September! When I made a monthly music-themed mix, September won. At this very moment I’m obsessively listening to this song, “Don’t Wait,” by Maipei. John finds the vocals too computer-processed, but it’s important to note that they are too computer-processed in an Air-song-from-1998 way, and not in a T-Pain-song-from-2008 way.
But obviously when September rolls around, this ticking, percussive guitar/synth/O HAI ITS THE HORNZ thing comes to mind. Firstly, are those, like, daishikis from outer space, or Chinese-inspired sequined outfits from outer space, what say ye? Secondly, John notes no one goes for the balding afro anymore. A man in that position nowadays would shave his head. Not Maurice White. He has the sexual self-confidence to rock this balding afro with pride.
Feel free to tell me “September” is some disco bullshit compared to “Evil” or “Shining Star.” I will ignore your reasonably well-supported claim because WAIIIAIIAIIIAIIsay do you rememberWAIIIAIII…
But for real what is the saddest most beautiful song about September? Obviously Big Star’s “September Gurls.” I have told you all before of my tragic simultaneous discovery that a) my dad knows Alex Chilton and b) he isn’t talking to him.
Scene: Belle’s house in S.C., which smells of boiled peanuts, and salt from the marsh, and rather as if someone has been burning cannabis sativa scented incense for the last near 50 years. (N.B. what had happened was, was that someone has been lighting at minimum 8 sticks a day up in there since 1967. Every day tho.) This latent smell is re-activated each time anyone sparks up a new one and is indescribably deep and layered and pervasive and delicious. It stabs my heart with homesickness though I don’t anymore partake myself.
Belle reverentially puts her new Big Star CD and prepares to eat watermelon that has been in the mini-cooler packed with ice all morning and drink a mason jar of sweet tea over ice. So sweet of tea. The sweetest tea. (Well, but not Statesboro sweet; in Statesboro they put two packets of Sweet-n-Low (saccharine) into the rubbermaid plastic pitcher at the end. It’ll make your damn teeth hurt from sweetness.)
Good, right? What did you listen to this summer? The girls and I have a tradition that when we get into the town car that takes us to JFK from our hotel in NY the radio is always playing the song of the summer, like, to where it makes us laugh. One time the car company sent us a white stretch limo instead of a normal sedan, with a huge amoeba-shaped neon light fixture on the ceiling that changed color, and I was wearing a hat with a peacock feather fascinator on it (this was because you can’t pack hats or they’ll get crushed, as hatboxes are no more, and fascinators are likewise delicate). I had to get out of the limo to use an ATM in Queens and I felt like such an idiot. Of course “Paparazzi” was blaring when we got in. This year as soon as we got into the car “Talk Dirty to Me” came on (“Talk Yiddish to Me” reclaims the klezmer horn riff), followed by “Fancy,” and we got to laugh and try to hold our breath through the long, endless cemeteries on the other side of the mid-town tunnel. It’s no use. When you turn back the gravestones make a skyline backed by the real one, the Manhattan skyline, America receding and the song of the summer playing and our driver—always, because I ask—telling us about his home country.
What’s the IGF?*
The world’s ninth Internet Governance Forum (IGF), organised by the UN, is happening this week in Istanbul. The IGF is a free and open gathering of people from all over the world who have come to talk about how the internet is run. Last year’s IGF was in Bali. The year before was Azerbaijan. Turkey’s jailing of bloggers and recent attempt to ban Twitter are actually part of an established tradition of IGF host countries showing a certain carefree whimsy about human rights and the internet.
IGFs are a bit like weddings or London glass box house extensions. They’re all basically the same, but the tiny, barely discernible differences between them consume vast amounts of energy and generate heartache for everyone involved.
What’s the same about this IGF?
For participants, IGF Istanbul is much the same as all the IGFs that came before. It has the usual long, hot queues for a registration badge, extravagant security measures and slavish worship of alleged VIPs, the near-riots by participants not about the free flow of information but the free flow of coffee; the endless, paint by numbers speeches by a dozen or so communications ministers, a venue network that barely functions, and a gala reception with no alcohol.
These first world problems are actually a plus. They bring the 3,000 participants together, providing just enough shared moaning to break the ice between the different tribes of government, technical community, business and civil society.
Nothing overt, but the ground is shifting. This is the second IGF since the Snowden revelations shattered global confidence in the US’s leadership of the internet, and the first IGF since Brazil initiated a global dialogue about who should be in control. There is also the ongoing saga of how ICANN can prove itself worthy of being cut loose by the US government before the Obama administration finishes. But no world-changing announcements are expected at this IGF.
As ever, countries including Russia that want to control the internet would prefer to have the discussion about it in a forum that governments dominate: the International Telecommunications Union. But those countries still come to IGF and take part, albeit grumpily. They see efforts to stop them getting their hands on the internet’s controlling levers as stemming from the west’s desire to keep it for itself, with freedoms and human rights simply a smokescreen. All the work-shopping and hand-shaking at IGF won’t mask the ugliness of the internet’s basic geopolitics, especially in a city straddling Europe and Asia, and looking up the Bosphorus to Ukraine, Crimea and Russia’s (other) Black Sea resorts.
Who goes to IGF?
Typically a couple of thousand people attend, from technical experts to ministry officials, from activists to business lobbyists. The business lobby is mostly American, though it’s usually fronted by a suitable, middle-income-country poster child for bootstrapping, intellectual property rights and government staying the hell out of the way.
The government people clump together in groups, looking slightly bewildered by all the egalitarian questioning and relatively open discussion. They typically give off the air of nerds who’ve been unexpectedly invited to the party and can’t be sure they’re not being mocked.
At IGF, nerds are not quite kings, but they’re the only ones who know how the whole internet thing really works, so we mortals duck into their workshops for the first 10-15 minutes to pay homage to our household gods.
The real king of the IGF is Vint Cerf, the “grandfather of the internet”, who is omnipresent in his trademark three-piece suit. People say he’s selling himself cheap at this year’s event and appearing on too many panels about ICANN’s coming independence. I think he just happens to believe in it.
Other larger than life figures include an EU commissioner, Neelie Krooes, who’s clearly enjoying her last few months in the job and saying pretty much whatever she likes; Larry Strickling, the US assistant secretary at the Department of Commerce – when he opens his mouth, everyone else closes theirs, the better to parse every word and interpret them in a self-serving fashion later – and ICANN’s charismatic CEO, Fadi Chehadi, whose silver tongue could charm anyone, but just the once.
And then there is my sometime tribe, the pro-freedom, human rights activists from civil society who agonise about whether being here legitimises all sorts of wrongs, from the host country’s jailed bloggers to the realpolitik really driving the internet debate. As Mao Zedong didn’t say about the French Revolution, it’s too soon to tell.
An old friend from the technical community stopped me today and said, à propos of absolutely nothing: “You must remember that we are here for damage control. Nothing more, nothing less.”
This illustrates two things. One, that the people who built the internet and keep it running grudgingly accept they must keep explaining it to and protecting it from the governments and corporates who want to use it for their own purposes. Two, that many people here are on broadcast-only mode. One way to have a successful IGF is to come with a simple, honed message and tell it to everyone you meet. If you’re good, you’ll soon hear other people adopting your meme as their own. It’s good lobbying tactics but pretty poor for actual conversation.
So does IGF matter? Not a lot. It exposes governments – often of not especially free or tolerant countries – to a wider range of views than they are used to. But the effects aren’t always what you might wish. I recently gave a session (not at the IGF) on the problems with electronic surveillance to an authoritarian-lite telecoms regulator. The feedback afterwards was: “That was good. But next time, could you make it more of a ‘how-to’?”
But to some not-quite-insiders, the IGF is an annual chance to challenge powerful people with tough questions. Activists fly thousands of miles to tackle their national luminaries on topics like net neutrality, local communications monopolies, censorship, and failed broadband rollouts. I can only hope the end result amounts to more than the momentary thrill of watching senior civil servants squirm before their peers.
How to survive the IGF
You need considerable stamina or, ideally, the ability to be in several spaces at once. How else would you choose between eight competing sessions, four times a day? Who’s to say which will be better; the internet and economic development in small island states or cloud computing in the post-Snowden environment? You won’t know till you’ve slogged up several floors, got lost twice, been flagged down by precisely the person you were trying to avoid, and finally arrived at an apparently electrifying session that nonetheless finished ten minutes early.
My tactic is to do half an hour each in the best-looking sessions in any slot, only occasionally ducking into the main auditorium. The main sessions usually have the most grandstanding, canned and scripted inputs and speakers so diverse in experience and concerns that it takes the whole time to come to agreement on the basic terms of discussion. Best avoided in person and followed on Twitter.
The key session to avoid is the opening ceremony. There is no reason to willingly submit to 25 ministers’ statements delivered in multiple languages but all following the same template:
“The internet is important. My country is important. I am a minister. I too am important.”
Ed Vaizey, UK minister for culture, communications and the creative industries, went down a treat at this year’s opening. This is because he largely confined his comments to enthusing about Turkish food. He also said governments shouldn’t get in the way of the people who run the internet, presumably in their stampede to the buffet.
“Ed Vaizey likes food. Ed Vaizey likes the internet. Both are important. So too is Ed Vaizey.”
Still and all, we’ve only got one internet (China’s private version of same notwithstanding) and we’ve only got one IGF. An Australian activist, Asher Wolf, tweeted to IGF participants this week that those of us in Istanbul are incredibly privileged to be here, and she’s right, and that we should speak truth to power every chance we get, and she’s right about that, too.
Participate remotely in the IGF here
As a kind of side-note to Corey’s most recent post, most people, including, I suspect, most academics, don’t realize how important rich people are to the running of universities. Some months back, I was able to listen in on a conversation including a college president (not my own), and was startled to discover how much time the president spent managing relations with the Board of Trustees. Being a board member usually involves a two way relationship. As a trustee, you get some social kudos, and some broad-scale influence over how the university is run. In return, you are expected to give the university a lot of money. Relations with rich donors who aren’t on the board are somewhat similar, albeit less organized – again, there’s an implied quid pro quo, and the implicit or express threat if if you, as a rich donor, don’t like something that the university is doing, the money will dry up. While you do not have any veto, influential officials in the administration will listen – very carefully – to what you say, and be likely to represent on behalf of your viewpoint in internal discussions.
