Thursday, April 7, 2005

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The New York Times and academic politics

The New York Times editorial page is lousy with academic politics today. First, the've published six letters in response to Paul Krugman's Tuesday column (see my take here).

Tom Elia take issue with one of the letters -- for me, however, this one was the most amusing of the lot:

To the Editor:

As a (left-leaning) college history professor, I am bemused by accusations that I am trying to indoctrinate my students with my progressive ideals. If I had that kind of influence, all my students would do the reading every week, proofread their papers meticulously and attend every class. (They don't.)

Samuel S. Thomas
Springfield, Ohio, April 5, 2005


Meanwhile, the lead Times editorial discusses the fracas at Columbia's Middle Eastern Studies program -- in which students have claimed to be intellectual intimidated by pro-Palestinian faculty members and faculty have received hate mail and death threats. The editorial trashes the selection of the faculty committee tasked to write a report and the overall clumsiness with which the university handled the affair (i.e., refusing to do anything until a documentary film brought the issue into the public eye).

What I really found peculiar, however, was the closing paragraph of the editorial:

[I]n the end, the report is deeply unsatisfactory because the panel's mandate was so limited. Most student complaints were not really about intimidation, but about allegations of stridently pro-Palestinian, anti-Israeli bias on the part of several professors. The panel had no mandate to examine the quality and fairness of teaching. That leaves the university to follow up on complaints about politicized courses and a lack of scholarly rigor as part of its effort to upgrade the department. One can only hope that Columbia will proceed with more determination and care than it has heretofore.

Replace "pro-Palestinian, anti-Israeli bias" with "pro-liberal, anti-conservative bias" -- is there any difference between the NYT's complaints about substantive bias in Columbia's Middle Eastern Studies program and conservatives' complaints about substantive bias in the humanities and social sciences?

[But just because academics are liberal doesn't mean they proselytize in their classes--ed. This is true, and it should be stressed that I think professors using their lectern as a bully pulpit is the exception as opposed to the rule. However, as a category of concern, the Times objection in this paragraph and the conservative complaint are awfully similar. However, as the letter quoted above suggests, how much difference any of this makes in the end is subject to debate.]

UPDATE: Juan Cole is too smart to make the following bullshit allegation:

Personally, I think that the master narrative of Zionist historiography is dominant in the American academy. Mostly this sort of thing is taught by International Relations specialists in political science departments, and a lot of them are Zionists, whether Christian or Jewish. Usually the narrative blames the Palestinians for their having been kicked off their own land, and then blames them again for not going quietly. It is not a balanced point of view, and if we take the NYT seriously... then the IR professors should be made to teach a module on the Palestinian point of view, as well. That is seldom done.

This sort of argument makes me wonder if Cole has ever actually sat in on an international relations course. It is possible that someone at some college teaches the Middle East as "Zionist historiography" but most IR scholars are way too professionalized to ascribe such a normative judgment to any nationality. It sure as hell ain't "dominant in the American academy." In fact, I'll dare Cole to find a single syllabus at the American Political Science Association archive or elsewhere with a "Zionist" bent.

ANOTHER UPDATE: Cole responds here, saying:

Drezner has misunderstood my point. I don't give a rat's ass whether those courses have a Zionist bent or not. I am saying that "bent" is not a relevant category of analysis when evaluating university teaching. Everybody has some bent. The question is, whether students come out of the class having learned to reason about a set of problems or not. The content is not as important, since they'll forget a lot of the content anyway, and will receive it selectively, both during and after the class. But if you teach them to take things apart and see how they work, to think about social and political causation, to see how things work together, in a particular field, then they can produce their own knowledge and understanding about it thereafter. They can also question their own and the professor's premises because they will have learned about hidden premises and how to bring them out in the open and interrogate them.

