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Friday, July 27, 2007

The Joseph Massad and Nadia Abu El Haj cases present an interesting question: Should alumni, donors, and taxpayers - in the case of public institutions - have a voice in university hiring decisions?

Granted, the two cases are different. Joseph Massad is a mediocre scholar, though not worse than many. He is controversial because he shoots his mouth off, coming out with a lot of anti-Semitic nonsense off the cuff, in the classroom, and in the popular press.

Nadia Abu El Haj, by contrast, is a mere pseudo-scholar. She is the author of a single published book that denies the existence of the ancient Israelite kingdoms. It would be considered crank scholarship if not for the fashionable post-colonial, anti-Israel prose in which it is couched. Alumna are entitled to be outraged. And yet the Barnard and Columbia faculty are defending their right to tenure this propagandist because, well, apparently because they resent the fact that the alumnae are up in arms about her. Okay, also because a lot of them reallly like her anti-Israel politics and the cool, radical chic feeling that having a genuine Palestinian on faculty lends to the campus. Still, this fight appears to be largely about the right of university faculties to do as they please with no adult supervision.

But surely the adults, the administrators and trustees, have some responsibilities here. Barnard is not a wealthy school. And while much of the faculty harbors an irrational hatred of the Jewish State, few alumnae do. Should the fact that alumnae donations may fall be a factor in this decision?

Or, put it another way, since the two cases Sol posted about today involve Columbia. What are the ethics of accepting money from donors who would like to dismantle the Jewish State to create an endowed chair named after Edward Said, a man who worked hard to dismantle the Jewish State, and appointing as its first occupant Rashid Khalidi, a sometime PLO consultant and spokesman who works assiduously to dismantle the Jewish State?

If hiring a stridently political professor in order to get a large endowment is acceptable - and Columbia did agree to hire the highly political Rashid Khalidi in order to get that generous endowment – they why is denying tenure to Joseph Massad or to Nadia Abu El Haj in order to protect the flow of alumni donations unacceptable?

8 Comments

"why is denying tenure to Joseph Massad or to Nadia Abu El Haj in order to protect the flow of alumni donations unacceptable"

A somewhat similar question was provoked by the cancellation of the Rachel Corrie play in New York last year. It was claimed that the theatre under which auspices the play was to be performed came under a lot of pressure from allegedly mainly Jewish donors to cancel the production or the flow of funds will cease. It was cited by one closet antisemite as the nefarious outreach of a powerful Jewish lobby to interfere with artistic freedom.

The problem is that this issue can cut both ways.

In this instance, you have a faculty that is politically partisan, whose decision-making is bent by political bigotries that the more sensible alumnae don't share.

In another instance, however, it could be the reverse. It could be the alumnae that are partisan and narrow-minded, who might impose their views on a more informed and open-minded faculty. I could see how this might have been the case during the McCarthyite era, for instance. And it could happen again.

I sympathize with the alumnae in this case. Barnard is saddled with a largely tendentious faculty, and that is unfortunate. But I don't think alumnae donations should carry weight in the decision-making. I don't like the precedent it would set. Universities should resist pressure that comes from money, anyone's money--whether from well-meaning alumnae or from Saudis using their donations to push an agenda.

If one is against McCarthyism, one should also be against the Stalinism that pervades academia.

How many conservative voices would be welcome to join the Columbia or Berkeley faculty?

Zero.

Professors politicising the classroom is wrong in High School and University.

Joanne,

I quite agree. In a perfect world, there would be no politics involved in professorial appointments. My poinit, of course, is that in this imperfect world university appointments are highly political, with the political commitments of the Middle Eastern Studies Association dominating appointments in this field.

The cure would be to hold all professors of every political stripe to high standards with regard to the use of evidence. This is the standard that el Haj fails, and the standard that Massad fails whenever he opens his mouth to speak about Israel and the Jews.

Eddie,

Reflexively, I can name two hard-core Zionist professors who teach regularly at Columbia. One is a military historian tenured at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, another a tenured professor in our history department for whom a close friend of mine works.