This has consequences for bureaucratic power. The paper trail described in Corey’s post emphatically suggests that Development (i.e. money raising) was heavily involved in the decision making process over Salaita’s appointment, while Academic Affairs (which is usually responsible for teaching and research quality of faculty and the like) was consulted pro forma, and after the fact. Of course, university presidents care – in the aggregate – about research and teaching quality. Apart from their intrinsic value, if research and teaching deteriorate too much, it will damage the university’s reputation. But they contribute to the bottom line only indirectly, and in ways that are difficult to measure. When they are weighed against the immediate and concrete threat of canceled donations and skittish board members (a vote of no confidence in the president is a rather different thing when it comes from the trustees instead of an academic department), it’s unsurprising that presidents will often be prepared to take dubious decisions on hiring and firing. From their perspective, the risks of angering rich people will usually outweigh the risks of angering faculty (who aren’t usually interested in governance issues, are difficult to organize collectively etc).
It also has consequences for ideas in the university. The Board of Trustees is one of the main channels through which the university is supposed to get external guidance and new perspectives on how it can do its job. If the Board is composed exclusively of the rich and powerful, then ideas which appeal to the rich and powerful will have an unusual degree of influence on campus governance and on the direction of the university. It will be difficult to rationally debate bad ideas which are fashionable among rich people, because these are just the ideas that are most likely to be popular with the board. Plausibly, something like this was at the root of the 2012 debacle in the University of Virginia.
One of the least appreciated problems of economic inequality is that it tends to filter out ideas that are uncongenial to rich people, and to heavily overweight ideas that they like. Universities like to think of themselves as removed from all of this. More and more, they are not.
There are many developments today in the Salaita affair.
This morning, the News-Gazette released 280 pages of documents obtained under the Illinois Freedom of Information Act revealing extensive donor pressure on Chancellor Wise.
As news spread in late July about a new University of Illinois faculty hire and media outlets began publishing some of his profanity-laden tweets, a number of wealthy donors threatened to stop giving money to the university, recently released documents show.
The letters about professor Steven Salaita started arriving in Chancellor Phyllis Wise’s inbox July 21, and the writers did not hold back.
“Having been a multiple 6 figure donor to Illinois over the years, I know our support is ending as we vehemently disagree with the approach this individual espouses,” wrote one UI business school graduate.
The letters from donors, some of them identifying themselves as members of the UI’s $25,000-plus “presidents council,” have also raised questions about the motivation behind the administration’s decision to not forward Salaita’s name to the board of trustees for formal approval last month.
The chancellor, however, through a spokeswoman, maintains her decision was not influenced by them, but was based out of concern for the students, campus and community.
Then tonight Phan Nguyen sent me 443 pages of documents he had posted online. These are all the documents released by the UIUC in response to four different FOIA requests from various news organizations. I’ve now spent the entire evening reading through these documents and here are some of the highlights.
When the Salaita story first broke in the local press, Associate Chancellor for Public Affairs Robin Kaler said, “Faculty have a wide range of scholarly and political views, and we recognize the freedom-of-speech rights of all of our employees.” That was on July 21. The UIUC documents reveal that not only was Chancellor Wise apprised of that statement minutes after it was emailed to the media, but that she also wrote back to Kaler: “I have received several emails. Do you want me to use this response or to forward these to you?” (p. 101) In other words, this was not the rogue statement of a low-level spokesperson; it reflected Wise’s own views, including the view that Salaita was already a university employee. Even though Wise already had been informed of Salaita’s tweets.
In the days following this forthright defense of Salaita, the Chancellor and her associates begin to back-pedal. Around July 23, Wise starts reaching out to select alumni, trying to arrange phone calls (and in one instance, struggling to rearrange her travel schedule just so she can meet one alum in person [pp. 78-94]). To another such alum, she writes, “Let me say that I just recently learned about Steven Salaita’s background, beyond his academic history, and am learning more now.” (p. 293) That “beyond his academic history” is going to get Wise in trouble on academic freedom grounds.
In the background of this change of tune are the donors and the university’s fundraising and development people. In a July 24 email to Dan Peterson, Leanne Barnhart, and Travis Michael Smith (all part of the UIUC money machine), Wise reports about a meeting she has had with what appears to be a big donor. In Wise’s words:
He said that he knows [REDACTED] and [REDACTED] well and both have less loyalty for Illinois because of their perception of anti-Semitism. He gave me a two-pager filled with information on Steven Salaita and said how we handle this situation will be very telling. (p. 206)
And as Carol Tilley revealed earlier today on Twitter, the alum whom Wise scrambled to rearrange her schedule over is Steve Miller (the UIUC redactor failed to redact his name). Tilley then tweeted some other information about Miller. He’s a huge venture capitalist. In 2010, he donated a half-million dollars to endow a professorship in the UIUC business school. He’s given money for years to endow the Steven N. Miller Entrepreneurial Scholarships. He believes in “venture philanthropy.” He’s also on the board of the Jewish United Fund/Jewish Federation of Metropolitan Chicago and the board of Hillel.
Once Wise and her team start back-tracking, the trustees are brought into the picture. On July 28, Susan Mary Kies, who is the secretary of the Board of Trustees, writes Wise, who had been apologetic about “filling your inbox” with Salaita info, “No problem, we will place the letters in weekly dispatch (as we did last week) so the trustees can see the depth of the matter!” (p. 62) The next day, Kaler starts writing to complaining alums that the final decision regarding Salaita lies with the trustees (this is the first we hear of what will become the ultimate strategy of the administration: putting it all on the trustees):
While I cannot comment on any specific employment decisions of the university, pursuant to the governing documents for the university the final decision for any faculty appointment at the level of assistant professor or above rests with the Board of Trustees. I, therefore, have passed your concerns along to the Secretary of the Board of Trustees. (p. 62)
What’s most stunning about these documents is that they show how removed and isolated Chancellor Wise is from any of the academic voices in the university, even the academic voices on her own team. As she heads toward her August 2 decision to dehire Salaita, she is only speaking to and consulting with donors, alums, PR people, and development types. Ilesanmi Adesida, the provost and vice chancellor for academic affairs, makes exactly one appearance in these 443 pages. That is on Tuesday, July 22. Even though Wise has been inundated with emails about Salaita for days, she only finally emails Adesida about the matter a day after the story has broken in the local press. His response: “Thanks for sending these emails. I was not aware of any controversy on this person until yesterday!” (p. 95) And he’s never heard from again.
Then on August 4, two days after Wise has informed Salaita and Robert Warrior, chair of the American Indian Studies department, that Salaita won’t be hired, Warrior writes Brian Ross, interim dean of the College of Arts and Sciences, to find out what happened. Warrior first gets an email back from one of Ross’s associates, who says, “Brian is not in the office today, and I’m not sure he knows anything about this because I presume he would have discussed it with me if he had” (p. 361). And then Ross himself writes back, “i am in NY, traveling back tomorrow. I have not seen the letter but have a request in and will let you know when I hear any more” (p.362). In other words, even two days after the Chancellor has dehired Salaita, she still hasn’t informed the dean of the largest college at the UIUC of her decision.
What’s also clear from reading these documents is just how high up the chain Salaita’s appointment had gone, and how ensconced at the university he was becoming—up until the day that he wasn’t. On September 27, 2013, for example, Reginald Alston, one of two associate chancellors who works directly in Phyllis Wise’s office, writes the following report on Salaita’s candidacy (pp. 238-239):
After closely reviewing Dr. Steven Salaita’s dossier, I support the Department of American Indian Studies’ (AIS) request to grant him the rank of Associate Professor with indefinite tenure at the University of Illinois. The uniqueness of his scholarship on the intersection of American Indian, Palestinian, and American Palestinian experiences presents a rare opportunity to add an esoteric perspective on indigeneity to our cultural studies programs on campus.
Again, I support offering Dr. Salaita a tenured position because of the obvious intellectual value that his scholarship and background would bring to our campus. His presence would elevate AIS internationally and convey Illinois’ commitment to maintaining a leading academic program on the historical and sociopolitical intricacies of American Indian culture.
On January 15, 2014, his appointment is approved by the Office of Diversity, Equity, and Access, which is one of the key and most powerful offices in any university hiring decision; if they don’t sign off, the appointment goes nowhere (p. 398).
Then, between July 22 and July 25, while the chancellor and her aides are formulating their strategy to deal with the backlash, Salaita and Warrior email back and forth about Salaita’s moving expenses. The UIUC had originally promised to cover up to $5000 of Salaita’s expenses (p. 387), but when the University-approved moving company comes back with an estimate of $7500, the department decides to cover the difference (pp. 341-347).
And then, when the tech support start asking Warrior about Salaita’s computer needs (“Did Steven Salaita say he had any special PC laptop needs? Does he run SPSS or any other resource intensive applications? Does he need something geared toward video work or any other special area?”), Warrior replies, “He’s pretty much a meat and potatoes user. Nothing complicated” (pp. 341-347).
That was on August 1. The next day, Chancellor Wise fired Salaita.
In other news of the day, last night’s report that Chancellor Wise would be forwarding Salaita’s appointment to the Trustees was wrong. Several members of the UIUC faculty met with her today. According to Michael Rothberg, chair of the English department:
Together with two colleagues I just met with Chancellor Wise, at her invitation. The main message from our discussion was that there is no change in the status of the case. It seems that the students were not accurate in their impression. She doesn’t know if the Board of Trustees will be voting on the case at their 9/11 meeting, but she indicated that she thought a reversal was very unlikely.
So status quo. I’ll come back to that 9/11 meeting at the end of this post.
Tonight, the English Department became the fourth department at UIUC to take a vote of no confidence in the leadership of the University of Illinois—the trustees, the president, and Chancellor Wise. From what I’m hearing, the departments of history, comparative and world literatures, and East Asian Languages and Cultures will be voting on similar motions sometime this week.
Meanwhile, the number of canceled events grows. We now have a second cancelled conference. Today, Columbia law professor Katharine Franke canceled series of lectures she was to give at the UIUC in late September. This was an especially nice touch:
I have long held the view that the use of boycotts as a tactic to protest an unjust practice by a state, business or academic institution may be appropriate in the right context, such as the current crisis at the UIUC, but that those who pledge to honor a boycott cannot rest their political commitments exclusively on a promise not to do something. Rather they should also pledge to affirmatively engage the injustice that generated the call for the boycott. For this reason, rather than merely boycotting your institution, I plan to travel to Urbana-Champaign in mid September at my own expense to participate in a forum (located off campus) with members of the UIUC community in which we will explore the manner in which the termination of Professor Salaita’s employment at UIUC threatened a robust principal of academic freedom.
I just found out that University of Nebraska philosophy professor Mark Van Roojen canceled a scheduled lecture as well. In fact, the list of canceled lectures and events seems to have exploded overnight. There’s now a poster listing all of the cancellations. John Protevi’s also keeping track over at his blog. If you’re cancelling something, please let him know.
In other developments, a group of graduate students has now organized its own boycott pledge. It’s one of the more powerful statements, as it dramatizes the real long-term costs of the Salaita dehiring.