I certainly do not disagree with Cole's point about teaching students critical and analytical skills -- but his first posting (excerpted above) on this topic was entirely a discussion about content and not method. Furthermore, Cole has misunderstood my rebuttal. When I say that, "most IR scholars are way too professionalized," what I mean is that my fellow IR profs rarely, if ever, offer only one master narrative of any event. Instead, they tend to discuss how an event or case can be explained by different theories of international relations, and how for almost every theory, there are inconvenient facts that problematize that model. This doesn't leave much room for the "Israelis good, Palestinians evil" mode of teaching (and, again, let me stress that this is in international relations classes, which were the target of Cole's lament; I can't speak to how these questions are taught in comparative politics or history classes).

See Henry Farrell for a similar take. His punchline:

This doesn’t at all gel with my experience of how international relations is taught or practiced, which is that IR courses which cover Middle East politics usually provide readings that cover both sides of the argument....

I suspect that Cole’s claims reflect his lack of experience with IR as it is actually practiced in the academy. Certainly he needs to provide some evidence if he wants to make the rather strong claims that he is making stick. Otherwise, he’s doing what the people who he’s (in my opinion correctly) criticizing are doing – condemning an entire discipline wholesale on the basis of a rather shaky set of claims as to what the people in that discipline are “really” doing in the classroom.

posted by Dan on 04.07.05 at 10:24 AM


As someone who has watched the MEALAC (The department in question) debacle unfold, it has shocked me just how overblown the whole thing has become. As far as I can tell, there has been only one serious accusation, and this accusation was addressed in the report. For all the hoopla about intimidation of pro-Israeli students, these students did not even bother to file standard grievance reports -- they did not even try.

Last semester I took a Macroeconomics class in which the professor, while claiming he would try to keep it a secret whether he was a Neoclassical or Keynesian, took potshots whenever he could at any sort of Keynesian theory. He left the discussion of the Fed having any control over interest rates until the second or third to last class of the semester. While he put an IS curve on a homework and on the final, the only time he mentioned IS curves in class was with a quote that went something like this: "Oh! The Keynesians, they say, 'Look at our IS and LM curves'! But you cannot grow an economy by printing money!" Well, yes, in the long run... but didn't we deserve some kind of explanation for both sides?

Professors are indoctrinating students all over the place. Why pro-Palestinian, anti-Israeli professors are more harmful than Neoclassical, anti-Keynesian ones, I'm not sure. In fact, I'd say that this professor was far more harmful than the one implicated in the report. The main difference, though, is that none last semester's Macro students had a fanatical attachment to Keynesianism.

(On a side note, as someone who is probably slightly more pro-Israeli than average on this campus, I have never felt like pro-Palestinian students were trying to intimidate me. It is far too easy to embellish intellectual arguments into "attempts to silence" as I'm afraid these people have done.)

posted by: Adam Sacarny on 04.07.05 at 10:24 AM [permalink]

The fracas at Columbia points out the oddity of "departments" such as the Middle East department at the center of the storm. It would be better called the Department of Palestinian Grievances, not because there aren't many interesting historical, religious, and other issues worthy of academic study in the Middle East, but only because that is how this "department" functioned. Whatever scholarship may have been generated by the "department" ended up getting swamped by the grievance politics that animated the place, and that for many of the professors (at least the ones profiled in this brouhaha) was the point. Given that reality, nothing about the fracas is surprising -- of course a "department" that is devoted to special pleading for Palestinian grievances (real or fabricated) has a distinctly anti-Israel tone to it. And, for another news flash, the sun still rises in the east.

I suspect that much the same could be said about many of the special "ethnic studies" departments that sprang up since the 1960s (there were almost none anywhere when I was at university). Indeed, wasn't that really what was behind the Larry Summers - Cornel West dust-up at Harvard -- the sense that West's spending his time making rap recordings and publishing a lot of fluff may have advanced some kind of "feel good" or political/commercial agenda but had nothing to do with the real work of scholarship that is the raison d'etre of a research university?

