Saturday, December 17, 2005

previous entry | main | next entry | TrackBack (0)

Wherein the University of Chicago defies all reason

A few months ago when the whole tenure and blogging question became a hot topic (I'm still fielding press inquiries) I tried to reiterate the same point over and over again -- it's possible that blogging played a role in my own denial, but I seriously doubt it was the overriding factor.

I bring this up again because Jacob Levy has gone public with his own denial of tenure. Read the whole thing, but Jacob closes his post with the following:

Mainly I'm putting this up because the publicity around Dan Drezner's case led to a lot of e-mailed questions and some blog speculation about mine. If you're looking for things in common between Dan's case and mine, don't look to blogging; and don't look to our libertarian politics.... Look to the fact that both political economy and liberal political theory are outside the emerging, Perestroikan, sense of what this department's about.
I've blogged about perestroika and political science in the past -- check out those posts for my take on the debate.

I can neither confirm nor deny Jacob's hypothesis about perestroika's deletrious effects on my department. After witnessing my department's treatment of Jacob's case, I'm afraid that the primary hypothesis I cannot falsify is that a majority of my senior colleagues are complete and total wankers have unorthodox views of what constitutes appropriate social science.

Chris Lawrence has further thoughts.

posted by Dan on 12.17.05 at 03:04 AM


I think you both got hosed. I mean, is there another department in Political Science in the country that would have denied tenure to TWO brilliant young political scientists like this? This department deserves to suffer great damage to its reputation for this (and I think it certainly is politically motivated).

posted by: John Jenkins on 12.17.05 at 03:04 AM [permalink]

Differences in the academe are pretty important because they prognosticate future issues in national politics and deep changes. If I am correct, at first neither you Dan nor Jacob had a clue why you were denied tenure, but now you both are seeming to come to the realization that ideological differences were involved. The "wonkers" (masturbators? your definition) in power seem to be siding with the perestroika approach while you do not. I have no idea what it is all about. What is perestroika approach? Is it about of the use of statistical tools? Is it about the hierarchical - centralized-distanced vs. heterarchical decentralized-personal conceptions? Could anybody clarify it for me? Thanks.

posted by: jaimito on 12.17.05 at 03:04 AM [permalink]

In response to John Jenkins ~ yest, it happens quite frequently at high end political science programs.

I still can't fathom why folks are still up in arms about this. If both had been at Princeton, or Yale, or Harvard -- no one would be surprised. The history of the ivies is littered with bad tenure decisions. It is expected junior faculty will not get tenure. Why is Chicago any different?

posted by: baba ganouj on 12.17.05 at 03:04 AM [permalink]

"Why is Chicago any different?"

Because Chicago has claimed to be different. It has advertised itself as the elite university that iddn't follow the HYP model, that hired with a "presumption of tenure." That's what we were told when hired; it's what we were told at midterm review. And some substantial share of the faculty still thinks it. But some now don't; some have now said that they don't. It would have been nice to know that before October.

posted by: Jacob T. Levy on 12.17.05 at 03:04 AM [permalink]

The thing that kills me about this is that looking at this from an undergraduate perspective this is a department that shouldn't able to turn away any of its tenure track profs. As far as I can tell undergrads who have realized that the degree requirements are relatively light and that the deparment has a handful of very entertaining professors teaching large lecture courses are practically breaking down the doors to get in, and the department is showing the strain.

Then again, maybe the supposed focus on undergrads is another area where the difference between the U of C and its peer institutions is more talk than reality.

posted by: Chris W. on 12.17.05 at 03:04 AM [permalink]

Why don't you two guys grow up and recognize what every other adult sees: this was about politics. They don't like yours and they kicked you out.

Levy basically has an entire post confirming it is about politics while ostensibly denying it's about politics. Unless he's a Straussian, that doesn't make much sense.

And you, Drezner, keep talking about Perestroika, but that has nothing to do with this whole affair. Certainly not with Levy. If it does, please explain again and show me to be the fool.

Finally, Chris Lawrence. Sigh. Chris Lawrence is one of the many who give academia a bad name. 'Bullshit' would be too much honor for what he writes. I have no idea what his posts mean. In my day we used to say to folks like Chris: learn a respectable trade and try to make a decent living, son.

posted by: Old timer on 12.17.05 at 03:04 AM [permalink]

Interesting remark by the late Peter Drucker: When working on his landmark study of GM, "The Concept of the Corporation," he was advised that it would hurt his academic prospects in both economics and political science, since this kind of analysis had never before been done in either discipline.