As the rising generation of scholars and public intellectuals, we are troubled about what this signals about the work environments, hiring conditions, and the larger academe we are working to enter.
UI-UC’s actions have signaled to the graduate student community that in order to secure employment, we should stay silent on political questions, eliminate our online interactions with others in the public and in the scholarly community, and cease researching and asking tough questions that may displease those in authority. These conditions trouble us all, and will deter many graduate students from applying to faculty positions at UI-UC in the future.
We hold that the value of scholarly efforts must not be determined by how readily they appease the powerful or cater to the status quo; instead, such efforts must be weighed by their degree of due diligence and attention to the ethical pursuit of knowledge, as well as the imperative to voice righteous criticisms when necessary. To constrain our research and public engagement in such a way as to protect ourselves from the treatment Professor Salaita has received promises to strip the academy of all relevance to society as an institution that values intellectual debate.
If you’re a grad student, please sign it.
Over the weekend, the American Historical Association, the official professional body of historians, issued a scorching denunciation today of Chancellor Wise’s decision.
The First Amendment protects speech, both civil and uncivil. It does so for good reason. The United States made a wager that democracy can flourish only with a robustly open public sphere where conflicting opinions can vigorously engage one another. Such a public sphere rests on the recognition that speech on matters of public concern is often emotional and that it employs a variety of idioms and styles. Hence American law protects not only polite discourse but also vulgarity, not only sweet rationality but also impassioned denunciation. “Civility” is a laudable ideal, and many of us wish that American public life had more of it today. Indeed the AHA recommends it as part of our own Statement on the Standards of Professional Conduct. But imposing the requirement of “civility” on speech in a university community or any other sector of our public sphere—and punishing infractions—can only backfire. Such a policy produces a chilling effect, inhibiting the full exchange of ideas that both scholarly investigation and democratic institutions need.
If allowed to stand, your administration’s punitive treatment of Steven Salaita will chill the intellectual atmosphere at the University of Illinois. Even tenured professors will fear for their job security, persuaded that their institution lacks respect for the principles of academic freedom. The unhappy consequences for the untenured will be even more pronounced. A regimen of defensive self-censorship will settle like a cloud over faculty lectures and classroom discussions. Faculty will be inclined to seek positions elsewhere. This, surely, is not the future you wish for your historically great institution.
The AHA joined the Modern Languages Association, the professional organization of literature and language scholars, and the American Studies Association, in putting the weight of a major disciplinary organization behind Salaita’s case. I hope American Political Science Association, the American Sociological Association, and other disciplinary organizations join in soon.
It has become clear from various UIUC faculty I’ve spoken with that the trustees are now the main focus of our campaign. Between now and 9/11, we have to bombard them with emails and phone calls urging them to do the right thing. Unfortunately, we don’t have all of their contact information, but Thanks to John Protevi’s heroic efforts (and a little angel who came to my aid after this post went live), we have most all of them. Here they are (plus a few others that are relevant).
If you’ve already joined a boycott, signed the petition, and emailed Chancellor Wise, I want to ask you—all of you, in the tens of thousands now—to rattle the trustees with your voices. As John says: “Be polite but firm, open, frank, forthright, unapologetic, and exigent when writing these folks.”
Christopher G. Kennedy, Chair, University of Illinois Board of Trustees: email@example.com
Robert A. Easter, President: firstname.lastname@example.org
Hannah Cave, Trustee: email@example.com
Ricardo Estrada, Trustee: firstname.lastname@example.org
Patrick J. Fitzgerald, Trustee: email@example.com
Lucas N. Frye, Trustee: firstname.lastname@example.org
Karen Hasara, Trustee: email@example.com
Patricia Brown Holmes, Trustee: firstname.lastname@example.org
Danielle M. Leibowitz, Trustee: email@example.com
James D. Montgomery, Trustee: firstname.lastname@example.org
Pamela B. Strobel, Trustee: email@example.com
Thomas R. Bearrows, University Counsel: firstname.lastname@example.org
Susan M. Kies, Secretary of the Board of Trustees and the University: email@example.com
Lester H. McKeever, Jr., Treasurer, Board of Trustees: firstname.lastname@example.org
And if you want all the email addresses collected in one place in order to send one email, John Protevi has done that for you too:
email@example.com, firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com, firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com, firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com, firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com, firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com, firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com, firstname.lastname@example.org
One last word. I know in the last few days, I’ve been posting on this issue more and more frequently. While I think the attention is warranted—if for no other reason than that it has roiled the entire academy, here in the States and sometimes beyond—I’m also mindful that I’m part of a collective, where we don’t all agree on the politics of Israel/Palestine or its role in the academy (even though Henry, Chris, and I have joined the boycott), and that not all of you, our readers, come to this blog in order to get updates on Steven Salaita. So barring some major developments, I’m going to make this my last post on the issue for a while. If you want to get more updated information, come to my blog, follow me on Twitter, or friend me on Facebook.
We are getting reports out of the University of Illinois that Chancellor Wise is going to forward the Salaita appointment to the Board of Trustees for a vote on September 11. A group of Gender and Women’s Studies students reports the following:
From GWS Undergraduate Stephanie Skora’s report back on meeting with Chancellor Wise on Monday, September 1, 2014:
The meeting with Chancellor Wise was a success, and we have gained some valuable information and commitments from the Chancellor!
We have discovered that the Chancellor HAS FORWARDED Professor Salaita’s appointment to the Board of Trustees, and they will be voting on his appointment during the Board of Trustees Meeting on September 11th, on the UIUC campus! Our immediate future organizational efforts will focus around speaking at, and appearing at, this Board of Trustees meeting. We will be attempting to appear during the public comment section of the Board of Trustees meeting, as well as secure a longer presentation to educate them on the issues about which Professor Salaita tweeted. Additionally, we are going to attempt to ensure that the Board of Trustees consults with a cultural expert on Palestine, who can explain and educate them about the issues and the context surrounding Professor Salaita’s tweets. It has been made clear to us that the politics of the Board of Trustees is being allowed to dictate the course of the University, and that the misinformation and personal views of the members of the Board are being allowed to tell the students who is allowed to teach us, regardless of who we say that we want as our educators. We will not let this go unchallenged.
Additionally, Chancellor Wise has agreed to several parts of our demands, and has agreed upon a timeline under which she will take steps to address them. The ball is currently in her court, but we take her agreements as a gesture of good faith and of an attempt to rebuild trust between the University administration and the student body. She has not agreed unilaterally to our demands, and but we have made an important first step in our commitment to reinstating Professor Salaita. In terms of his actual reinstatement, the power to make that decision is not hers. This is why we have shifted the target of our efforts to the Board of Trustees, because they alone have the power to reinstate and approve Professor Salaita’s appointment at the University. In regards to the rest of our demands, which we have updated to reflect the town hall meeting, we have made progress on all of those, but continue to emphasize that it is unacceptable to meet any of our demands without first reinstating Professor Salaita.
We have made progress, but we all have a LOT of work left to do. We must organize, write to the Board of Trustees, and make our voices and our presences known. We will not be silent on September 11th, and we will not stop in our efforts to reinstate Professor Salaita, regardless of what the Board of Trustees decides.
Please keep organizing, please keep making your voices heard, and please#supportSalaita!
Also, feel free to message or comment with any questions, comments, or concerns.
Assuming the report is accurate, I can think of two interpretations of what it means.
If the UIUC is thinking politically, it would be an absolute disaster for them to open this can of worms, to act as if Salaita’s appointment is now a real possibility, to raise expectations for two weeks or so, to encourage all the organizing this will encourage (I can imagine the phone calls and emails that will now start pouring into the Board of Trustees), only to have the Board vote Salaita down. From a political perspective, this would be a disaster for the university. The strongest weapon the UIUC has always had is the sense that this is a done deal, that they will not budge, that we can raise all the ruckus we want, but they simply don’t care. Opening the decision up again calls that into question. Where does this line of reasoning lead us? To the possibility that the UIUC Trustees will vote to appoint Salaita on September 11, throw Chancellor Wise under the bus (remember, the Executive Committee that upheld her decision is only comprised of three Trustees, not the full Board)*, and say it was all a misunderstanding wrought by an incompetent chancellor. Who’ll then be pushed out within a year. The advantage of this approach is that it will effectively bring this story to a close. There will be angry donors, but everything I’ve ever read and experienced about that crew suggests that their bark is often worse than their bite. The ongoing atmosphere of crisis and ungovernability on campus is not something any university leader can bear for too long, and this threatens to go on for a very long time.
The other possibility is that the UIUC is thinking legally. One of the many weak links in their legal case was that Wise never forwarded Salaita’s appointment to the Board of Trustees for a vote. She basically did a pocket veto. Salaita’s offer letter stated that his appointment was subject to approval by the Board of Trustees, but Wise effectively never allowed the Board to approve or disapprove. So the UIUC’s lawyers could have decided that the better thing to do would be simply to carry out the full deed.
Many questions remain, not least of which is how accurate is this report. Stay tuned. But assuming the report is true, we have to operate on the assumption that the first interpretation is a very real possibility and that we have a lot of work to do in the next ten days.
*John Wilson reminds me in this post that all the members of the Board did sign a letter supporting Wise’s position, which I had forgotten about.
Update (11:15 pm)
Just to clarify my blog post: Like all of us, I have no idea what Wise and the Board are thinking (though we can assume that they are making this decision together). But while I think we have to be as strategic and smart about this as possible (fyi: John Wilson thinks I’m wrong; he may have a point), and gather as much information as we can, there’s always a tendency in these situations to play armchair strategist, to try and read the tea leaves, to figure out the pattern of power, as if we didn’t have hand or a role in shaping that pattern of power. Particularly when questions of law get involved (in a country of lawyers, Louis Hartz reminded us, every philosophical question is turned into a legal claim.) We have to resist that tendency. We have to treat this announcement, assuming it’s true, as a golden opportunity. To use the next 10 days as a chance to shift the balance of power on the ground. Remember the Board will be meeting and voting on campus. There are students, faculty, and activists on and around that campus. That’s an opportunity. Remember these trustees are individuals who can be called and emailed round the clock. That’s an opportunity. Between now and 9/11 (they really chose that date), let’s be mindful of the constraints, but also be thinking, always, in terms of opportunities.
Salaita By the Numbers: 5 Cancelled Lectures, 3 Votes of No Confidence, 3849 Boycotters, and 1 NYT Article (Updated Thrice)
The New York Times has weighed in with a strong piece on the Salaita affair. This is significant for two reasons. First, while we in academia and on social media or the blogosphere have been debating and pushing this story for weeks, it hasn’t really broken into the mainstream. With a few exceptions, no major newspaper has covered it. Now that the Times has, I’m hoping Salaita’s story will get even more attention, possibly from the networks as well. Second, in addition to covering the basics of the case, the piece shows just how divisive and controversial Chancellor Wise’s decision has been, and how it has isolated the University of Illinois.