Having graduated from university and law school more than 30 years ago, I cannot be sure that these comments accurately reflect the reality at Columbia (or Harvard), but that is certainly what comes through to me (albeit more often as subtext) in the commentary, media reports and the Columbia report. I do think it fair to say that those looking at the academic hothouse from the outside (other than committed lefties) assume the worst about the relationship between "ethnic studies" departments and agenda-driven politics, and would not lightly presume that serious work goes on in such places.

posted by: Richard on 04.07.05 at 10:24 AM [permalink]

I'm reminded of a provocative email that Jim Geraghty of National Review posted on his blog back in February. It was written by a very bright fellow named "DM", and here's what he said:

"Am I the only conservative [sic] alarmed at the growing pressure on universities to essentially surrender the fort as the last bastion of radical leftism? I mean, the hard left has had a pretty good racket going for the last few generations: dream up some scholarship that no one (except for other leftists) have any interest in, impress other leftist faculty with leftist collegiality, get tenure, and spend a lifetime generating scholarship of decreasing marginal utility while bickering with other leftists about office sizes and pay raises. To be sure, forcing the left to give up its monopoly on the academy will clear the way for more conservatives to get these cushy jobs — and the social benefits of an academy consisting of a diverse faculty who actually debate ideas may be quite high. But at what cost? Consider this: What would Ward Churchill be doing if he didn't have his day job? Do you think he'll become an accountant or a K Street lobbyist? No. If this guy gets booted, he'll earn a quasi-income at best, have a whole lot of free time, and be even more pissed off than he is now. Rather than making speeches to like-minded audiences that no one else will hear, he might just decide to make a bomb or two.

"Here's my point: By ceding the academy to the left, we've actually given the hardcore leftwingers a stake in the system. The Weathermen and Black Panthers and American Indian Movement kids of the 1960s and 1970s — you know, the ones who shot at federal agents and blew up munitions plants — are now lounging around in their tweeds, blissfully debating the finer points of Noam Chomsky and, thank goodness, staying out of the way of the rest of us. And, so long as these guys control hiring and tenure, the next generation of the radical left has an incentive to stay in school and generate leftwing scholarship that the rest of us won't read — and they won't be spending all their time smashing in Starbucks windows in downtown Seattle.

"Until the 1970s, the radical left was essentially shut out of every significant American institution. This ultimately came at quite a cost to social order: violent communist agistation and labor violence 100 years ago, racial and anti-war violence 50 years ago. By bringing parts of these elements onto the campuses, we've spared ourselves serious leftwing violence since the 1970s. If Gingrich gets his way and Ward Churchill and his ilk are kicked to the streets, what will the next 25 years look like?"

If I do say so, this seems right to me. And the same can be said, of course, for the anti-Israel partisans on the Columbia faculty. Better to have 'em ensconced in Morningside Heights where no one pays attention to them than, say, in D.C. or Tel Aviv or East Jerusalem.

posted by: D.J. on 04.07.05 at 10:24 AM [permalink]

Not to flog this dead horse too much further, but the issue of professors at some universities being way more liberal than the norm outside the ivory tower is not a new one. Back in the 1950s several people advised Joe McCarthy that he'd be much better off chasing Communists in the universites than trying to dig them up in the Army. He ignored this counsel, and paid the price for it.

My own experience in undergrad, more than a generation ago, was pretty similar to what people are complaining about today. Almost all my history and government professors were declared liberals, except for a couple of Marxists and a couple others who steadfastly refused to discuss politics at all. I found this discouraging, not intimidating; like a foreign service officer assigned to learn Dutch before being posted to Argentina, I suspected that my time was being wasted -- not by exposure to professors whose politics would mark them as misfits outside of the university, but by the limited exposure to any other kind. Given what I was borrowing at the time to pay for college, the level of discouragement was pretty significant.

That's one issue. Intimidation is another. On that one my view is that students who feel intimidated by a proselytizing professor need to suck it up and stop being such wimps. This goes especially for conservatives -- wimps and victims fit rather comfortably within the Democratic Party -- but anyone regardless of his or her politics is best off understanding that disagreement with or even criticism from a guy with a few academic credentials after his name does not mean your arms will fall off or the earth halt its orbit around the sun.