Does the money that we as a society are spending on academia really serve the development of new ideas, or does it actually work more to *inhibit* intellectual innovation?

posted by: David Foster on 12.17.05 at 03:04 AM [permalink]

It's kind of funny that Hegel and continental philosophy are considered cutting edge. When I was a UofC poli sci student in the mid-90s, I don't think anyone there worked on continental philosophy. Now they want to build a department around it? Of course, that was when the only political theorist there who would talk to undergrad students was Tarcov. I suspect that's still the case.

posted by: on 12.17.05 at 03:04 AM [permalink]

Wow. U-Chicago sucks.

What exactly is "postmodern" about ideological correctness? I thought that was the sense of "postmodern" used by reactionaries with no clue what the word meant.

Drezner, you are soooooooooo much better off away from those freaks. Levy too.

posted by: Anderson on 12.17.05 at 03:04 AM [permalink]

Blaming Perestroika here makes no sense; if anything, Perestroika has aimed to make the discipline more political-theory friendly. And Dan's work is the kind of stuff that mainstream Perestroikan's regularly extoll.

posted by: Daniel Nexon on 12.17.05 at 03:04 AM [permalink]

Wow, lumped in the same paragraph (by Old timer) with Dan and Jacob. I'm flattered.

But he's probably right; I should be off earning 6 figures in private industry with my skills. And certainly plenty of academic employers agree... :-)

posted by: Chris Lawrence on 12.17.05 at 03:04 AM [permalink]

Wish your trackbacks were working...on my blog I attempt to translate the reasoning from the self-study cited by Jacob:

the opportunity to dominate the field of apologists for intellectually bankrupt Euro-babble, derided - perhaps justly - in the Anglosphere, might be endangered by tenuring a leading young scholar who is capable of entertaining a different way of thinking.

We see Prof. Levy as part of an outdated paradigm, which has been replaced by a superior one..ignoring the fact that even we acknowledge that this new approach might very well be "superficial and inconsequential".

We science types have a hard time understanding Continental political how'd I do on the translation? I'm thinking "new approach" isn't quite right.

posted by: Jim Hu on 12.17.05 at 03:04 AM [permalink]

I am U of Chicago alum, and I must say that I am appalled by the treatment of Messrs. Drezner and Levy. The Poli Sci Dept now belongs to trivial intellects like Cathy Cohen (Politics of Hip-Hop) and Richard what's his name and his obviously non-sensical theories about suicide bombers.

My only happiness is that my third child has now gotten into Northwestern and that is where our contributions are going as well.

posted by: Robert Schwartz on 12.17.05 at 03:04 AM [permalink]

I'd just like to say thanks for the link to the Pape article. It's behind a 5 year moving wall on JStor and I'm just to lazy to get to a library during the "holiday" break. So the chain of hyperlinks that led me hence to the article are much appreciated.

I certainly hope that no copywrite laws were violated.

posted by: Mitchell Young on 12.17.05 at 03:04 AM [permalink]

Jim: that's more or less how I read it, so I think you got the translation right.

posted by: Chris Lawrence on 12.17.05 at 03:04 AM [permalink]

From where I stand, what matters far more to hiring committees (at least in polisci departments) are not their partisan political preferences, but rather the sides they have chosen in esoteric ivory tower civil wars¨.

Now it is clear.

posted by: jaimito on 12.17.05 at 03:04 AM [permalink]

I'd point out the irony of two of the finest political scientists of my generation being blindsided by office politics, but it hits a little to close to home and my own experiences with good old academe.

I guess the only thing to say is: welcome to true liberalism. It is evidently our lot in life to be shat upon by the more machievellian in our midst whenever the various prisoners' dillemmas of life come to a decision point.

Looking at history, the best solution I can see is to draw upon the unique strength of liberalism - its creative power - to create new institutions where we are subject to the bad faith of neither the jailer nor fellow prisoners who do not share our ideals.

posted by: Bezuhov on 12.17.05 at 03:04 AM [permalink]

You (and Jacob) may wish to separate political commitments, ideology, and methodolgy; but it takes two to tango.

posted by: Bezuhov on 12.17.05 at 03:04 AM [permalink]

Hey, folks-- I appreciate the suppor, but please don't turn this into a bashing of particular people's scholarship. If I thought naming names was appropriate, I'd have named on the basis of bad conduct, violations of stated commitments, or methodoogical narrow-mindedness-- and that still wouldn't have involed criticizing people's scholarship as part of this conversation, because there just aren't necessary relationships among someone being a good scholar, being a pluralist, and being a fair-play proceduralist. And some of the people who are in the department's emerging specializations *don't* welcome the onset of narrowness, and *do* want to see more intellectual diversity.

