received a contract.

To be clear, what Nelson is doing here is trying to bullsh…wait, I don’t want to put my academic career at risk by using bad words on a widely read public forum, so let’s say “sell a bill of goods” to people who don’t understand how the academic hiring process works, and “insult the intelligence” of those that do. I’ll turn things over to Wilson here:

One thing should be clear: Salaita was fired. I’ve been turned down for jobs before, and it never included receiving a job offer, accepting that offer, moving halfway across the country, and being scheduled to teach classes.

The remaining administrative approval necessary for Salaita to be hired was pro forma. He didn’t resign his position and move because he was a crazy risk-taker but because he had every rational reason to believe the job was his. Whether he had signed all the paperwork might be relevant to his legal remedies, but from that standpoint of norms and ethics the job was his, and if you believe in the principles of academic freedom they clearly apply in this case.

In addition, as Wilson effectively points out even if one assumes for the sake of argument that the strong protections of academic freedom shouldn’t apply here, this is still a terrible argument, an Ivan Tribble argument. People don’t have due process protections when they’re turned down for a job, but this still doesn’t mean that “does the candidate disagree with Cary Nelson about Israeli policy too stridently?” is a criterion that any responsible hiring committee should be taking into account. The “I would choose to have him as a colleague” line gives away the show here — this is supposed to be a professional process, not a consideration of who you’d like to be sharing cognac with at the 19th hole of the country club.

Most of Nelson’s bill of particulars consists of selected tweets. While they sometimes express ideas I don’t agree with in language I would be disinclined to use, can’t possibly be firing offenses. To add to this, he asks whether “Jewish students in his classes [will] feel comfortable” with his Tweets. At least here we’re talking about something (teaching) that is relevant to whether someone should be fired, as opposed to something that isn’t (whether someone disagrees with Cary Nelson’s political views too vehemently.) But leaving aside his obviously erroneous assumption that no Jewish student could agree with the substance of Salaita’s views, this is again a remarkably poor argument. First of all, as many people have pointed out, this proves too much; it’s just an argument that no faculty member should ever express a view on a controversial topic. And, second, it’s not as if this was Salaita’s first job out of a British PhD program; if he had any record of treating students who disagree with him about Israeli policy unfairly this would, presumably, come out in the evaluation of his teaching. If it didn’t, it’s not relevant.

As part of the LGM community we needn’t dwell on the fallacies of arguing that a retweet constituted an “incitement to violence”; let’s leave the War On Metaphor with Michelle Malkin’s lickspittles, please. Grasping at another straw Nelson asserts that Salaita’s “discourse crosses the line into anti-Semitism.” If there was evidence that Salatia was an anti-Semite, this might justify an exception to the principle of academic freedom. But the case for this hinges almost entirely on this one tweet:

Zionists: transforming ‘anti-Semitism’ from something horrible into something honorable since 1948.

Conveniently, Nelson provides the context of a previous tweet that makes it clear what Salatia was trying to argue here: “By eagerly conflating Jewishness and Israel, Zionists are partly responsible when people say anti-Semitic shit in response to Israeli terror.” Now, I don’t actually agree with this argument, and I think we can reaffirm that Twitter is a poor medium for making too-clever-by-half points with potentially inflammatory terminology. But as evidence of anti-Semitism, this is nothing, unless you think Nathan Glazer is an anti-Semite.

And, finally, the punchline:

I also do not believe this was a political decision.

Clearly, when I gave the Bush v. Gore Award For Outstanding Achievement in the Field of Bad Faith to another candidate earlier in the week, I acted prematurely. If you’re trying to sell this argument, it’s probably best that your column not focus mostly on how you disagree with the person’s political views.

I’ll leave the final word to Berube:

Nothing in Professor Salaita’s Twitter feed suggests a violation of professional ethics or disciplinary incompetence. The University of Illinois is therefore clearly in violation of a fundamental principle of academic freedom with regard to extramural speech; moreover, your decision effectively overrides legitimate faculty decisionmaking and peer review in a way that is inconsistent with AAUP guidelines regarding governance. Those faculty members who engaged in the process of peer review for Professor Salaita cannot be said to have been unaware that he has strong opinions on the Israel-Palestine conflict– as do many millions of people. To overturn faculty peer review on the basis of a Twitter feed, therefore, is to take a page straight from the Kansas playbook.

UPDATE: Nelson’s argument was not only sloppy and tendentious but in one instance relied on a falsehood. Nelson’s assertion that Salaita “had not received a contract” is demonstrably erroneous.

