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« Bush's Exit Strategy: Goodman and Good Sense #6 | Main | Among Nudes And Burqas »

September 17, 2007


I can't say I know offhand the split at law schools, but a search or two at DocuTicker reveals interesting recent studies about academia in general. I'm sure there's a study out there, but I don't have a moment to locate it.

Another case of reactionary lunacy recently culminated at Yale, where in June anthropologist and anarchist David Graeber lost his position for reasons never to be revealed. A telling correspondence in the pages of the Wall Street Journal, as reported here at Alternative Press Review, catches the tenor of mainstream media's sourpuss sarcasm and Graeber's "Up yours!" retort.

Suspecting a teacher of political bias is as pernicious as suspecting him / her of religious and cultural bias in the classroom. Not that it cannot happen; just that it happens rarely.

I was pleased to note that David Graeber has found gainful employment in the academia although he had to cross the pond to find it. BTW, Yale University's record on the treatment of unionized workers is deplorable - worse than most other Ivy schools. They can get away with it because New Haven is a blighted place - Yale is the only business in town. The glaring disparity (and exploitation) between "Town and Gown" is assiduously ignored.

Ruchira, I'm not a fan of David Horowitz either, but he is occasionally right about something. I think that it is misleading to say, as you have, that "a majority" of academics in liberal arts disciplines "tend to be" democrats. Margins of nine to one are not uncommon, and ten to zero is not un-heard-of. Unless you go into academic backwaters like business schools, it is a one-party world, like Mexico, the Soviet Union, or Alabama used to be. See Kevin Klein's report here. On the other hand, you are quite right about the more urgent issue: since 2001, universities have moved from picking on racially insensitive faculty to picking on ones who are soft on terrorists. I am very sorry to say that the academic conservatives who bravely defended the former sort of victims have done little or nothing to defend the latter. As Nat Hentoff put it long ago, it's a matter of "free speech for me but not for thee."

As an outsider looking in, I do not know the breakdown in terms of percentages. I will look to see if I find some hard data. I have no doubt that liberalism (not "soft on terrorism") dominates the academia, perhaps even by 9 to 1 or 10 to 0 in some places, as you state. While I too am impatient with much of the post-modernist and ultra fuzzy thinking on the left, my point really is the extent of the harm the two different sides have wrought on each others dignity, career options and right to free speech.

The zeitgeist of a society is always determined by its leadership. Since the Reagan years we have had three conservative presidents with Clinton being the "middle of roader" in between. So conservatism is not a new thought in America although the academia has remained consistently liberal. Despite this tension we did not witness the kind of thuggery that is taking place now. The political culture that the Bush administration has brought with it is one of fear and intimidation. Had it not been so thoroughly incompetent, we would have slipped unobtrusively into near-fascism by now. I doubt that what happened initially with Professor Chemerinsky (hardly a strident voice like Ward Churchill) or is happening to the JPL scientists can be explained away in benign terms. In fact if anyone has been "soft" on terrorists, it is the dynamic duo of Bush-Cheney who didn't have the stomach or the required attention span to fight the right (and difficult) war in the mountains and caves of Afghanistan. Instead they went for a sitting duck in Iraq which now turns out to be a bird of a different feather altogether than the simplistic minds of the neo-cons envisioned. Just as some of us had suspected, it had little to do with protecting us from terrorism. Did it have anything to do with oil and some other agenda? You bet. Even Ayn Randian Greenspan thinks so. So, after it has been thoroughly exposed as the fraud that it is, why is it still a crime to criticize the Bush administration? In the academia or elsewhere? Shouldn't it be the neo-cons who ought to be rounded up now and punished for causing so much harm?

Yet, inexplicably, the residual effects of the rule of fear I mentioned persists. See the video of a recent event here and the full story here. I don't remember this kind of incidents occuring with sickening regularity under any other administration, conservative or liberal.

Ruchira, I should have put "soft on terrorists" and "racially insensitive" in scare quotes. I didn't mean to suggest that the new victims are genuinely soft on terrorism any more than that the others were really racists. ... Anyway, your theory seems to be that the current wave of oppressions are directed at leftists qua leftists and that the explanation is that the President is somehow behind it all. Actually, I think there is some truth to this. Note that the first wave of violations of academic freedom, the ones that were directed against alleged racists, occurred during the painfully PC Clinton administration. You can find them chronicled in books like Bernstein's The Dictatorship of Virtue or Rauch's Kindly Inquisitors. But your theory can't be the whole story. First, if you will pardon the laughable understatement, Dubya has little influence over academics today. Second, the victims couldn't be selected just for being leftists, because the left isn't going to beat up on itself. Third, if you look at who the new victims are, they all seem to have some connection with the war on terror. Either they are anti-Zionist, or 9/11 denialists, or Islamists, or they have some other obvious connection with this issue -- with being on the "wrong" side of it that is (note scare quotes to indicate irony!).