The decision, which raised questions about contractual loopholes and academic freedom, almost immediately drew pushback from the academic community. Thousands of scholars in a variety of disciplines signed petitions pledging to avoid the campus unless it reversed its decision to rescind the job offer. A number of prominent academic associations also urged the university to reconsider.
In the past few days, several people have followed through on promises to boycott the institution. Two scholars declined invitations to speak at the prestigious Center for Advanced Study/MillerComm Lecture Series this fall, and a campus-based project called off a four-day national conference that it was scheduled to host there in October.
David J. Blacker, a professor of philosophy and legal studies at the University of Delaware, notified the Center for Advanced Study on Aug. 20 that he no longer wanted to participate. His lecture had been scheduled for Sept. 29.
“Instead of choosing education and more speech as the remedy for disagreeable speech,” he wrote to the committee, the University of Illinois “has apparently chosen ‘enforced silence.’ It thus violates what a university must stand for — whatever else it stands for — and therefore I join those who will not participate in the violation. In my judgment, this is a core and nonnegotiable issue of academic freedom.”
Mr. Blacker added that he “would be delighted to reschedule my talk” if the university should decide to reinstate its offer to Mr. Salaita.
The following day, Allen F. Isaacman, a professor of history at the University of Minnesota, also pulled out of the series, offering a similar message. His talk had been scheduled for Oct. 30.
“The University of Illinois’s recent decision to disregard its prior commitment to appoint Professor Salaita confirms my fear of the administration’s blatant disregard for academic freedom,” Mr. Isaacman wrote in a letter to Wayne Pitard, a professor of religion and head of the lecture-series committee. “I do hope that the university administration will reverse its decision before it does irreparable harm to your great institution.”
That same day, the Education Justice Project, which is part of the department of education policy, organization, and leadership at Urbana-Champaign, announced that it was canceling the National Conference on Higher Education in Prison, which it had been scheduled to host.
“This decision has not been easy,” Rebecca Ginsburg, an associate professor in the education policy department, said in an announcement posted on the project’s webpage. The project’s leaders reached the decision only after speaking with would-be presenters and attendees, she wrote. “We concluded that for EJP to host the conference at this time would compromise our ability to come together as a national community of educators and activists.”
Ms. Ginsburg could not be reached for comment Friday; university administrators also did not respond to calls for comment.
On the campus, tensions are just as high.
That evening, however, faculty members in the American Indian studies program, a unit of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, cast a unanimous vote of no confidence in Ms. Wise’s leadership, criticizing her handling of the last-minute withdrawal of the offer to Mr. Salaita.
“In clear disregard of basic principles of shared governance and unit autonomy, and without basic courtesy and respect for collegiality, Chancellor Wise did not consult American Indian studies nor the college before making her decision,” reads a statement posted on the program’s webpage.
“With this vote of no confidence, the faculty of UIUC’s American Indian studies program also joins the thousands of scholars and organizations in the United States and across the world in seeing the chancellor’s action as a violation of academic freedom and freedom of speech,” the statement says.
The note goes on to encourage other departments to do the same, and to question whether the chancellor deserves the confidence of Illinois’s full faculty.
My only objection to the piece is that its numbers are out of date.
As of today, five scholars, not two, have canceled lectures or turned down an invitation to a University of Illinois campus. (And there may be more I am not aware of.)
In addition to David Blacker and Allen Isaacman, Eric Schwitzgebel has canceled a talk he was due to give on campus in December and also notified the organizers of a conference on experimental philosophy that he would not be able to deliver the keynote address, as he had been invited to do.
Jonathan Judaken, a humanities scholar, was asked to deliver the keynote address at conference at the UIUC in October; he was also scheduled to speak, while on campus, at the Program in Jewish Culture and Society. He has turned down the invitation. Despite his opposition to the idea of an academic boycott of Israel, and despite his visceral reaction to Salaita’s tweets, he believes the academic freedom issues in this case are so vital that he must boycott the UIUC.
[Chancellor Wise’s] new doctrine of civility ostensibly created to foster a climate where open dialogue, discourse, and debate must be respected has actually planted the latest land mine in this academic battlefield. The result will be opposite of what she intends. Now faculty and students will feel more anxious than ever that views or viewpoints that go beyond the policed confines of what administrators—or worse, the lapdogs of the watchdog groups—define as the norm, will be able to be expressed as part of an open conversation.
It is consequently on the basis of the principles of faculty governance, academic freedom, and freedom of speech that I will not speak at Illinois until Salaita’s job offer is upheld.
This all could have been avoided if Chancellor Wise trusted faculty governance procedures. The faculty who hired Salaita were fully aware of his position on Israel and Zionism and fully equipped to determine if it would negatively impact his ability to teach his classes. There are international experts on the faculty who could have aided the administration in assessing Salaita’s tweets. It is faculty as the leaders of the communities of inquiry in universities and colleges that are best equipped to judge in such cases.
Contrary to the muddled ways it is being used today as a political cudgel, academic freedom is about the right of academics to say what they will without the interference of groups outside the academy policing their positions. Faculty governance is about giving faculty the right to make all decisions within the academy pertaining to their domains of expertise, most significantly hiring decisions. And freedom of speech is our most basic right as Americans.
Campus watchdogs who monitor the academy claim they do so to uphold what is best in higher education. But Salaita’s case shows once more that they threaten to turn campuses from refuges of critical inquiry into battlegrounds of political correctness and narrow norms.
And Julie Livingston, a Rutgers historian and MacArthur Fellow, has canceled a talk at the University of Illinois at Chicago (a UIUC sister campus, whose chancellor came out in support of Chancellor Wise). Livingston writes:
With great sadness I am writing to cancel my upcoming talk at UIC scheduled for September 17, given your chancellor’s recent statement of support for the actions of Phyllis Wise and the U of I Board of Trustees in the Steven Salaita case. While I had been looking forward to engaging with colleagues and students at UIC, I cannot in good conscience visit your campus until the Steven Salaita matter is resolved in a manner that upholds the principles of academic freedom and shared governance that are fundamental to American higher education and the necessary exchange of ideas, especially where difficult and potentially polarizing issues are concerned. I very much hope that your leadership will listen to their faculty and to the several thousand scholars (including myself) who have signed a pledge to boycott the University of Illinois, reflect on their actions, and reverse the errant course on which they have embarked in this matter. Should that happen I would welcome very much the chance to come and speak.
So five cancellations or refusals of an invitation.
No Confidence Votes
In addition, three departments at the UIUC, not one, have taken a vote of no confidence in the leadership of UIUC. In addition to the American Indian Studies department vote discussed by the Times, the Asian American Studies department and the philosophy department have voted no confidence in the chancellor. The philosophy department resolution states:
Whereas the recent words and actions of Chancellor Phyllis Wise, President Robert Easter, and the Board of Trustees in connection with the revocation of an offer of employment to Dr. Steven Salaita betray a culpable disregard not only for academic freedom and free speech generally but also for the principles of shared governance and established protocols for hiring, tenure, and promotion, the faculty of the Department of Philosophy at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign declares its lack of confidence in the leadership of the current Chancellor, President, and Board of Trustees.
The philosophy vote is especially important, to my mind, because it demonstrates the power of the boycott. Of all the disciplines, philosophy has been the strongest in defending academic freedom at the UIUC. Over 530 philosophers have joined the boycott, more than any other field. Why that’s the case, I’m not sure. But the fact that philosophy is the only department at UIUC—besides Asian American and American Indian Studies (where Salaita’s connections are strong)—to have voted no confidence is symptomatic of the power of the boycott. Seeing so many of their colleagues across the country and around the world take this strong stand, the philosophers at UIUC have now communicated to the administration that the campus is growing increasingly ungovernable. Chancellor Wise will not get any peace on campus till she and the trustees reverse their decision. As even this generally negative piece in a local paper acknowledges.
This is why I want to press one of the newer boycott initiatives, from Alan Sokal of NYU, for natural scientists. Getting support among the natural scientists is critical, as they are often a favored constituency at big research campuses like UIUC. They draw the big money from federal grants; they have a lot of power. I want to urge any one of you who is a natural scientist to join this boycott pledge and to urge your friends and colleagues in the natural sciences to do the same. With just the right amount of pressure from all of you, we might see something similar to the philosophy vote on the natural sciences side of the UIUC campus.
For a complete list of the boycott statements, go here. While I haven’t gotten a complete update on the numbers, we have at least 3849 signed up for the boycott as of tonight.
The American Association of University Professors has issued a strong statement on the Salaita affair. Here are some of the highlights.
The letter details the extensive dealings between Salaita and the University of Illinois subsequent to his signing of the offer letter he received in October 2013. Among other things, the AAUP reveals that Chancellor Wise invited Salaita to a welcome reception for new faculty.
Toward the end of January, Professor Salaita wrote to Professor Byrd about scheduling a visit to Urbana-Champaign in order to make arrangements for a place to live for him and his family. He states that they visited the area in March and subsequently initiated the purchase of an apartment, including payment of “earnest” money, which was subsequently forfeited when the agreement was voided following the abrupt notification regarding his appointment. During this visit, the AIS faculty hosted a dinner for him and his family to welcome him to the faculty. In early April he was notified of his fall teaching assignment, and he finalized his course book orders in mid-summer.
In the intervening months between his October 2013 acceptance of the appointment and early August 2014, when you notified him of its termination, Professor Salaita received information from various offices of the university, indicating that they had been informed of his appointment, including an invitation from your office to attend your August 19 reception “welcoming faculty and academic professionals who joined the Illinois community in 2014,” as the invitation stated. Nothing was said to Professor Salaita about board action still to come, and we are informed that it is not uncommon for board action on new appointments to take place only after the appointment has begun and the appointee is already at work.
Because the AAUP recognizes that Salaita was in fact hired by the UIUC, they reach a vastly different conclusion about what Chancellor Wise has done to him and what Wise must now do.
Aborting an appointment in this manner without having demonstrated cause has consistently been seen by the AAUP as tantamount to summary dismissal, an action categorically inimical to academic freedom and due process and one aggravated in his case by the apparent failure to provide him with any written or even oral explanation.
Until these issues have been resolved, we look upon Professor Salaita’s situation as that of a faculty member suspended from his academic responsibilities pending a hearing on his fitness to continue. Under the joint 1958 Statement on Procedural St andards in Faculty Dismissal Proceedings, any such suspension is to be with pay. As detailed earlier in this letter, Professor Salaita has incurred major financial expenses since he accepted the University of Illinois offer. We urge–indeed insist–that he be paid salary as set in the terms of the appointment pending the result of the CAFT proceeding.