I believe in ideological diversity on college faculty to keep the academy relevant to the larger society, not so that students with no backbone can retreat to classes with professors who will never challenge them and bruise their tender psyches.

posted by: Zathras on 04.07.05 at 10:24 AM [permalink]

Well put, Zathras. Not to call this a tempest in a teacup, but there's a lot of hype in this "crisis" talk. My experience as both teacher and student was that the chemistry of each class was largely beyond the control of the man or woman behind the podium--the weird mix of students, teachers and texts gives even standard Gov 100 type classes a new dynamic every year. I thought that was half the fun.

I will say this though, I had professors of every political stripe who nurtured independent thinking, and those who quashed it. The question uppermost in MY mind as I read everything about the academy today is which side the balance is leaning towards.

Thoughts from those active in academia today?

posted by: Kelli on 04.07.05 at 10:24 AM [permalink]

I think you are overstating what the NYT editorial says. I don't think it's complaining about the alleged anti-Israel bias so much as the Columbia administration's handling of the whole situation. For example it says:

"Given the generally high marks accorded the panel by dispassionate observers, its findings seem to indicate that the controversy over Middle East studies at Columbia has been overblown. There is no evidence that anyone's grade suffered for challenging the pro-Palestinian views of any teacher or that any professors made anti-Semitic statements. The professors who were targeted have legitimate complaints themselves. Their classes were infiltrated by hecklers and surreptitious monitors, and they received hate mail and death threats."

posted by: Strategist on 04.07.05 at 10:24 AM [permalink]

While I am perfctly willing to take Prof. Thomas' word that he does not try to indoctrinate his students, he should note that "trying" and "succeeding" are not the same, and that failure to achieve such a goal is not evidence of lack of effort towards it.

posted by: Sigivald on 04.07.05 at 10:24 AM [permalink]

You want to talk about indoctrination? My business ethics class is full of the most anti-business teachings I've seen outside of a Ted Kennedy quote.

posted by: Ryan Breen on 04.07.05 at 10:24 AM [permalink]

You want to talk about indoctrination? My business ethics class is full of the most anti-business teachings I've seen outside of a Ted Kennedy quote.

Curious. I'd be interested to know what exactly "anti business teachings" entails.

posted by: carla on 04.07.05 at 10:24 AM [permalink]

When I read claims that professors are proselytizing in their classes, I always think it is more about poor teaching than politics. I once took a poetry class in which the professor insisted that every poem we read was about "male suppression of female sexuality." (Even James Weldon Johnson's "The Creation".) No other interpretation was allowed. He would spent much of the class period ranting about George H.W. Bush's policies. In addition, every other sentence out of his mouth contained the words "sh*tty" or "f**king", usually in regard to the then president.

Some of my classmates complained about him in terms of his politics. I never thought his politics were the problem. I just thought he was a crappy teacher who thought he was being hip and edgy. He wasn't, he was a bore with a limited vocabulary.

posted by: Susan on 04.07.05 at 10:24 AM [permalink]

The obvious leftward skew of the US university faculties has little lasting effect except for one thing - it is disasterous to the public influence of most of our would-be public intellectuals. As does the tenure-track system in it's own way.

When I read a pronouncement by one of our distinguished professors I usually take several things into account.

- The likelyhood that the writer lives in an intellectual hothouse where he rarely if ever encounters serious dissent from.

- On economic issues I take tenure into account. If the professor has tenure she is one of the people in the society least likely to lose her livelyhood because of a botched decision. If she is not tenured she is perhaps unlikely to stray too far from the concensus opinion among the powerful (tenured) faculty figures who make the tenure decision. With reforms as drastic as those mandated by the Kyoto treaty which could easily induce global recessions or even depression it is not reassurring that many of those strongly in favor of the treaty are unlikely to lose much personally from possible negative consequences.

- Another thing I keep in mind is that many if not most academic faculty are biased toward radical change rather than gradual improvement. What I mean is that the way to make a name in academia is to make a conceptual or theoretical breakthrough of one magnitude or another. In contrast most of the economy outside academia is organized to deliver gradual improvement in existing processes. Engineers are a prototypical example.