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The World’s Most Boring Con Artist

[ 20 ] August 9, 2014 |

Jeff Jarvis, forgotten but apparently not gone.

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It Was 40 Years Ago Today

[ 75 ] August 9, 2014 |

A crook resigned.

Jonathan Bernstein has a good Watergate primer.   Jeff Shesol didn’t get the memo explaining that Nixon was the most progressive major political official between FDR and Rand Paul.

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Confederate Freedom

[ 34 ] August 9, 2014 |

Color me shocked that a “nation” based on denying people freedom as its fundamental reason to exist would move to limit the freedoms of all its citizens.

But even as white Southerners grew used to applying for passports and presenting them when asked, the symbolic meaning of the domestic passport system was hard to ignore. Passes for travel had been an essential and unmistakable feature of Southern slavery since anyone could remember. All over the South, enslaved men and women were required to carry a written pass from their owners whenever they went outside the confines of their places of bondage. Those caught moving about without a travel document were brutally punished, either by their owner or by the South’s notorious slave patrols, armed units of white men who roamed the region’s roads, woods and swamps in search of itinerant slaves.

The problem with the wartime passport system was that it resembled the parallel method for governing slaves not only in theory, but also in practice. The documents required for white travel bore an uncanny similarity to those carried by blacks: Some merely noted the person’s name, destination and dates of permitted travel, but others also noted the height, hair color, eye color, complexion and scars of the traveler.

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Foreign Entanglements: Next Steps in Gaza

[ 0 ] August 8, 2014 |

On this week’s episode of Foreign Entanglements, Matt speaks with Amir Tibon about Gaza:

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Friday Creature Feature: Frogs

[ 66 ] August 8, 2014 |

Here’s a fun little story: I was recently at the Little Rock Zoo with my family. We left the gift shop with a bunch of brightly-colored plastic frogs. Back at the hotel, my son asked me to “look them up.” I kept telling him, “Honey, they’re not real frogs. They’re just brightly painted frogs. Frogs don’t really look like that.” After being asked several times to “look them up,” I typed “yellow frog with blue legs” into my search bar. To my surprise, I immediately got results that matched PERFECTLY several of the frogs in my son’s new collection. It turns out that most of our new plastic pals were Poison Dart Frogs. And they come in just about every color of the rainbow.




And then there’s this guy.

I’m speechless.



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Love It Or Leav…Well, You May Not Live Here, But You Can See What I’m Driving At

[ 27 ] August 8, 2014 |

Shorter Shmuel Rosner: I’m not saying that liberal Zionists should refrain from criticizing the military and foreign policies of the Israeli government.  I’m just saying that liberal Zionists should unconditionally support the military and foreign policies of the Israeli government, or they will lose their non-existent influence over Israeli policy.

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This may be the greatest conversation I’ve ever had

[ 70 ] August 8, 2014 |

SEK went to the supermarket to pick up tuna fish for his elderly cat who now only eats food that also contains tuna. As tuna is on sale, he purchases twenty cans of it and is on the checkout line in front of POLITE DRUNK MAN.

POLITE DRUNK MAN: You don’t eat all them cans, now?

SEK: Wasn’t planning on it.

POLITE DRUNK MAN: TV say they full of Menicillin.

SEK: Mercury?

POLITE DRUNK MAN: Menicillin, bad for the children, real bad.

SEK: I promise not to share it with any kids.

POLITE DRUNK MAN: Menicillin’s terrible, make ‘em have miscarriages.

SEK: The kids?

POLITE DRUNK MAN: Ain’t even get a chance to be kids, they born miscarried, or with arms.

SEK: I’ll keep that in mind.

POLITE DRUNK MAN: Dead babies with arms, that’s what Menicillin do. Best watch out.

SEK: I will, promise.

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Today in Racism

[ 223 ] August 8, 2014 |

A post-racial society indeed:

Crain’s reports on SketchFactor, a racist app made for avoiding “sketchy” neighborhoods, which is the term young white people use to describe places where they don’t feel safe because they watched all five seasons of The Wire:

SketchFactor, the brainchild of co-founders Allison McGuire and Daniel Herrington, is a Manhattan-based navigation app that crowdsources user experiences along with publicly available data to rate the relative “sketchiness” of certain areas in major cities. The app will launch on the iTunes on Friday, capping off a big week for the startup, which was named as a finalist in the NYC BigApps competition.

According to Ms. McGuire, a Los Angeles native who lives in the West Village, the impetus behind SketchFactor was her experience as a young woman navigating the streets of Washington, D.C., where she worked at a nonprofit.