Brian Leiter has an interesting followup on the AAUP letter, which I urge you all to read, along with the fascinating comment thread that ensues.
The AAUP brings up the issue of Salaita’s financial standing. If you haven’t donated to the fund set up by his friends and colleagues to help him fight his case and support his family, please do so now. Click on this link and then go to the right-hand side of the page. People often urge individuals in Salaita’s situation to sue. He may have to. But lawsuits cost money. Like a lot of money. Unless you’re independently wealthy, they’re hard to paid for. Like really hard to pay for. So please help Salaita out. And while you’re over there, check out these awesome testimonials from his former students. You know, students: the very people Chancellor Wise and Salaita’s critics claim to be protecting.
Someone on Facebook just brought to my attention that there is a sixth lecture cancellation. This one by Pomona English professor Kyla Wazana Tompkins, who was scheduled to give a talk at UIUC in September.
Update (12:30 am)
I should have also mentioned to other cancellations. The first, which the Times discusses in that excerpt and which I’ve mentioned in a previous post, is that the National Conference on Higher Education in Prison, which was scheduled to be hosted at UIUC, was canceled. The second is that Columbia Professor Bruce Robbins canceled a screening of a film that was supposed to take place at UIUC. I should have remembered this one especially, as it was what inspired my original call for a boycott of UIUC.
So the title of this post should really be: “Salaita By the Numbers: 6 Cancelled Lectures, 1 Cancelled Screening, 1 Cancelled Conference, 3 Votes of No Confidence, 3849 Boycotters, and 1 NYT Article.”
Update (September 1, 10:30 am)
Change that headline to “Salaita By the Numbers: 7 Cancelled Lectures, 1 Cancelled Screening, 1 Cancelled Conference, 3 Votes of No Confidence, 3849 Boycotters, and 1 NYT Article.”
I was just informed that Karma Chavez, associate professor of communication arts and Chican@ and Latin@ Studies at the University of Wisconsin at Madison, canceled her lecture at the UIUC Center for Writing Studies, which was scheduled for September 18.
For some people, anyway. I don’t normally post photos with people, but this little girl was born right on this blog and look at her now! All grown up and going to Martha’s Vineyard. Everyone’s glad to be home in Singapore eating roti prata and murtabak, though. Well, no, I miss real summer like that. High dunes and cold water and fresh corn and berry cobbler and lobster rolls. But if you read my aunt Laura Wainwright’s book Home Bird you can hear that it gets wickedly cold in the wintertime.
One thing that has struck me for years is the peculiar status of people taking a PhD-degree in the Netherlands (and in a few other continental European countries – I don’t know how many exactly). They are hired by the university, as employees, to write a dissertation, and help teach about one course a year, during four years (in Belgium they may have to teach more, but in those cases they have 6 years, of which one third has to be spent on teaching, and two thirds on working towards the PhD-degree). I call this category of people pursuing a PhD-degree PhD-employees: they have a wage, the legal status and corresponding right of civil servants, rights to paid holidays and paid parental leave, and everything else that a civil servant has (except that the contract is temporary). They pay no fees for their PhD studies, and most of the additional courses they take will be paid for by their employer – the university. All universities in the Netherlands are publically funded, and hence while the employers are the universities, the funds are overwhelmingly government funds – although in principle a private party could also sponsor a PhD-employee at a university. This sometimes happens in the natural sciences – when Philips or Shell fund a PhD-position on a project that benefits them too. The cost of such a PhD-employee for 4 years is about 200.000, if we don’t count material costs and overhead at the university (some claim it’s closer to 280.000 if we include the latter).
The contrast with the status of PhD-students in England and the US is quite big, where those who are pursuing a PhD-degree are students, pay (often significant) fees in order to get training and supervision, and if they do teaching or research assistance, they get either an additional contract or they are paid by the hour. In addition to the National research councils and the universities, there are also a number of public and private organizations that provide (modest) bursaries for those PhD students.
I have, for many years, thought that there is nothing wrong to treat those pursuing a PhD-degree as students rather than as employees. In my view, they are not primarily having a job but rather pursuing a degree. And given the general scarcity of funds in the public sector, and universities in particular, it would be better if we didn’t have PhD-employees but rather PhD-students, and reallocate those funds to create additional lectureships.
Since the university wouldn’t have to pay social security and all the employer-related taxes and insurances, it would cost the Dutch government/university not about 200.000 Euro per PhD, but rather would cost them the amount of the PHD scholarship which the Dutch government (until recently) gave to non-EU students taking a degree in the Netherlands– which was about 70.000 Euro for 4 years. One could argue that this amount is too low, since one can’t live a decent life on 1460 Euro a month (which would imply that the non-EU students have been given a too small bursary in the past), and raise that amount to 100.000 Euro, which would give the PhD-students 2000 Euro a month. For the present discussion I don’t care about the exact numbers – what’s relevant is the claim that a significant amount of money could be saved if those PhD-employees became PhD-students.
The money that would be saved should be invested in hiring new lecturers, especially in those disciplines where over the last decades student numbers went up without more funds being allocated to lecturers. More lecturers are, given the vastly increased workpressure in the faculty, really badly needed. But, equally importantly, it would increase the chances of those getting a PhD degree to stay in academia within the Netherlands. And those chances are currently very low, which is generally recognized (I recall numbers that about 1 in 10 PhDs can stay in academia, whereas about 9 in 10 would like to do so).
And, what I personally find very important, in the UK and the US, PhD-students can in many (most?) cases choose their own topic, whereas in the Netherlands they have to work on the topic for which the professor could raise funds. There are exceptions, but to the best of my knowledge most PhD-employees in the Netherlands have not chosen their own topic. And since the PhD-student is an employee, she can’t change supervisors if she’s not happy, let alone transfer to another university.
Earlier this week Roland Pierik and I published an op-ed piece in the major Dutch newspaper NRC-Handelsblad, making these arguments. Reactions have been very mixed and also quite intense. The reaction of many is to say that this will worsen the socio-economic and legal position of those taking a PhD degree and is therefore a bad proposal. Yet I think it is clear that the real dispute is whether the research that the PhD-employees do is work that deserves a wage, or rather training that should be supported with a study grant. (Just to avoid misunderstandings: Our proposal would give PhD-students decent wage contracts for the research assistance or teaching which they would do).
An important argument against our proposal is that it may be impossible to get the best MA students pursue PhD-degrees if they no longer can do so as PhD-employees, but have to do so as PhD-students. If that were true, it could be a reason to go for the more expensive system. But that’s an empirical claim, for which I haven’t seen any evidence. And it still doesn’t solve the problem that they may have good working conditions while pursuing their degrees, but only a very small chance at staying in academia afterwards.
One striking observation is that those who emailed me to express support are generally scholars based in the Netherlands who got their degrees elsewhere, or who spent a long time abroad. So perhaps we Dutch academics take our PhD-system for granted, just like the Americans and the British take their system for granted?
Despite my attempts at zombie-slaying, the myth that Rachel Carson advocated and caused a worldwide ban on DDT, leading to the deaths of millions, keeps being reanimated. I came across an example that is interesting mainly because of its provenenance. It’s by Henry I Miller of the Hoover Institute and Gregory Conko of the Competitive Enterprise Institute. CEI is hack central, so nothing it produces ought to surprise anyone. But Hoover boasts a Who’s Who of (what remains of) the right wing intellectual apparatus: Hnery Kissinger, Condi Rice, John Taylor and Harvey Mansfield, among many others. And Miller was apparently ” founding director of the FDA’s Office of Biotechnology”. So, the fact he can run this kind of thing is good evidence of total intellectual collapse on the right.
The two main authorities cited by Miller and Conko in their critique of Carson are “San Jose State University entomologist J. Gordon Edwards” author of “The Lies of Rachel Carson” and “Professor Robert H. White-Stevens, an agriculturist and biology professor at Rutgers University”. Unfortunately, Miller and Conko don’t reveal that Edwards’ piece was published (like much of his work on environmental issues) in the LaRouchite journal “21st Century News”. And, while describing White-Stevens academic affiliation (dating to the 1950s as far as I can tell), they don’t inform readers of the more relevant fact that, when he offered a patronising critique of “Miss Carson’s ideas”, he was a spokesman for American Cyanamid. That’s right: as refutation of Rachel Carson in 2012, this Hoover Institute Fellow is offering the PR put by a pesticide company in the 1960s, along with a screed by a far-right loony.
I suspect the reason these facts weren’t revealed is that Miller and Conko weren’t aware of them. Their piece looks to have been cobbled together from various bits of flotsam in the rightwing blogosphere.
I’d be interested to see if any of the rightwing luminaries associated with the Hoover Institute is willing either to criticise or endorse this piece. My guess is that tribal solidarity will preclude the former and residual intelligence the latter.
I’m not surprised some conservatives are upset about the AP American History test. But I am bemused by the strength of the axiom Stanley Kurtz would oblige us to adopt, to keep things from getting politicized: “America is freer and more democratic than any other nation.” (Although, grant the axiom, and postulates about military strength, and theorem 1 – “[the US is] a model, vindicator, and at times the chief defender of ordered liberty and self-government in the world” – enjoys high probability.)
This is a comparative thesis about the international order, so it is noteworthy that Kurtz simultaneously forbids the ‘internationalization’ of US history. Comparative ‘transnational narratives’, the only sort of thing that could empirically support the validity of Kurtz’ exceptionalist axiom, are out! But I suppose Kurtz is just trying to avoid confusion. (It is wrong to allow that there could be empirical disconfirmation of any aspect of a result that has been transcendentally deduced from an impulse to amour-propre.)
Precisely because I associate the phrase ‘American exceptionalism’ with this sort of lather, I do not associate it with the study of history. So I’ve never really wondered, but suddenly I do: what do students of American history say about ‘American exceptionalism’? I ask Wikipedia and am a bit surprised to read that it is widely accepted! And then I realize what is widely accepted is some version of the old Tocqueville-to-Louis-Hartz-and-beyond line I spent a semester in college studying. Oh, that thing! (Well, you can forgive me for not associating that with this stuff Kurtz is banging on about.)
Also, more weakly: “American exceptionalism is the theory that the United States is qualitatively different from other nation states.”
I know, I know, it’s just a Wikipedia entry. Still, this looks like a term born to do the terrific two-step of triviality!
1) We’re #1! We’re #1!
What we obviously want is:
3) It makes sense to single out for special study features that make (or seem to make) the US an outlier, among nations, relatively speaking. Culturally, politically, geographically, in terms of not having its industrial base shattered after W.W. II, on and on and on.
