Monday, July 24, 2006

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The case of Juan Cole

The Chronicle of Higher Education has a (subscriber only, alas free for all!) symposium on the case of Juan Cole's non-hiring by Yale University this spring. Contributions from Cole, Siva Vaidhyanathan, Glenn Reynolds, Ann Althouse, Brad DeLong, Michael Bérubé, Erin O'Connor, and yours truly.

DeLong's essay makes the best case for the scholarly benefits from blogging; O'Connor makes the best case for why blogs should be a factor (and not necessarily a positive one) in hiring decisions.

For background on the case, click here for this story by Liel Leibovitz in The Jewish Week.

UPDATE: While on the subject of academia, it's also worth checking out this Stanley Fish essay from yesterday's New York Times, and Ann Althouse's critique of it.

posted by Dan on 07.24.06 at 01:58 PM


Cole does write some useful stuff on his blog, but he also goes off on tangents and rants a lot. I do not know how high the quality of his academic research is (and it may be unfair to judge a scholar based on his or her blog), but that may cast some doubt on temperament.

On the other hand, Cole is not Ward Churchill, and his blog commentary, while often anti-Israel, does not go over into anti-Semitism.

posted by: erg on 07.24.06 at 01:58 PM [permalink]

I am curious as to what Ann Althouse said about this.

posted by: mickslam on 07.24.06 at 01:58 PM [permalink]

Cole's expertise is in the Baha'i relgious minority. If you google "Informed Comment," you will find six entries that mention Baha'is. In contrast, there are 200 entries on Likud, 31 entries on Likudnik, 56 entries on abortion, 113 entries on Ireland, and approximately 34,000 on Bush.

His blog should not be factored as a plus in academic hiring since its not academic.

posted by: PD Shaw on 07.24.06 at 01:58 PM [permalink]

There is, as I suppose there must be, an air of unreality about the discussion.

1) O'connor is the only one who directly addresses the 'neocon' issue, and then calls claims of a campaign undocumented. But of course it is not. That Michael Rubin is a well connected 'neocon' and avid supporter of Israel is not in doubt. The Jewish week article documents his and other's attempts to undermine Cole's candidacy. It is one thing to claim that they have the right to do such a thing -- of course they do. It is another to wish it away simply because it is an unpleasant fact to confront.

2) The parallel some seek to draw between Dr. Drezner's (I can't speak to Levy's, having never read his blog) also strikes me as having a through the looking glass quality. Had there been an orchestrated campaign by, say, 40-50 year old American software engineers who had been displaced by outsourcing of jobs, there might be the beginnings of a parallel. But to my knowledge there was no such campaign. If there was a core group of anti-free market intellectuals, backed by wealthy donors, at Chicago, who were mobilized (or subjected to attempts at moblization) against Drezner, again there might be the beginning of a parallel. But Chicago is the home of free-marketry, and Drezner's view coincide fairly exactly with the wishes of wealthy industry associations (no casuality implied!) . So there is no parallel there.

3) No, this is yet aother data point to support M&W's thesis. It's not very shattering in itself, but somewhere out there there is a young mid-East expert that has learned a lesson. Better to hold your tongue.

posted by: Mitchell Young on 07.24.06 at 01:58 PM [permalink]

Oh yes it does. We jews control all money and power

posted by: alans on 07.24.06 at 01:58 PM [permalink]


The word 'Jews' or 'Jew' does not appear in my post. The form 'Jewish' does, in reference to an article which was linked by the original post.

Moreover, the reference to 'wealthy industry associations' would indicate that I recognize there are various repositories of wealth in this country. They use that wealth to pursue objectives in both transparent and non-transparent ways, including influencing scholarship.

posted by: Mitchell Young on 07.24.06 at 01:58 PM [permalink]

In his article in the Chronicle he (more or less) agrees that Cole was denied the post at Yale because of his political views. In an of itself, I think that is pretty disgraceful. Especially so if his scholarship is of the quality normally up to Yale's standards.

I think the two important points are 1) does this mean that Yale will only hire scholars who are within their ideologial mold? If so, then Yale has a serious problem on its hands. If i were the Dean of a college or the chair of a department, I would encourage the most wide spectrum of ideologies under my supervision. How else would ideas be exchanged and theories tested? Yale is the worse off for this decision if it was based on political views.

2) Juan Cole is not a very radical academic. He is quite moderate really. He almost supported the American invasion of Iraq and only was against it because the USA was not able to get a Security Council resolution supporting it. He does have a good understanding of what is going on in the Middle East, and therefore knows that Palestinians are the victims and the Jews the oppressors, but he not at all radical. I guess it is problematic in that, with the case of Joseph Massad, it seems like part of a pattern that people who dissent against Israel are beaten back. But, you know, we will not shut up overall and it just exposes their attacks...