I'd describe Kyoto as a radical solution in because it is designed to change the cost structures of the world economy in a manner which would raise US costs relative to those in Europe, China, and India. The US would be considerably harder impacted than our erstwhile allies in Europe, and China and India not impacted at all.

What happens when the cost structure shifts? I can tell you from direct experience. People are fired and their jobs move to places with lower costs. When I returned to work it was at a much loser wage.

This may be a natural part of capitalism but why should the US ratify a treaty which is hugely costly, uneffective, and detrimental to US competitiveness and US workers?

That is but one example. If I saw a wider range of opinions come from the academic class, some of my concerns might be allayed. Some would not, particularly with tenure. Right now the 'debate' has people who cannot lose lecturing those of us who can and do lose.

posted by: Don on 04.07.05 at 10:24 AM [permalink]

Dan, a comment about your assertion that Juan Cole is too intelligent to believe in bullshit. Without impugning Professor Cole's intelligence I would note that intelligence is not the same thing as wisdom or of judgement. One can be extremely intelligent and believe bizzare things. Nor do intelligent people necessarily share basic assumptions. You seem intelligent and I think we can assume that Adolf Hitler was (on the basis of his record). Yet I suspect that you share very few views with Hitler (if any at all). While Professor Cole is surely no Hitler it is not a given that his intellect has led him in a productive direction.....

posted by: Don on 04.07.05 at 10:24 AM [permalink]


Two things. You say:

The obvious leftward skew of the US university faculties has little lasting effect except for one thing - it is disasterous to the public influence of most of our would-be public intellectuals. As does the tenure-track system in it's own way.

Why is any leftward skew "disastrous" to would be public intellectuals?

You also say:

While Professor Cole is surely no Hitler it is not a given that his intellect has led him in a productive direction.....

Agreed. But it could be inferred from your comment that you believe Cole has been led in a nonproductive direction. If that is your opinion, why do you believe this to be so?

posted by: carla on 04.07.05 at 10:24 AM [permalink]

Lord Carla, what are you? The group facilitator? What do YOU think about the possible political bias in universities?

posted by: Ptolemy on 04.07.05 at 10:24 AM [permalink]

Dresner writes:

Replace "pro-Palestinian, anti-Israeli bias" with "pro-liberal, anti-conservative bias" -- is there any difference between the NYT's complaints about substantive bias in Columbia's Middle Eastern Studies program and conservatives' complaints about substantive bias in the humanities and social sciences?

Try this instead.

Imagine an NYT editoral calling for “quality and fairness of teaching” in the biological sciences due in part to the “allegations of stridently pro-evolution, anti-intelligent design bias on the part of several professors.”

Hence why Cole argues:

Academic teaching is not about balance or “fairness” or presenting “both sides” of an issue. It is about teaching people to reason analytically and synthetically about problems.

I have to side with Cole on this one. The students were challenged on what they believed. That’s part of the education process. Period. They were not–by all accounts–punished or persecuted.

Please recall that the NYT editoral Intimidation at Columbiaacknowledges that (all direct quotes albeit reformatted):

  1. There is no evidence that anyone’s grade suffered for challenging the pro-Palestinian views of any teacher or that any professors made anti-Semitic statements.
  2. The professors who were targeted have legitimate complaints themselves.
    • Their classes were infiltrated by hecklers and surreptitious monitors
    • and they received hate mail and death threats.

So, contra Dresner's dismissal of all this as the usual nonsense, I suggest there are real issues here concerning academic integrity and freedom of critical inquiry.

Now, finally, let's return to the NYT op-ed: “There is no evidence that anyone’s grade suffered for challenging the pro-Palestinian views of any teacher or that any professors made anti-Semitic statements.”

Until we have a definition of “pro-Palestinian,” this claim of bias is meaningless.

Likewise, I would more reasonably expect critical evaulation from Dresner, a professor of political science, not coy dismissal.