Studying 3), in a serious way, is incompatible with catechizing students to chant 1), while depriving them of any comparative basis for judgment. 1) is only good for doing the one thing Kurtz says he doesn’t want to do: “ensure that students think a certain way about contemporary events.” The approach Kurtz rules out is perfectly compatible with 3). Comparing nations is not incompatible with contrasting them. It really is that simple.
I hadn’t realized that, in a scholarly sense, ‘American exceptionalism’ is apparently most strongly associated with Seymour Martin Lipset. Thus, I haven’t read his book – American Exceptionalism: A Double-Edged Sword [amazon]. But just Googling up this page is enough to separate Lipset’s line from Kurtz’.
Tocqueville’s Democracy, of course, is the best known [work that takes this exceptionalist line]. As we have seen, he noted that he never wrote anything about the United States without thinking of France. As he put it, in speaking of his need to contrast the same institutions and behavior in both countries, “without comparisons to make, the mind doesn’t know how to proceed.”
Tocqueville was a transnationalist.
To conclude: Kurtz is just kicking up partisan dust, obviously. But perhaps I can make a proposal, for future reference. In a geopolitical sense, America is exceptional, and it really is right to see that as a double-edged sword. (I don’t know exactly what Lipset means by that, but I can privately attach a perfectly sensible sense to the phrase, I think.) But, intellectually, ‘exceptional’ is a double-edged word. There is the scholar’s sense and the jingo’s sense. These are different enough that we can’t do without two words. Going forward, let’s call Kurtz’ sense ‘American suprematism’ – an alloy of moralism and power highly distinct from the more neutral ‘exceptionalism’, that is Tocquevillean, so we should leave it to the transnationalists who, for better or worse, are apparently writing the AP American History tests.
As a final note: while penning the present post, I find this post at Powerline (wow, haven’t visited in years!)
A goodly chunk:
Obama put it this way:
I believe in American exceptionalism, just as I suspect that the Brits believe in British exceptionalism and the Greeks believe in Greek exceptionalism.
This is vintage Obama. He stands above America — putting us in a “global perspective” as just another country that considers itself exceptional.
This, as I tried to show in my post [he means this one], is the same perspective that gives rise to the way the College Board wants AP U.S. History to be taught.
Still, I agree with Obama that Brits probably believe in British exceptionalism and Greeks in Greek exceptionalism. And I knew first hand that the French believe in French exceptionalism.
Nor is this phenomenon limited to citizens of countries like Britain, Greece, and France, whose histories indisputably are exceptional. When I talk to immigrants from Central and South America, they speak proudly of “my country,” the nation they left to come to the U.S.
I don’t probe deeply enough to learn whether they consider their country “exceptional” or to discover what version of their national history they are taught in school. But it’s clear that they don’t view their country as just a province among the provinces that make up the world.
When I visited the Dominican Republic this past winter, I discovered a narrative of that nation’s history (which I gather is taught) that holds that its patriots thwarted the U.S. when we intervened militarily in 1965. In reality, the U.S. was not thwarted.
The U.S. accomplished its goal of preventing a left-wing takeover of the DR and saw its preferred presidential candidate, Joaquín Balaguer who had been closely associated with the dictator Trujillo, elected president under a plan for forming a new government imposed by the U.S. (Balaguer went on to serve 22 years as democratically elected president, presiding over stunning economic growth and development).
If the Brits, the Greeks, the French, and the Dominicans believe in the exceptionalism of their respective countries, then, as Yossarian might say, Americans would be damned fools to feel any other way.
Since Mirengoff (the author) is hereby not merely admitting but actually arguing that his favored approach will conduce to more historical falsehoods being taught (on the alleged Dominican Republic model), I suppose the point must be that we have to guard against any transnational Hack Gap, historiographically speaking. We can’t allow the citizens of other countries to be bigger fools than we are, due to their natural, human desire to believe they are better than we are.
In short, I’m not sure Mirengoff is right about what Yossarian would say:
Dunbar sat up like a shot. “That’s it,” he cried excitedly. “There was something missing – and now I know what it is.” He banged his fist down into his palm. “No patriotism,” he declared.
“You’re right,” Yossarian shouted back. “You’re right, you’re right, you’re right. The hot dog, the Brooklyn Dodgers. Mom’s apple pie. That’s what everyone’s fighting for. But who’s fighting for the decent folk? Who’s fighting for more votes for the decent folk? There’s no patriotism, that’s what it is. And no matriotism, either.”
As G. K. Chesterton remarks: “’My country, right or wrong,’ is a thing that no patriot would think of saying except in a desperate case. It is like saying, ‘My mother, drunk or sober.’”
Lipset quotes Chesterton, as a believer in American exceptionalism. “America is the only nation in the world that is founded on a creed.” Even so, in fairness, I think we will have to put him, too, on the Tocqueville pile rather than the Kurtz pile.
On Monday I was having dinner with Robin Celikates and a bunch of PhD students who were this week attending a Summerschool on Dirty Hands and Moral Dilemmas. Someone came up with the following case (none of us was quite sure about the author, but Derek Parfit seems like a likely candidate):
Case A: Rescuing the miners:
The people around the table had conflicting views, and the reasons we believed to have for a certain view did not convince the others at all. My choice was for strategy 2, since that gives everyone an equal chance to be rescued, and thus treats the miners morally equally in a certain sense. But Robin said that miners themselves would choose strategy 1, since they have a strong collective ethos/identity which includes that you save whom you can save. He claimed that we can deduce this empirical claim from some accidents that happened with miners who were actually locked up in a mine. (this is my recollection of the discussion, but Robin is very welcome to correct me !)
In the case of miners, we are dealing with adults and respecting their agency could plausibly be taken to overrule other reasons to choose for a certain strategy. But what if agency didn’t play a role? We could change the example, by turning the people-to-be-rescued into babies, who are too small to have anything resembling group-identity and agency:
Case B: Rescuing the babies:
Which strategy do you choose, and why? And if you choose differently in case A and case B, then why so?
Like others, I’m mystified by the “ice bucket challenge” in which, as I understand it, people agree to have a bucket of ice water dumped over their heads, rather than giving money to charity. This is reminiscent of the famous Piranha Brothers’ “Other Operation”, in which they threatened not to beat their victims up if they did not pay them the so-called “protection money”.
Still, it seems as if there is some interest in variants on the standard fundraising challenge in which you pay money to charity to encourage friends, bloggers, C-list celebrities to do difficult, painful or humiliating things. It’s struck me that my upcoming participation in the Sunshine Coast 70.3 Triathlon provides a nice twist on the ice bucket challenge. My target time is 7 hours, which would imply doing the run leg (21.1 k) around midday. As the name implies, the Sunshine coast weather is likely to be sunny and warm, even in early spring. So, when I’m finished I will be positively glad to have a bucket of ice water tipped over me. It will take a bit of effort to arrange this though, so here’s the challenge:
Donate as much or as little as you like to the charity or cause of your choice and record it in comments (honor system). If the total exceeds 10001, I’ll do my best to organize the icebucket and a photo.
Thanks to P O’Neill in comments to my last post, for suggesting both the idea for this poor-man’s Friedman travelogue and its title. The first installment comes to you from the youth hostel in Grindelwald.
I don’t really have much need of apocryphal taxi drivers to serve as sources of information and/or mouthpieces for my own views for this one. I got to know the Swiss (or at least, a fair number of a particular and possibly unrepresentative class of them) when I was working for Credit Suisse, for five years which were roughly coincident with the first phase of the Global Financial Crisis. CS wasn’t, and isn’t, recognisably a “Swiss Bank” in its London office, or at least not in the way that you could tell that ABN Amro was a “Dutch Bank” or BNP Paribas is a French one. Credit Suisse was basically an American investment bank – lots of people, including those who named the servers in the IT system, still hadn’t got the message that “First Boston” had been dropped from the name years earlier. The Swiss were almost like mythical creatures, who lived on the floors above the cafeteria, only dealt with the world’s super-rich and all knew each other. Then there were the equally mysterious people of “head office”, who were mentioned once a quarter at the time of the annual results; I presume that the fact that these announcements tended to roughly coincide with Samhain, Beltane, Lughnasadh and Imbolc was coincidental. But then there was “our Zurich office”, a little bit of First Boston in the heart of Credit Suisse, and these guys were our kind of people, although at the same time interestingly foreign. I also ended up making a good friend in the private bank, who probably doesn’t need her name dragged into this, but she was one of the most impressive people I met and is presumably scheduled for higher things within the bank at some time in the future.
Switzerland is one of those small countries of Europe, the existence of which makes a lot more sense when you consider that the alternative would have been for one Empire to let another have control of the territory. If you want to know what I mean, consider a map of the stretch of North Sea coast stretching up from Normandy in the direction of the Baltic and ask yourself why it is that such a huge country as Germany only has a scant few dozen miles of coastline and only two or three usable ports. What is it, the man wondered, about small, independent, trade-oriented countries like Denmark and the Netherlands that has made France, Sweden and Britain so keen on protecting their independence? To ask the question is to answer it, particularly when I gave such a strong hint. Similarly, the independence of Switzerland is not really underwritten by its geography, and the Swiss Army knows it – most of the big cities are located on easily accessible plains and the Swiss national defence plan has always been to abandon them. After all, Switzerland was actually ruled by Austria as recently as the days of William Tell. The independence of this little country is assured by the fact that it has long been understood by all the great powers bordering on the Alps that it’s probably in everyone’s best interests in the long term to have the key trade routes owned by a gang of ornery peasants who don’t want to be bothered by outsiders rather than having to fight over them all the time.
I often used to win bets by asking people how important they thought banking was to Switzerland’s GDP. Few people, even Swiss natives, guessed less than 20%; most common guesses were above 30%. The actual answer is around 12% (roughly the same percentage as the UK), and that’s for total financial services – since there’s quite a lot of insurance, that would mean that classic “Swiss banking” is even less important. What makes people think that banking is more important than it is seems to be the huge global operations of Credit Suisse and UBS. But, of course, the majority of these activities take place outside Switzerland and go into the GDP of the places where they happen – mainly the UK and USA. Which means that the Swiss government’s too-big-to-fail liability is massively out of proportion to the economic benefit of the banking industry to Switzerland. This fact was not lost on the Swiss in the aftermath of the 2008 UBS bailout; the report of their Experts’ Group on Too-Big-To-Fail remains the best thing written on the subject and has formed the (badly imitated) template for a lot of other policy responses. Actually, Switzerland’s largest industry, by quite a way, is pharmaceuticals and chemicals manufacturing, which traces its heritage in the country back to the arrival of a bunch of Huguenot dyers, running away from religious persecution in the 17th century.