Lester: I didn't mean that the persecution is targeting "leftists qua leftists." I mean exactly those you point to - people on the "wrong" side of our current foreign and domestic policies. As for 9/11 denialists I can only think of Ward Churchill who might qualify. What the others are criticizing is the "way" we have gone about national security after 9/11. I am a liberal but I am not a knee-jerk pacifist. My anger after 9/11 was enormous. I grew up in India. So I naturally pay much more attention to news pertaining to India than the average American. I was much more acutely aware of the perpetrators of this atrocity because the same guys had been stirring the pot on Pakistan-India border ever since the USSR withdrew from Afghanistan. In fact in December 1999 when an Indian Airlines plane was hijacked to Kandahar by the Talibs, I wrote a letter to the editor of the Houston Chronicle (it was published) warning that what had happened in the faraway Indian subcontinent, might happen here in the future! But of course at that time, UNOCAL was busy negotiating a pipeline deal with the same thugs. You can google my blog for the words "terrorism" "Pakistan," "Afghanistan" and see what I have said in this regard. I was ready to give this administration the benefit of the doubt after 9/11, but then see what happened. My anger with Bush-Cheney-Rumsfeld is not just because they waged the illegitimate war in Iraq. It is because they did not wage the legitimate one when the whole world was behind us.

No, Bush is not personally behind the persecution of dissenting minds. But he has made possible a culture (starting with the Dixie Chicks, arresting people at Bush rallies for wearing the wrong T-shirt) where those wielding power in the academia and law enforcement now think that the way to fight "offending" speech is to deny tenure, rescind appointments and taser the speaker.

Here is a comprehensive breakdown of faculties by political leaning. I was wrong in assuming that the sciences are more liberal than the humanities.

"As for 9/11 denialists I can only think of Ward Churchill who might qualify. What the others are criticizing is the 'way' we have gone about national security after 9/11." We had such a case right here at the UW. You can see my posts about it here. A Republican legislator heard a university lecturer espousing 9/11 conspiracism on talk radio and he launched a campaign to get him fired. He nearly succeeded! You are right, though, that the new thoughtcrime is dissenting from this insane war. But 9/11 conspiracism is just the most extreme form of that, so naturally it would have to be included in the new wave of repressions as well.

Ruchira: Is Ward Churchill a "9/11 denialist" (i.e., 9/11 was an inside job)? Can you point to a source (I've considered doing a post on him and this is new info for me)?

Without bothering to go find numbers... I really doubt that the split among law faculty leans heavily in either direction. It used to be liberal, sure, but I have a hard time believing this is still really the case -- at least in the major doctrinal areas.

Namit: I may have been loose in my usage of the word. I don't know that Churcill is a "denialist." He is more of a "justifier" I would think - something to the effect that America got what it deserved. Susan Sontag said the same thing days afterwards. You can find a lot of details of the Churchill case at Leiter Reports (link on my blog roll).

My main point in this post was however a bit different from what seems to have emerged in the discussion. I wasn't really debating which, if any of the cases crossed the accepted norm of free speech and amounted to crying "fire" in a crowded theater and therefore may have "deserved" the wrath of patriots (most didn't). What confounds me is that this high handedness is still going on AFTER we know so much about this failed and discredited administration. Who are these people in the universities and in law enforcement who feel the need to still kow-tow to the reactionary right wing's perception of a threat to national security or unacceptable public speech?

In the Chemerinsky case one Republican blow hard compared his appointment as the law school dean at Irvine to putting the Al Qaida in charge of Homeland Security. Why are senior and capable scientists at JPL being asked to expose all intimate details of their private lives to government scrutiny? Why was Sally Field censored by Fox news during the Emmy awards? Was it because she used a profanity or because she criticized the war? Apparently there is a White House official directive about what to do with critics of the president at public rallies. I can't find the link but this should do.

And the latest incident with the young man who was tasered in Florida? I heard nothing threatening in his questions except that he is no fan of Bush. (I hope he and his parents can get a competent lawyer who can take the police department to the cleaners. I wonder if they can link up the police behavior with the White House directive.) Why didn't John Kerry to whom the questions were directed, intervene? Is the fascist creep up complete? Have we as a nation internalized this mindset in the last six and a half years of Bush? Are we now automatically doing things even when we know they are wrong? And will the next president (Democrat or Republican) find it convenient to retain some of these "national security" policies in order to strengthen his/her own executive powers? Have we slipped far down the slippery slope and find it difficult to clamber back to sanity and decency?

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