But hey, they aren’t racists. Because they say so.

With firsthand experience living in Washington, D.C., where white terror is as ubiquitous as tucked-in polo shirts, grinning caucasians Allison McGuire and Daniel Herrington should be unstoppable in the field of smartphone race-baiting—they’re already finalists in a $20,000 startup contest! But don’t worry: they’re not racist. It says so right on their blog, which asks people to share “sketchy” stories about strangers they spot:

Who we’re not: racists, bigots, sexists. Any discriminatory posts will be deleted.

Oh, well in that case. The app launches tomorrow, so it’s probably safest to just stay indoors until then.

I can’t even express how much this drives me nuts. In 2014, it is evidently OK to say the most racist thing imaginable and then get away with it because you say you aren’t racist. People–no one gets to decide whether or not they are racist or sexist or really much of anything. I know we fetishize individual consumerism and personal branding, but it is actually the community at large who gets to decide–and yes, judge–you. You can think about yourself however you want but that doesn’t mean it is very close to reality.

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More on the Alaska In God We Trust Law School and the not always reliable internet

[ 29 ] August 8, 2014 |

Here at LGM we had a lively debate a couple of weeks ago regarding whether the Alaska In God We Trust Law School was

(1) A purely fictional entity birthed by a parody web site, created for purely comedic purposes; or

(2) A “real” if evidently delusional enterprise of some sort.

The second possibility raised the further issue of whether the enterprise was (is?) a self-conscious scam, or a sincere attempt to provide Alaskans with the option of a domestic legal education.

State authorities have been investigating the same questions:

Alaska’s first in-state law school will open March 2015, according to the not-always-reliable Internet.

But ask an array of state agencies and one of the institution’s alleged staff members about the “Alaska Law School, In God We Trust” and the reality of what’s promised on grows less certain. . .

Despite its flaws, the website does intricately explain the law school’s staffing, tuition rates and academic offerings, from a Juris Doctor program that costs $43,000 a year for in-state students to certificates in criminal justice and public safety that cost about $1,500 a year. The website says the school will kick off what it’s calling the “Michaelmas Term” on March 3. It has already handed itself the honor of “the first law school in the history of our great state,” according to the website.

Daun DeVore is listed online as the founder and dean of the Alaska Law School, which also features photographs of a brown-haired woman, identified in captions as DeVore, posing with dignitaries including former Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor and members of India’s parliament. DeVore is also named as the person who registered the website through the domain name registrar GoDaddy.

DeVore proved difficult to get in touch with; she did not return numerous phone calls and emails from Alaska Dispatch News over the course of a week. She left a voicemail for a reporter Monday expressing interest in talking about the Alaska Law School.

“I hope that you can catch me before I start traveling,” DeVore said. She could not be reached again as of Wednesday evening.

DeVore returned a phone call to the state commission Friday. She was told to remove wording on the school’s website by Wednesday at 5 p.m. that implied it was enrolling students or delivering education. She didn’t meet the deadline, Rieselbach said.

Phone calls to the law school’s direct line went to a voicemail that says, “You have reached 20Lawguide — L-A-W-G-U-I-D-E — the main number for the Alaska Law School. For quality education, come to the Alaska Law School. That’s Have a blessed day.”

Two people highlighted online as Alaska Law School staff members provided conflicting stories about the validity of the school.

Marygold Melli, a professor emerita at University of Wisconsin Law School, sits on the Alaska Law School’s Board of Overseers, according to the website. The Alaska and Wisconsin websites both feature the same portrait of Melli wearing wire-rimmed glasses and a gray sweater.

When asked about her position in Alaska, Melli said by phone last week from her home in Madison, Wisconsin, “That’s news to me.”

“I have nothing to do with an Alaskan law school,” she said. “I don’t know anything about it. That’s the most accurate thing I could say.”

The Alaska Law School website also posted an announcement naming Richard Field the editor-in-chief of its Alaska Law Journal. It said he was “previous Chair of the Science and Technology Section” at the American Bar Association and the current editor-in-chief of The International Lawyer, an ABA legal journal.

From his home in Cliffside Park, New Jersey, Field said in a phone interview that he knows DeVore. He is actually a former chair of the section of science and technology law and the editor-in-chief of International Law News, an ABA magazine, he said. The ABA confirmed his position there.

“It isn’t a scam,” Field said about the school. “A woman named Daun DeVore has been working for some time trying to figure out how to set up a school. I haven’t been in touch with her for a little while, but I had in the past. I was helping where I could.”

Field said he met DeVore through ABA. He didn’t remember the last time he spoke with her, but said it was within the year. He said he didn’t know about the law school website and “is not active with it at this point.”