The rumours of Swiss life being a little bit staid are not wholly unfounded. It’s a country where you can have a major political controversy when the Bourgeois Party splits from the Middle-Class Party. I have heard natives of Zurich claim that they would honestly prefer to live in Mogadishu than in Geneva; boredom is, after all, a form of pain. But I’ve also (thanks to a somewhat misguided attempt to save money on hotel reservations) sat in Geneva and eaten shashlik sitting next to guys with wrinkly blue tattoos. Even surprisingly small towns in Switzerland will have their Casa Dos Santos, or similar, serving specialitas Portuguesas for the immigrants who make up a large proportion of the country’s working class; in the chalet towns the garages and the vans driven by plumbing companies will have names like Da Sousa on the side of them.
Of course they’re not actually called the “Bourgeois Party” and “Middle Class Party”. But the slogan of the SVP is “Swiss People’s Party, the party of the middle class”, and the French name of the BDP is the “Parti bourgeois democratic Suisse”, so I think I can be allowed my joke.
5. Lotus Eaters
I suppose I ought to explain the title of this piece. It’s my suggested slogan for the Swiss tourism authorities – while Dublin makes a reasonable amount of capital out of Bloomsday and the setting of Joyce’s masterpiece, he actually lived elsewhere for most of his life. Along with Paris and Trieste, Zurich was one of the places where he lived for quite a while – from 1915 to 1919 and then again from 1941 until his death. He’s buried there, a factoid which rather obsessed me for a while; I visited his grave once during an afternoon when I had a couple of meetings cancelled. Ulysses and Portrait of the Artist were both published while he was living in Zurich. Joyce wasn’t the only misfit and artistic oddity to wind up in Switzerland; a fairly large percentage of the Berlin cabaret movement shifted there in the 30s. There’s quite a tradition of people ending up in Switzerland when their particular vision of the world started causing them problems back home.
The Swiss tradition of hospitality to free-thinkers and oddballs, of course, has its roots in the Reformation. As does the counter-tradition of hostility to and violent persecution of free-thinkers and oddballs. Driving down from Geneva to Interlaken, I saw a banner up for an exhibition of Amish art and furniture, the Amish of course being (as I’m sure you’ll remember) a name originally derived from the followers of Jacob Amman, an Anabaptist leader from Bern. Most of the American Amish are actually members of the theological lineage of Menno Simmons, a Dutch Anabaptist, or of some other group related to the Anabaptists, but the movement got its first big break in Switzerland, at the time calling itself the Swiss Brethren. Ulrich Zwingli (himself a religious oddball to begin with, and so was John Calvin; they did better at playing the political game) was deputed by the Zurich town council to meet with them every couple of weeks to see whether or not any progress could be made on this infant baptism business; the Protestant cantons had just finished kinda-sorta losing the Kappell Wars against the Catholic cantons, and were keen to avoid any further schisms.
Then the terrible business in Muenster happened (summary for people who didn’t do the Reformation for A-level history – Anabaptist sect took over in Muenster, went a bit cultish, started executing people for not being Anabaptists, much panic, town retaken, genitals nailed to city gates, massive disaster in which some hopeful socialist historians claim to be able to see the beginnings of class consciousness), and the political weather changed decisively in terms of people’s willingness to put up with the Swiss brethren, who now looked less like earnest god-botherers and more like worrying bearded freaks. Setting in chain a set of events which led to that Harrison Ford film and so on.
The modern parallels are presumably so obvious as to not need labouring.
The villain of the William Tell legend was, of course, a foreign tax collector (specifically, the Austrian reeve, but the causes of the historical rebellion which formed the Swiss Confederation was tax). It’s probably a little bit ridiculous to try and draw a direct link from this to the Swiss policy on tax evasion that prevailed between the end of the Second World War and the mid 1990s, but that isn’t the reason not to try – the reason why one shouldn’t bother with this analogy is that the policy in question is dead. It was never a specific Swiss thing – banking across a lot of Europe was secret in the postwar period, and for very good and obvious reason. The Swiss did have a particular issue with their tax law which never failed to enrage American tax collectors, which was that they made a distinction between “tax fraud”, a felony which involved a fraudulent document, and “tax evasion”, a misdemeanour offence. Misdemeanours weren’t extraditable and Switzerland wasn’t prepared to make exceptions in its domestic banking secrecy law for them either. Fundamentally, Switzerland didn’t for the longest time see any real role for itself as an unpaid law enforcement officer for other countries.
8. The Lestrygonians
A strange reminder of how much national boundaries matter even in this allegedly globally connected world – in the kitchen of my chalet is a roll of aluminium foil. An incredibly commoditised product, with huge economies of scale in its manufacture, and here we are, less than fifty miles from the border with France. But no, this was made in Bern.
9. Scylla & Charybdis
I’m surprised that the country of Switzerland doesn’t have a more prominent place than it does in the bestiary of the John Birch Society, the LaRouche movement and similar exemplars of the paranoid tendency. Twentieth centry reactionaries tended to be marked out by their horror and fear of the decline of absolute standards in anything; Switzerland provided the modern and post-modern era with the destruction of classical physics with Einstein, and with radical change to the concept of the narrative novel with Joyce. Even LSD was first synthesised by the Sandoz laboratory in Basel. Switzerland has always been a country where the law is malleable and changeable rather than an absolute standard, simply because of the importance of referenda in the constitution, and the history of federal government. The national character has always been based on a kind of pragmatism and compromise which is easy for an outsider to mistake for relativism.
10. Wandering Rocks
One thing that you tend to pick up pretty soon when working for a Swiss company, unless you are very unobservant indeed, is that the senior Swiss guys all know each other because they’re all in the Army together. It is possible to opt out of continuing service in the Swiss Army reserve after you’ve done your compulsory duty (and even that can be done in non-military service). But this doesn’t seem to be the way to a successful career if you want to stay in Switzerland and be a business executive. So Switzerland has an army of middle managers, which in my opinion is probably a pretty frightening prospect for anyone thinking of attacking them, as these are middle managers who have been given a single aim (defend Switzerland) for decades, plenty of time to practice and budgets which have to be considered for practical purposes to be inexhaustible. That’s the sort of situation that can get aircraft hangars built into the sides of mountains, tunnels that double as horrific tank-traps and Alpine passes that can be rendered impasses at the touch of a button. Even the low-lying cities like Basel would, according to highly classified rumour, be able to provide a number of nasty suprises to any machanised army which decided to detour through them.
The thing that the Swiss Army hates above all else, of course, is helicopters.
11. The Sirens
Arguably, a number of Switzerland’s other industries have, to say the very least, developed symbiotically with the offshore banking industry. If you have a load of money stashed away in Switzerland which you haven’t declared to your domestic taxman, then it’s surprisingly hard to spend it; bringing the stuff onshore is always going to raise questions. But on your annual visit to Switzerland, this secret stash of money at the end of the rainbow turns into a proper, spendable balance of liquid assets! So you can have a really slap-up holiday with all the treats you can force into yourself. You can get your teeth straightened or your tummy tucked. You can even get your kids put through a really posh education. If you’re looking for examples of how the financial services industry can support a number of other cluster specialties, the in flight magazine of Swissair is a fine place to look.
Another thing you can do is buy yourself a really really expensive watch, and presume that the fellow at Customs on your return won’t get impertinent about asking whether it’s the same one you were wearing when you flew out (he almost never does). The Swiss watchmaking industry dates back a long time earlier than the offshore banking industry, but it seems very likely to me that the development of the high-end watch market into basically a jewellery segment wasn’t substantially aided by the fact that watches are probably the best way known to man of smuggling a few multiples of the US$10,000 money laundering reporting limit.
The ban on construction of minarets, imposed by referendum in 2009, is a reliable source of embarrassment to the “international class” of Switzerland – the people who you tend to meet in the course of business or banking. In my experience, German-speakers tend to blame it on the French (“terrific racists, the lot of them”) while French-speakers tend to blame it on the inner cantons (“people whose surnames end in li and le, hillbillies, basically”). The fact that the ban passed is, of course, a useful reminder to the rest of us that the international, outward-oriented business class of Switzerland is by no means the entire population and in this case at least, wasn’t even a majority.
The minarets ban was the proximate cause of the split between the Bourgeois Party and the Middle Class Party, but I can’t remember which one was against it. Its supporters claimed that it was not a measure against Islam per se, but against all forms of fundamentalism in religion, which is something that makes a little bit more sense if you put it in the context of the history of Switzerland and extremist religious movements. Albeit that “makes a little bit more sense” still leaves the measure in the realm of making more or less no sense at all.
It can be presumed that the Saudi and Emirati billionaires who are the current growth segment for the Swiss private banking industry are not stowing their money in Switzerland in order to avoid Saudi and UAE income tax. My reason for believing this is that neither Saudi Arabia nor the UAE have any income tax. They’re putting it there because Switzerland has been a politically stable, neutral country for several hundred years now, while the Gulf states have existed for only a little bit more than half a century and have fairly obvious political tensions surrounding them. This is one of the very important points made by Taleb in “Antifragility” – that a good basis for guesstimating how long a political or social institution is going to last is to ask how long it’s lasted already.
This stability, neutrality and reliability seems to be very important to the Swiss conservative temperament – for the kind of people who vote in favour of banning minarets, the bankers of Geneva and Zurich seem to be regarded as untrustworthy, destructive and bad in and of themselves, but valuable simply because they’ve been around for such a long time and are therefore symbols of the eternal persistence of the Swiss Confederation. Certainly, when I was following the debate about bank regulation in Switzerland, one of the chief sources of populist rage against the banks in Switzerland was that they had damaged the reputation of the banks in Switzerland. The right-wing party in the parliament was often in the odd position of simultaneously allying with the socialists to demand public flogging and supertax, but also decrying any movement at all in the direction of compromise with the US tax authorities.
14. Oxen of the Sun
If I had sufficient spare time and a wholly warped sense of priorities, I think I could trace the boundaries of the wars of religion by driving around and listening to regional radio. As far as I can tell, Catholic cantons really go for snare drum backbeats and 2/4 time – if Mumford and Sons aren’t huge in Vaud, they are really missing an opportunity. Protestant cantons are much more into generic AOR. Everywhere in Switzerland gets a signal for the Europop collossus that is RTL2. However, the country does not seem to have any local attempts at hip-hop, for which I greatly respect them.
Of course, the position of Switzerland in the global economy means that the “fortress in the Alps” myth has to be a myth – there are really not many countries in the whole world that are more at the mercy of international forces, and by the hegemony of the USA specifically. The drugs industry in Switzerland, like everywhere else in the world is entirely driven by FDA approval. The banking industry’s self-anointed sense of independence lasted roughly five minutes after the US authorities decided to make a priority out of doing something about it.