Do we really belive that everything is politics--as opposed to the obvious truth that anything can be politicized?

I suggest that Cole is arguing otherwise--and arguing for the integrity of critical inquiry.

posted by: Thom on 04.07.05 at 10:24 AM [permalink]

I like carla, she put's you kids in your place and makes me want to behave.

posted by: NeoDude on 04.07.05 at 10:24 AM [permalink]


I think I would make a marvelous group facilitator! Great suggestion.

But Daniel has contacted me for that role yet. :)

I'm posing these questions to individuals who appear to me to be making statements of opinion as fact. I'm querying because I want to know how they reached this opinion and if they have substantive evidence to back it up.

It's a bit Socratic, I admit. But I can't understand where they're coming from unless I'm able to see the road that got them to where they are.

posted by: carla on 04.07.05 at 10:24 AM [permalink]

Cole does make some valid points in his critique of the NY Times editorial, but I think he is a bit over the edge with his shock and dismay. Just as it may be fairly argued that Cole has long demonstrated a pro-Palestinian sentiment on his blog, it seems reasonable to me to assert that the NY Times exhibits a pro-israeli sentiment in their reportage and editorials on the subject.

I've been reading Cole daily for over a year. He is an excellent source of information and his commentary is cogent and sometimes entertaining, and has proven strikingly accurate, more so than any MSM or certainly Administration propaganda concerning the ME. However, Israel is a hot-button issue with Cole, and I find it very likely that he is indeed "politicizing" a relatively benign academic issue just as much as the sorry-a$$ students who complained of being "intimidated", the sorry a$$ parents and/or fellow students who threatened the professor(s) with reprisals if they did not suppress their "anti-Semitic" behavior, and the sorry-a$$ NY Times for making a tempest in a teapot.

You want something really scary? Try the proposed legislation in the State of Florida that will allow students to sue their professors if they feel they are being singled out for their political persuasions!

posted by: Steve on 04.07.05 at 10:24 AM [permalink]

Conservative outrage is the new Political Correctness; just the same old childish whining from people too lazy too examine all sides of an issue.

posted by: A Hermit on 04.07.05 at 10:24 AM [permalink]

Steve opined:

" seems reasonable to me to assert that
the NY Times exhibits a pro-israeli sentiment
in their reportage and editorials on the subject."

Did you bother doing some actual READING of the
NY Times before you made that assertion?

Here in fly-over country, the NY Times is tilted
quite pro-Palestinian. The editorials we get
here are always "Palestine Good - Israel Evil".

Maybe they edit the paper differently for the
New York City market.

Just read the Times description of the weapons
smugglers in this Sunday's paper to get what I
mean. "They were only playing soccer when the
IDF deliberately fired on them." Gee - I
wonder what happened to their soccer ball? Did
the 'evil Israelis' "murder" it too?

posted by: Ted on 04.07.05 at 10:24 AM [permalink]

"Judith Miller channeling Ahmed Chalabi"! At least Cole has a sense of humor, at least when he is not speaking about Israel.

posted by: miriam on 04.07.05 at 10:24 AM [permalink]

The thread seems concerned only with the null influence that leftist professors have on the economy or public policy. They are harmless if kept in the university whereas they could do real harm if forced out into the real world. That is the sense I get.

The problem is that we have to send our kids somewhere to be educated. I sent my first two to my old alma mater. When I attended in the 1950s, I was completely unconscious of political bias on the part of professors and had a pretty good sample to work with. I majored in engineering, then returned to do pre-med. I found that pre-med students couldn't get student loans so I then majored in English Literature. This gave me a lengthy experience with three disciplines. I got a good education in all three although the engineering department was weak at the time.

My most recent college graduate daughter has an honors degree in anthropology, is a vegan leftist and refused to read Steven Pinker's Blank Slate when I recommended it. She said she would only read it if I read The Mismeasure of Man first. Gould was a Chomsky leftist and I had already read it when it came out. She came out of UCLA with a closed mind.