I'm not even going to argue about criticisms that have been made here about particular scholars, because I think it's inappropriate. I'm, obviously, willing to complain about what I take to be an inappropriate narrowing overall, and about some ways in which Dan and I wee shoddily treated-- but I have real respect for the scholarship of many of my colleagues, including some who I think acted wronfully, and no desire to turn Dan's and my cases into opportunities for public potshots.

posted by: Jacob T. Levy on 12.17.05 at 03:04 AM [permalink]

But Jacob, is it really appropriate for you to call people out for naming names when you're own post even though you don't name names, makes it pretty clear to anyone with any familiarity with the discipline who you are talking about?

posted by: Vermigli on 12.17.05 at 03:04 AM [permalink]

makes it pretty clear to anyone with any familiarity with the discipline who you are talking about

An important distinction, though. People with that familiarity can judge for themselves whether the characterizations I'm offering are fair, plausible, compatible with what they know of me and what they know of the people involved, etc.

I resent that one person, trying to free up my slot, engaged in a kind of surprise last-minute assassination of my work, not leaving my defenders any chance to respond adequately (and, of course, I wasn't entitled to respond at all). I don't want to engage in anything even kind of like that myself; and trashing people by name on the internet, in front of a huge audience of people who aren't in a position to judge between me and the target, when the target isn' part of the conversation, isn't fair. And I don't like to see others doing that kind of thing either.

posted by: Jacob T. Levy on 12.17.05 at 03:04 AM [permalink]

Point taken.

But doesn't that raise a larger point about the discussion of tenure decisions in a venue where the audience and many of the discussants are not privy to, and in large part, not familiar with the ins and outs of a pretty complicated process?

As someone who is familiar with the tenure process and the PS discipline, one thing that has stood out to me about the discussion that Dan and your tenure cases has given rise to, is that the reaction in comments and the coverage by news media often is slanted toward a knee-jerk response of "Gee, you guys are really great bloggers and I like what you write in The New Republic and on the op-ed pages of the NYT, etc. Those guys at the U of C must be total morons." There's no understanding of the details like what the Perestroika movement in PS was about or why Chicago may be moving toward a dept. with a different focus among their theorists. The reaction, in large part, seems to be one that connects your blogging and public persona to the tenure process when that process is really one based on your academic persona. Now of course there are connections between the two but not so much that the public persona should be what defines the tenure process.

So one thing that happens is that you imply that one person hijacked the process. Now without any understanding of the tenure process, I think I'd be likely to take that as fact. But I think an understanding of the process might in fact lead one to question it a bit more? Despite their politics, tenure committees are not, in most cases, that easy for one person to hijack? There are, and I'm not denying that this may be what happened in this case, situations where that does happen, but I'm not ready to grant that here.

I'm rambling a bit, but I guess the question that this raises is that, even though you understandably have grievances with the dept., is the blogosphere the place to air these? Or might there be a better venue that doesn't immediately lend itself to character assasination by parties that don't have the necessary information to make these judgments?

I should note that I certainly don't want this to be seen as an attack on the quality of your scholarship. I'm not too familiar with IR or Dan's work so I never felt comfortable making any sort of outsiders judgment call there. I am pretty familiar and appreciative of how your work, though, and was surprised to hear you were denied tenure.

posted by: vermigli on 12.17.05 at 03:04 AM [permalink]

Will follow up tomorow with a post on my own blog. Short version:

I fundamentally agree with vermigli, and I'm really not engaged in an apologia for my own work. It's heartening to have lots of people in the blogosphere who like me but irrelevant to whether I should have been tenured. I'm trying to hew a careful line:

1) Letting people know that I was denied.
2) Discouraging the "libertarian blogger" story that would probably naturally arise.
3) Editorializing a bit on general department direction-- something that can be discussed just with reference to the outcomes of hiring and tenure decisions, senior departures, etc-- all public stuff.

It's a funny business. The department gets to say something very public but very unspecific about the candidate: untenurable. It can't be the case that the candidate doesn't get to say anything public in response to that. On the other hand, the department is constrained from saying anything else. So it's not appropriate for me to delineate and rebut the particulars of what got thrown at me, in this kind of public setting.

But it doesn't seem to me inappropriate to talk about the publicly-knowable fact that the department is turning in a particular direction.

posted by: Jacob T. Levy on 12.17.05 at 03:04 AM [permalink]

I echo both vermigli and Jacob.