“It’s a big undertaking, but she’s trying to make a difference, a positive difference,” Field said. “It seems to me it’s sort of a superhuman job to start a university almost single-handed, but she’s a very bright woman.”

The Alaska Law School identifies itself on its website as a 501(c)(3) nonprofit educational corporation, though it does not appear on the International Revenue Service’s list of organizations eligible to receive tax-deductible charitable contributions. . .

The Alaska Law School website says that Randy Courrier, the chair of the “American Bar Association Law School Accreditation Committee,” met with DeVore in 2013 and provisional accreditation for the school should begin by 2015.

A spokesman with ABA confirmed DeVore had informally met with a man named Barry Currier, managing director of legal education and accreditation at ABA, and the two had a short conversation.

The Alaska Law School has not begun the accreditation process through ABA, and it cannot apply for accreditation until it has conducted classes for at least a year, said a note from the Alaska Bar Association posted on its homepage last week.

Even though the law school hasn’t opened, it already has plans laid out for the future. The website says the school will operate in an Anchorage building off of the Delaney Park Strip while working to obtain space large enough to fit two ships — an anonymous donation — in the landlocked city of Fairbanks.

The website implies law school classes and seminars will be conducted inside these ships, though it’s not completely clear.

The law school plans to create The Alaska Law School World Law Library, “a global law library of Alexandrian proportions, comprised of hard copy law books, many in their original languages world wide,” the website says.

It will also host “a talent show and Reindeer Award (much better than an Oscar)” to honor distinguished lawyers and judges with the invitation extending to the entire Alaska legal community, according to the website.

“On one hand, the absurdity of the information is helpful, I think, because it doesn’t appear that it seems legitimate,” said Barrans, executive director of the state postsecondary education commission.

Barrans didn’t specify what the other hand was in this particular metaphor.

Attempts by LGM to reach DeVore for comment have been unsuccessful. We will continue to follow this story as it develops.

(h/t ichininosan)


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A Question To End All “The Country is Going Libertarian!!!!!!” Trend Pieces

[ 79 ] August 8, 2014 |

It’s as inevitable as the tides and the asinine NYT Styles trend piece: the thumbsucker arguing that Everything Is Coming Up Libertarian. Edroso brings the yuks and the historical perspective while noting the lack of actual content, while Chait brings the data.

When I am made the Czar of All of the Media, the enterprising journalist who wants to repackage and resell this particular loaf of stale Wonder Bread will have to come up with an answer to the following question. Before proceeding, please name:

  • A major federal social program not passed during the Obama administration (note: this qualification expires in roughly 2030)
  • That significantly benefits middle-class Americans
  • That even a majority of Republicans opposes

When you can identify a single program that meets these criteria, we can talk about your pitch.  Until then, try to actually write about a social phenomenon that is non-imaginary.

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Income Inequality

[ 22 ] August 8, 2014 |

Standard and Poor’s says that American income inequality is impeding the nation’s economic recovery.

Rising levels of income inequality in the U.S. is a drag on economic growth, and was a factor that contributed to S&P lowering its growth rating over the next decade from 2.5% to 2.8%, the report said. Income inequality leads to extreme economic swings, an uncompetitive workforce, and discourages investment and hiring, per S&P.

The U.S. Gini coefficient, a widely-used measure of income inequality, rose by 20% from 1979 to 2010. The non-partisan Congressional Budget Office showed that after-tax average income ballooned 15.1% fro the top 1% of earners, but grew by less than 1% for the bottom 90% of earners.

The S&P said in its report that government policies on taxation and government wealth transfers, including Social Security and Medicare, have not significantly reduced income inequality. Many government programs aren’t limited to assisting lower-incoming households and extend to wealthier groups more than they did at their inception, according to the report. The bottom 20% of households received only 36% of transfer payments in 2010, but received 54% in 1979, according to S&P.

The S&P recommended greater education levels as a key means to improve productivity, saying that if the American workforce completed just one more year of school over the next five years, productivity gains could add over $500 billion, or 2.4% to the level of GDP relative to the baseline.

But if you a member of the 1%, who cares. What incentive do you have about to do something positive the state of the nation or widespread unemployment? Isn’t income inequality good news for you? The more desperate the poor are, the more you can recreate your late 19th century fantasy of exploitation in the early 21st century. Sure, having American workers stay in school another year is fine, especially if they fork over their hard earned cash to for-profit schools that do nothing to educate them, but ultimately, it doesn’t matter much to the extreme rich.

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