If it is a more generalized conservatism that you seek: visit SIPA, where in every department you will find a gaggle of policy conservatives, hard-bitten realists, and capitalist roaders in working every day to disabuse students of the liberal notions they consider naïve.

If you consider the economics department alone, a number of tenured conservative professors devote class time to the critique and ridicule of liberal luminaries such as Jeffrey Sachs and Joseph Stiglitz. Among these is a professor whose citation count ranks him in the top twenty academic economists worldwide, and a high official in the World Bank. If you want to know more, I invite you to do the legwork.

It is clear from what you write that you do not attend our university, and never have. I don't think it's an exaggeration to say that tenure has fostered a balanced and competitive discourse at Columbia, for anyone who is willing to attend to both sides. Kindly refrain from speaking.

With that, take my advice. Carry out a minimum of due diligence, and you, too, will avoid being labelled a pseudo-scholar and a dilettante.

Cheers.

What's a "hard-core Zionist"?

Is it:

(a) a person who thinks Israel is a country like any other which ought to be allowed to defend its interests and the security of its citizens and its future existence

(b) A Jew who believes in (a)

(c) A Jew

And how far can you stretch the illusion of "balanced and competitive discourse at Columbia," when Massad is allowed to teach that Zion is a Hebrew word for "penis"? Or Edward Said writes a book that claims that there is no such thing as a Jewish people? Does this fall within John's idea of what scholarship should say?

And while at it, I'd like also to understand John's definition of what scholarship is and where is it to be found?

I think the question should be rephrased.

1. Why shouldn't Jews (or others) who support the state of Israel support academic institutions of higher learning who grant tenure to (or otherwise hire) professors, bogus or otherwise, whose seething hatred for Jews and Israelis makes their classes a means for deligitimizing what in their eyes has no legitimacy anyway?

Which is part of a larger question:

2. Why shouldn't Americans who support the US support academic institutions of higher learning who grant tenure to (or otherwise hire) professors, bogus or otherwise, whose seething hatred for America and Americans makes their classes a means for deligitimizing what in their eyes has no legitimacy anyway?

Which is part of the larger question:

3. Why shouldn't people who champion tolerance and fairness include in their larger tent (and fund, sponsor and accommodate) groups who do not tolerate dissent and whose raison d'etre is the eradication (violently or otherwise) of tolerant society (all things being relative) with a way of life that is subject to the Truth?

Aren't we all above that? That is, above sectarian allegiances and simple-minded, jingoistic exclusionism?

Long Version of Tenure Wars ( http://eaazi.blogspot.com/2007/06/long-version-of-tenure-wars_14.html )

A Battle in the Gramscian War to Control Academic Discourse
Joachim Martillo
ThorsProvoni@aol.com

May 28, 2007, Morningside Heights, New York City, Phil Orenstein of the Neoconservative Democracy Project posted excerpts of correspondence with Barnard College President Judith Shapiro. He implored Shapiro to do the right thing and deny tenure to Palestinian American Professor Nadia Abu El Haj.

PO: ... An open forum in Manhattan hosted by the American Jewish Congress dealt with these issues of the hostile climate of intimidation at Columbia revealed in the documentary Columbia Unbecoming which incidentally was initiated by Barnard students. Several professors testified that any Columbia faculty member who openly supports Zionism is marginalized, ostracized and denied tenure. I trust that you are also aware of this phenomenon. That said, I'm pleased that you'll be meeting with Candace, and I look forward to some productive discussions taking place.

JS: To clarify and provide some additional information: I do not myself believe that the people who are getting in touch with me anonymously truly need to do so. Nadia Abu El-Haj has also received death threats from those opposed to her work. I might also note, since you invoke the David Project, that I have not received a single student complaint about her teaching, advising, mentoring, or anything that has gone on in the classroom. There are indeed places where Jews or Zionists are endangered and marginalized, but Morningside Heights in the year 2007 does not happen to be one of them. Given the strength of the Jewish community at Barnard, it is, in fact, unbecoming - to use a familiar word - for members of the Jewish community to cast themselves in the role of victims here.