It is disconcerting that UChicago's political science department seems to be turning in a direction in which conformity to an approach of questionable merit is enforced by hiring decisions. UChicago was the seed of some of the most diverse and challenging thought of the last century, in politics and elsewhere. For its PS department to limit itself to studies of Hegel, Marx, and Derrida seems antithetical to the spirit of the school.

My problem with the above comments is that people have concluded from the non-tenuring of their two favorite bloggers that UChicago as a whole and in most of its parts is going down the shitter and no longer worth much of anything. I can't help but feel the hostile tone is partly inspired by Dan's implication that a majority of his senior colleagues "are complete and total wankers." I generally appreciate Dan's ability to be a bit less stuffy than, say, the Becker/Posner blog, but I found this implication unprofessional.

posted by: jim on 12.17.05 at 03:04 AM [permalink]

Jim, I think Daniel was trying to make a joke. JOKE. It's allowed once you've been tenured. Well it's allowed even before, but a REALLY BAD IDEA in some departments.

I have no idea about the merits of the case, not being a political scientist. As a laymen all I can say is that the U of Chicago used to have a really stellar reputation for judging scholarship over academic politics. That reputation has taken a hit, I think.

posted by: Don on 12.17.05 at 03:04 AM [permalink]

Jacob, sorry to hear about the denial. While the transaction costs are a pain, I look forward to you falling up to a better place. FWIW, I don't think there's anyone in PoliSci who believes that

(a) the blogs had anything to do with it,

(b) political ideology had anything to do with it, or

(c) the UC department is making a mistake if, in fact, it *is* changing direction in the manner you suggest.

Of these, I believe (c) is far and away the most important. My own experiences with Chicago folks (even those with whom I am inclined to disagree, for whatever reason(s)) have been uniformly positive, in large measure because of the intellectual catholicism that has seemed to be the department's hallmark. Losing that would be a pity.

posted by: The Pooka on 12.17.05 at 03:04 AM [permalink]

I too have a hard time seeing perestroika in this, unless it is defined oddly. I would hire DD in a second if perest was important to me (policy relevant, cath. re methods, concerned w/big issues, an intellectual not a methods wonk.

On the wankers thing, my view was that many a truth was said perhaps in jest. I saw it as a rare burst of real anger from someone who has otherwise been very professional in response (made easier by the rapid transition, though).


posted by: Dan on 12.17.05 at 03:04 AM [permalink]

The redacted phrase "complete and total wankers," though no doubt applicable to most poli-sty departments, is a bit of a pleonasm. "Utter wankers" might have served better.

More to the point, however, I infer from your comments that Friedrich Hayek would be untenurable at Chicago these days. If so, how sad. But then, you don't hear much from the University of Carthage any more, either. Empires flourish and decay -- university empires in gales of creative obfuscation...

posted by: Axel Kassel on 12.17.05 at 03:04 AM [permalink]

Jacob Levy: I resent that one person, trying to free up my slot, engaged in a kind of surprise last-minute assassination of my work, not leaving my defenders any chance to respond adequately (and, of course, I wasn't entitled to respond at all).

Tenure committees don't interview candidates in person? Geez, how idiotic is that?

posted by: fling93 on 12.17.05 at 03:04 AM [permalink]

You think some of those who are tenured
might have been a tad bit worried about
the intellectual brain-power of those
who have just been denied?

Academic types afraid that the new guys
might out-shine them?

Gosh. How 'un-ivory-tower' is that?

posted by: Ted on 12.17.05 at 03:04 AM [permalink]

What shocks me about these episodes is that you both keep publicly attacking the tenured faculty who denied you each tenure. Yes, you each try to say "certain faculty" or somehow remind everyone there were supporters too, but for the most part you both exhibit nothing but disdain for the faculty that rejected you both. As a political scientist with some experience with the personalities and quirks of small departmental decisionmaking, I can't get over how inappropriate it is for both of you to offer these public attacks, when the department can't defend itself or the quality of its deliberations. The political science world is littered with talented juniors who turned their dissertations into *one* respected book, then failed to get tenure. With all of these public declarations in your own defense, you come off like jackasses. Get over yourselves. Humility is the mark of true scholars. I say this as someone who thought Levy especially (because I know his field more intimately) was going to get tenure. I felt sorry for both of you when I heard the news. However, my sympathy has turned to exasperation after learning more about your reactions.

posted by: privacypol on 12.17.05 at 03:04 AM [permalink]

Post a Comment:


Email Address:



Remember your info?