Allan Bloom was right. What do we do ? I have a 15 year old at home and feel like sending her to auto mechanic school. I understand good mechanics with training from Mercedes school start at $100k.

This is not a trivial problem for those of us with children to educate. It is hopeful that a few articles are appearing obout an incipient revolt by middle class parents.

posted by: Mike K on 04.07.05 at 10:24 AM [permalink]


There's nothing peculiar about the last graf of the NYT editorial. The editors are simply admitting what the complaining students pointed out on their blog:

"[N]o charges of anti-Semitism were ever filed by students and CAF has never alleged anti-Semitism. The Sun, among other media outlets, has made such claims and is the claims and voice of the media to whom the report was clearly addressed."

Substitute "NYT" for "Sun" and the point is the same.

There are far more peculiar things in the NYT editorial than its conclusion.

For example:

"Only after a film by an outside group brought the students' complaints to broad public attention did the university appoint a panel to look into the issue. It botched this job, too, by appointing one member who had been the dissertation adviser for a professor who had drawn criticism and appointing three members who had expressed anti-Israel views that, critics allege, might incline them to soft-pedal complaints. It also limited the panel's mandate to include only some of the areas of complaint."

Did the original NYT story report these facts about the membership of the panel? No. And the editorial itself glosses over it by comparison to a column in the NYDN:

"Of the five panelists, two signed a petition demanding that Columbia divest from Israel. One member is a dean who recruited some of the professors accused of hectoring Jewish students. Another panelist has in the past ignored complaints from these students. The fifth, history Prof. Mark Mazower, merits special mention for having likened Israel's occupation of the West Bank to the Nazis' World War II occupation of Eastern Europe."

So when the editors of the NYT then write that "[p]eople involved in the deliberations believe that the panel proceeded carefully and objectively in evaluating the evidence," shouldn't the reaction be "of course the people involved in the deliberations think they were fair?" The NYT editorial later refers to "the generally high marks accorded the panel by dispassionate observers," but doesn't name one such observer.

The NYT editorial states that Columbia "has recognized that the Middle East studies department was out of control," but Columbia's report finds only one incident to be "out of bounds?" The level cognitive dissonance in this editorial is stunning, but it is merely a product of the editors attempting to reconcile reality with the paper's self-admitted shoddy reporting of this story in the first place.

posted by: Karl on 04.07.05 at 10:24 AM [permalink]

I don't know where everyone else went to college and/or graduate school, but I have to say I encountered far more conservative professors at the University of Chicago than I encountered liberal accountants when I started working for one of the major accounting firms after graduate school.

Has it ever occured to anyone that certain professions may simply tend to attract people with similar world views? No conspiracies necessary, just a form of self-selection?

posted by: Rob Lewis on 04.07.05 at 10:24 AM [permalink]

Mike K said "They are harmless if kept in the university whereas they could do real harm if forced out into the real world. That is the sense I get."

Fortunately, the prerequisite for professorial accreditation is real world experience. Take Professor Cole as an example: he routinely cites his alumni connections to other scholars by why of his Arabist training at the American University of Cairo. Once a Protestant missionary school, AUC transitioned to a college to attract Arabs because the proselytizing wasn't working. Could posture that Professor Cole has an Arab identity that may bend or twist his sympathies? Yes, and Professor Cole openly admits this throughtout his blog.

I, for one, am not alarmed or worried by academics that admit or deny they, do or can, influence the future path of their students. It's obviously true. Just look at the Arabists at the State Department. They were molded and formed into Arabist indentity through posts in the Middle East. The American University of Beirut was the Arabic language insitute for the State Department in the early forays into the Middle East. If you wanted to learn Arabic the State Department sent you to AUB(also a former Protestant Missionary College) where you would live and learn with among...ARABS.

I don't mean to imply that learning among Arabs is wrong. I just don't think it is surprising at all that when a person enters a realm where things are done a certain way it is not unusual for the follower(most students, teenagers, etc) to adopt the accepted ways and means.