Orenstein's material was dutifully disseminated by Daniel Pipes' Campus Watch and the Solomonia Blog, which generally represents the David Project in the blogosphere. The New York Sun has also covered the controversy.

The correspondence described above is the latest salvo of the tenure wars that have included attacks on university professors, who do not follow the Israeli narrative on Palestine. University faculty and staff that have experienced such attempts at academic assassination have included Columbia's faculty members Rashid Khalidi, Georges Saliba, Joseph Massad, and Hamid Dabashi, as well as Harvard University's Hillary Rantisi and University of Michigan's Juan Cole, to whom Yale was considering offering a professorship. Recently, a campaign led by Alan Dershowitz resulted in the denial of tenure to Norman Finkelstein at Illinois's De Paul University.

Neoconservative, Zionist, Israeli and Jewish groups have targeted Nadia Abu El-Haj because of her book, Facts on the Ground: Archeological Practice and Territorial Self-fashioning in Israel (University of Chicago, 2002). This book analyzes the role that archeology plays in Zionist intellectual and political culture. It notes that Israeli archeologists have rather tautologically used the Bible as an interpretive framework to analyze data that then "proves" the Biblical narrative.

In addition to Orenstein, the assaults on Abu El-Haj's anthropological analysis have come during the last few months

  • from the Israeli archeologists Ussishkin and Maeir,
  • from Jewish blogger and Barnard alumna Paula Stern,
  • from the website of independent archeologist Dorothy King, who defends British retention of the Elgin Marbles,
  • from Neoconservative National Review blogger and Frontpage Magazine contributor Candace de Russy, who wrote to Shapiro as agent of the Vaad haEmet (Truth Organization) of some Israeli academics, and
  • from Neoconservative Jewish convert to Islam Stephen Schwartz, who takes extreme offense that Abu El-Haj ignores common popular beliefs about the ancestral ties of modern Jews to the residents of ancient Palestine.
  • The last complaint is particularly unfair because the issue of modern Jewish ancestral connections to Palestine is irrelevant to the book's topic. Respected Jewish studies scholars like Harvard Professor Shaye Cohen, who study the origins of modern Jewish communities, generally consider the connections of modern Jews to Greco-Roman Judean, Galilean, or Edomite populations to be tenuous at best.

    Other criticism of the book has included Abu el-Haj's use of anonymous testimony even though named sources would invariably have suffered vituperation and possible retaliation from Abu El-Haj's critics. Candace de Russy's letter faults Abu El-Haj's interpretation of Hebrew names that include the word tel. Abu El-Haj suggests that this noun appears in Zionist place names in order to fabricate a connection to ancient settlements. According to the Vaad HaEmet tel is also a Hebrew term for hill, and a name like Tel Aviv simply means Hill of Spring. Defenders of Abu El Haj's book point out

  • that using tel instead of giv`ah for hill is Modern Israeli slang,
  • that Tel Aviv is located in the coastal plain, and
  • that Old-New Land, the title of a book written by Zionist leader Theodor Herzl to advocate the colonization of Palestine, was rendered into Hebrew as Tel Aviv.
  • Abu El-Haj's analysis follows the tradition of scholars like Max Weinreich, who have studied the use of geography and archeology in the class of Central and Eastern European political movements to which Zionism belongs. Israeli academics, who generally study Palestinians as objects, are unused to being the object of anthropological study by a Palestinian American scholar working at a prestigious American University.

    "Syme: It's a beautiful thing, the destruction of words. You wouldn't have seen the [Newspeak] Dictionary 10th edition, would you Smith? It's that thick. [illustrates thickness with fingers] The 11th Edition will be that [narrows fingers] thick. Winston Smith: So, The Revolution will be complete when the language is perfect? Syme: The secret is to move from translation, to direct thought, to automatic response. No need for self-discipline. Language coming from here [the larynx], not from here [the brain]" -1984 (film)


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