Anyway, I don't know why this is a big deal. Other then for his life (like, where he lives) and his ego, I don't see the big difference between being at UMichigan rather then Yale. Just as Dan will be happy and productive at Tufts rather then UChicago.

posted by: joe m. on 07.24.06 at 01:58 PM [permalink]

Joe writes on "the Jews the oppressors" - and so the mask slips.

posted by: David Ross on 07.24.06 at 01:58 PM [permalink]

good point david, maybe you would like to explain to me how the hindus, chinese or the dutch are the ones oppressing the palestinians. You know things are out of control when you can't say the word "Jews" when talking about the self-described "Jewish State".

anyway, that wasn't the point and i defer to the content of my post above to show that i don't think the situation with Juan Cole is a big deal.

posted by: joe m. on 07.24.06 at 01:58 PM [permalink]

Well I, for one, am glad to see that Yale doesn't generally hire lunatics. At least not this particular one...

posted by: Justin on 07.24.06 at 01:58 PM [permalink]

My guess is that Juan Cole got considered for the job at Yale because of the visibility he gained as a result of his blog. Then he lost out on the job as a result of the notoriety he gained as a result of some of the vendettas he conducted on his blog. Think of Juan as an academic Ted Turner -- he gets famous because he's willing to put himself out there and take risks; he loses out for exactly the same reason.

Hm. Is this the net neutrality everyone is talking about?

posted by: Appalled Moderate on 07.24.06 at 01:58 PM [permalink]

My guess is that Juan Cole got considered for the job at Yale because of the visibility he gained as a result of his blog

Cole himself has a very dignified statement about intellectual freedom and the right to speak in the 'symposium'. However, it tells only half the story if 'visiblity' and 'blogging' are the issue.

Drezner may have lost out in part because of institutional biases against blogging, but there is simply no evidence that he lost out because of the content of his blogs. Or, to use a hypothetical, Tyler Cowen is not going to lose out on future Ivy league appointments because of his advocacy of mass immigration. There was no letter-writing or media campaign against Drezner, there would not be one against Cowen.

The Juan Cole situation is qualitatively different. It seems to me likely that he was not selected, in part, because of his (fairly moderate for anywhere in the world but the US) views on mid-East affairs.

posted by: Mitchell Young on 07.24.06 at 01:58 PM [permalink]

“The idea that I am any sort of anti-Jewish racist because I think Israel would be better off without the occupied territories is bizarre,"

Even in responding to his denial of a job, Cole makes clear why his blog shows him to be unfit. His constant lying and spinning. He is NOT called anti-Jewish because of his belief that Israel would be better off without the occupied territories (a position shared by Ehud Olmert) but because he calls anyone who disagrees with his criticisms of Israel a Likudnik, and he calls Likudniks "fascists". And for a host of additional things hes posted.

The man is as slippery as an eel. He has helped to bring Mid East Studies into disrepute. His hiring by Yale would have brought that University into disrepute.

posted by: liberalhawk on 07.24.06 at 01:58 PM [permalink]

The title Professor still carries some cache for people far outside of academia and Universities do have to worry about employing people who are going to gain unwarranted repsect because of their position.

While engaged in an argument about the possibility of a 911 conspiracy I was told that "200 professors" had signed a statement saying they believed that the planes had not caused the towers to collapse. As a grad student it was a laughable point. I've learned a great deal about Slavery, Religion, and 19th century American History, more about how to talk, think and write like an academic and nothing at all about the effects of large airplanes hitting extremely tall building. I've got a hunch that when I finish my dissertation, I'm not going to suddenly gain this knowedge in a flash of enlightenment. But for better or worse, professors can expect to gain more attention than others even on areas where they have no competency. (I'm not delusional about the respect in which many people hold academics, but try to imagine if 300 machinists, or stockbrokers had issued such a statement.)

Ward Churchill was commenting on areas far outside of his specialty as well. The problem is that when a professor does make such a comment, it invariably gets attention and invariably the person saying something incendiary is introduced first as blank a professor of blank discipline at blank university.

Bloggers, as people who make a habit of offering comment on areas outside of their specialty are probably seen as greater risks to go off the deep end.

posted by: Gabe on 07.24.06 at 01:58 PM [permalink]

There is a whole lot that goes into academic hiring and I am pretty sure that Cole's blog was not the single deciding factor at Yale--although I am sure its content made them nervous. When universities decide to deny tenure, they will justify themselves with every reason they can find. I'll bet this blog was one of the things they used to make themselves feel OK about not tenuring you (Drezner), not because of the blog's content, but because it was at that time so odd to be a blogger.

I'm glad you linked to this debate, since this was where I found it. I liked Cole's response: he was unperturbed about whether blogging was important to his 'career', said it was important to think of things other than 'career' (especially when you have tenure). I think academic blogging is a form of community service; this is something you (Drezner) said earlier.

Mine is somewhat different, since I don't blog as myself and don't blog in my field. (Who knows: I may end up doing that at some point.) It's a true hobby: I recover from weird days on campus in the blog, and chew on readings and ideas I'm not ready to take to class yet, let alone to a conference or a journal. It's a pretty good way of winding down, or warming up.

Anyway, I think your blog is great. I disagree with it massively (if you click on my icon, you'll see why immediately).
But it's great: a rational, informed essayist with a background in politics and economics, and a point of view very different from mine, but which they (you) reason out for a general audience? It's a real, professional contribution.

posted by: Professor Zero on 07.24.06 at 01:58 PM [permalink]

From Glenn Reynolds:

(Has anyone been denied tenure because of a preference for wet over dry flies? Probably somewhere, sometime, but it's not common.)

Wha. . .? What wet over dry flies? What the hell is he talking about? Flies are a hobby? You can get them dried? I'm so confused. . .

posted by: Saheli on 07.24.06 at 01:58 PM [permalink]

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