What I think is the dilemna for many students in college is that they are natural leaders. The follower mentality of the university is only ascended once one migrates to post graduate studies where they devote more time to a single subject. The Professors are honed professionals. They can spot a disciple from a mile away. The American Protestant missionairies in the Middle East understood what they were doing through the creation of institutions that would train and mold the future stock of Arab, European and American foreign service officers.

posted by: Brennan Stout on 04.07.05 at 10:24 AM [permalink]

Academia, the media, and government are by their nature reactionary institutions.

Something is created. The academy theorizes about it, the media report it, government regulates it. They react.

It should come as no surprise when these institutions behave in a reactionary manner and find common cause in doing so, or that at Columbia University, the pinnacle of at least two of these institutions, one should find examples of such behavior, both in the 1960's and today. It will likely be the same in 2040.

posted by: Ged of Earthsea on 04.07.05 at 10:24 AM [permalink]

I guess I just don't understand all the hub-bub around this issue of liberal bias at universities.

Yes, universities lean lefty. And? This has been a complaint for decades, yet Republicans currently control every branch of government, and most polls put this country at about 50/50 politically. So what is the dastardly effect? If it's all about fairness, where's the effort to level the playing field for religous leaders who lean righty?

It's one thing if students were somehow punished for their political beliefs, but genuine reports of that behavior are very rare relative to the number of professors and students in this country. This seems like the only real issue, and it's so uncommon as to be a pretty weak one to cause all this consternation.

And in the end, if a school is too left-leaning, it's not like there aren't plenty of Notre Dames, Vanderbilts, Bob Jones, and Regent Universities for prospective students. Isn't that the market theory we're always being told should rule all?

In the end, I agree that Conservative (and Religious) Outrage has become the new political correctness, as A Hermit wrote. It's surprising, however, since conservatives were decrying political correctness when I was in school in '90s. But the Repubs were just starting to take power then, so I guess that's just the way the wind blows...

As a random observation, I also found it interesting that two arguments seem to have pervaded this issue, both on this thread and in the general blogosphere.

1. Those damn lefties in universities need someone to balanace them out. Universitites should reflect the political make-up of our populace as a whole and get more conservatives on the faculties.

2. Keep those lefties in the universities. It's better than having them in the public sphere where they will do real damage.

So we should balance out college faculty to match the current public political make-up, but at the same time conservatize the public sphere by removing left-wing intellectuals? (Unless people think these two points of view are mutually exclusive. I'm still thinking about it, but on their face, they don't seem to be if the end goal is just to reduce the number of liberal voices which is clearly the point of folks like David Horowitz.)

I'm not sure where "fairness" plays into all of that. Just seems like more bamboozling rhetoric to me.

posted by: Jeremy on 04.07.05 at 10:24 AM [permalink]

"Pro-Palestinian bias" in the academy? The university as a veritable "hot bed" of radical thought???? I've taught in universities for years, and academics are less often challengers to the reigning orthodoxies than most people think. Many academics, including political scientists, do not know the Middle East in any concrete meaningful way. Very few of them speak Arabic, and many of them sound like the person who just kept repeating the word, "Arabist," over and over again, as if if you just polemicize enough you'll convince yourself and others of the factual nature of what you're saying.

I don't know what the David Project hopes to achieve in this situation, but it's difficult for me to see how the President's efforts to find a scapegoat in an untenured Palestinian faculty member will not backfire. I'm assuming that individual faculty members have consulted legal counsel, although many academics are entirely too naive about the politics of their institutions. All evidence to the contrary, they think that administrators will defend academic freedom, which means very little to a lot of administrators who are more interested in keeping donors and alumni happy, since universities depend so much on them for financial support.

Columbia will be the loser in the end here, because the academic profession has a hard time stomaching administrators who allow external political pressure groups to get inside academic management. Rightly or wrongly, the way the administration, those ultimately responsible for the "incivility" at Columbia, handled these politically manufactured student grievances will leave most academics with a bad taste in the mouth when they hear "Columbia."

posted by: Debbie on 04.07.05 at 10:24 AM [permalink]

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