Because Switzerland is a politically stable and neutral country with a good reputation for trustworthiness, it’s a good place to locate your trade association or standards organisation. Partly, this is an industry that’s grown up synergetically with the United Nations; in the immediate postwar period it must have made sense to have FIFA, the WIPO and similar bodies based there too. One of the more interesting companies I looked at was SGS, the Societe Generale de Surveillance, which will inspect your tanker loads of olive oil to see if someone has switched them for seawater, test your machine parts by the ten thousand to see if they’re made to the advertised tolerance, and generally carry out all sorts of services that have grown out of its original business model as the site inspectors at the massive bonded warehouses in the commercial zone outside Geneva. There are a lot of things that happen in Switzerland which don’t make any sense at all outside of the context of the global economy. It’s a country that is proudly independent, but which knows that it can’t really be too independent if it wants to be prosperous..
The median Swiss private banking customer is, according to the industry joke, “every year, getting older and more female”. It’s a description of the gradual death of the European offshore banking franchise, basically from a mixture of two parts international tax treaties to eight parts demographic change.
What happens is this; consider Olaf, who survived the war and took his part in industrial reconstruction. As his manufacturing business grew, he kept sticking a bit of money away in Switzerland; if the memory of the 1930s wasn’t enough to make him cautious, the overhanging threat of Communism would. Life goes on and so does the world, but Olaf never changes his policy of sticking a proportion of his savings into his Swiss account – why would he change? He’s been given truly excellent service from his trusty account manager since the early days. Olaf has a great suntan, beautifully educated kids and a really nice watch.
Then he dies. Not much changes as the estate is passed on to Gerta, but sadly, she doesn’t live much longer. So now the estate, including the offshore account, has to be dividend up five ways between the kids; possibly even including the grandkids or nephews and nieces. These people of course knew that Olaf was a rich man, but they tend to be somewhat surprised to find out exactly how much a regular savings account can build up to if it’s kept pace with stock market returns and been largely invested in hard currency.
Unfortunately, there is now an awkward moment, where a Swiss lawyer expresses his condolences, and then informs the grieving children that they have a maximum of 48 hours to decide whether they want to start a career as tax evaders. What would you do? Particularly since Olaf’s fortune needs to be split up; a pot of $10m is a borderline ultra-high-net-worth account, but when you split it into units of $2.5m, and each of the heirs pays off their mortgage, what’s left isn’t so much of a fee income generator. And so the old European money which was the bedrock of Swiss banking profitability declines, and they have to seek out new markets.
The railways are, of course, a source of wonder to the rest of the world and no less so for being such a cliche. They don’t actually always run on time; mine were generally between five and ten minutes late. But they go everywhere; the SBB, great though it is, is not the real miracle of Switzerland compared to the dozens of little cantonal and sub-regional railways that serve even the smallest little towns on rails carved into the roads or running alongside them. This sort of infrastructure asset doesn’t depreciate if maintained properly, and it keeps providing the services for which it was intended in all economic climates. It’s a classic illustration of a point that John Quiggin has regularly made – that classic “risk-adjusted” discounted cash flow analysis will always overstate the risks of government spending and result in underprovision of infrastructure.
As we drove from the airport, we turned away from Lake Geneva to go up into the Alps. Before the road turns up into the col, it goes along a valley floor, which stretches out ahead of you, seemingly endless until it turns up into forests and rocks. Way out in the distance, we saw a plume of white smoke rising, dead vertical in the windless valley. About half an hour later, we saw it was rising from a chemical refinery.
Inside Higher Ed has gotten some of the preliminary documents on the back and forth between Chancellor Wise, officials at the University of Illinois (including a top person in charge of fundraising), and a high-level donor, before Wise made her initial decision to dehire Steven Salaita. There’s still a lot we don’t know about the external and internal pressure that went into this decision (though from my own experience with this issue I can only assume that that fear of external financial pressure was very very high on the part of the university’s administrators), and as the article notes, none of these emails tells us what ultimately prompted Wise to make the decision she did. Still, it’s telling that in the days leading up to her decision, she received 70 communiques (in one instance from a very high-level donor), regarding the Salaita hire, only one of which was urging her to keep him on board.
The communications show that Wise was lobbied on the decision not only by pro-Israel students, parents and alumni, but also by the fund-raising arm of the university.
For instance, there is an email from Travis Smith, senior director of development for the University of Illinois Foundation, to Wise, with copies to Molly Tracy, who is in charge of fund-raising for engineering programs, and Dan C. Peterson, vice chancellor for institutional advancement. The email forwards a letter complaining about the Salaita hire. The email from Smith says: “Dan, Molly, and I have just discussed this and believe you need to [redacted].” (The blacked out portion suggests a phrase is missing, not just a word or two.)
Later emails show Wise and her development team trying to set up a time to discuss the matter, although there is no indication of what was decided.
At least one email the chancellor received was from someone who identified himself as a major donor who said that he would stop giving if Salaita were hired. “Having been a multiple 6 figure donor to Illinois over the years I know our support is ending as we vehemently disagree with the approach this individual espouses. This is doubly unfortunate for the school as we have been blessed in our careers and have accumulated quite a balance sheet over my 35 year career,” the email says.
These revelations follow on the heels of the University’s announcement on Friday that it was sticking to its guns on the Salaita dehire. The basis of this decision, at least rhetorically, is this statement from Wise:
What we cannot and will not tolerate at the University of Illinois are personal and disrespectful words or actions that demean and abuse either viewpoints themselves or those who express them. We have a particular duty to our students to ensure that they live in a community of scholarship that challenges their assumptions about the world but that also respects their rights as individuals.
It’s a strange and strained position, as many have noted. Particularly that tender if rather solicitous regard for protecting the feelings of “viewpoints themselves.” Notice that Wise’s statement does not make any distinctions between tenured, non-tenured, prospective faculty, or students. It’s simply a statement that “what we cannot and will not tolerate at the University of Illinois are….words…that….” It’s a rather breath-taking assertion. In the words of University of Chicago professor Brian Leiter:
As a matter of well-settled American constitutional law, the University of Illinois must tolerate “words… that demean and abuse either viewpoints themselves or those who express them.” The University has no choice, both as a matter of constitutional law and as a matter of its contractual commitment with its faculty to academic freedom. Scathing critiques of both viewpoints and authors abound in almost all scholarly fields; it would be the end of serious scholarly inquiry and debate were administrators to become the arbiters of “good manners.” More simply, it would be illegal for the University to start punishing its faculty for failure to live up to the Chancellor’s expectations for “civil” speech and disagreement.
In many of my courses, I teach Nietzsche, who heaped abuse on viewpoints and the individuals who expressed them. So did Marx and Hobbes, for that matter. On the chancellor’s standard, I or one of my counterparts at the University of Illinois should not be allowed teach Nietzsche, Marx, or Hobbes at the University of Illinois: too disrespectful of other viewpoints, too demeaning of those who hold them. And “what we cannot and will not tolerate at the University of Illinois are….words…that….”
In the meantime, the boycott of the University of Illinois grows stronger. As of Saturday, we had over 3000 scholars declaring their refusal to engage with the University until Salaita is reinstated. If you want to join a specific pledge from a discipline (philosophy’s going like gang-busters; John Protevi emailed me after I came up with these numbers below saying that they’ve now got over 450 philosophers signed up) or wish to sign the general statement, here are the critical links:
The university is banking on the notion that more than 3000 scholars boycotting it are the end of the story; we have to make it the beginning of the story. If you’ve already joined the boycott, get someone else to join. If each one of you did that, we’d double our numbers in no time. And if you’re not an academic but want to tell the UI to reinstate Salaita, you can sign this petition. More than 15,000 have.
Most important, it looks like Salaita is now going to have file a lawsuit against the UI. The university has time and money. Salaita has neither. As his friends and colleagues who are organizing a campaign to raise money on his behalf note:
Salaita now has no job nor does his wife who quit her job in Virginia to support the family’s move, no personal home to live in, and no health insurance for their family, including their two year-old son.
So Salaita needs our financial support; we can give it to him. Even a little bit. His friends and colleagues have organized a page where you can donate money to his legal campaign. Please click on the Paypal link on the right-hand side of the page. I’ve made a donation; please make one, too.
Lastly, if you haven’t read Bonnie Honig’s letter to Phyllis Wise, do it now.
Until I got the boot a couple of years ago, I had a regular column in the Australian Financial Review. Since then, I’ve been freelancing, with mixed success. Friday was a good day, with two pieces appearing within a few hours of each other. This one, at the Guardian is on the obsolescence of the late 19th and 20th century idea of the Press (or the media) as an institution with special rights and responsibilities.
The other was a reply to an editorial in the local Murdoch paper, pushing the case for privatisation. They printed it, which is more than the national Murdoch rag (The Australian) has done in similar cases. It’s over the fold
In a recent editorial, the Courier-Mail bemoans the fact that nearly thirty years after Paul Keating began the privatisation agenda, three in four Queenslanders are still opposed to the sale of public assets. In fact, the situation is more dire than that. Back in the 1980s when Keating ‘instinctively’ grasped the case for privatisation, opinion polls suggested that much of the public was receptive to the idea: publicly owned utilities were seen as slow and stodgy and didn’t have much of a reputation for public service.
Public opposition to privatisation isn’t the result of fear of the unknown or misunderstanding of the arguments. Rather, it’s the product of decades of experience. Far from producing lean, innovative and customer focused organizations, privatisation and corporatisation have given us bloated and overpaid management, higher prices, and customer service that ranges from limited to appalling.
On the other hand, privatisation has been a boon for the financial sector and for the various associated services (legal, accounting, consulting and so on) that dominate the CBD, and the thinking of those who work there. The result is a deep, and enduring, disconnect between the views of the policy elite and those of the general public.
The core of the editorial is the sentence “It does seem amazing that three out of four Queenslanders still can’t accept what is a pretty basic argument that governments don’t have any business running ports or selling electricity”. There are two big problems here.
First this isn’t an argument but an ideological assertion. While the ideology of privatisation is almost universally accepted among the policy elite and in the financial sector, it’s the reverse of the view that prevailed in Australia for most of our history, and worked well enough to provide us with the assets we are now arguing about.
The idea that governments should get out of the infrastructure business, leaving the funding of new investments to the financial sector came into vogue during the economic crisis of the 1970s. For a while, it seemed to be working well, as financial markets boomed in the 1990s. But, in the wake of the Global Financial Crisis, the idea of leaving everything to the financial sector looks less appealing.
More seriously, the public has never been given any serious opportunity to debate the free-market case for privatisation, presumably because politicians realised it was unsaleable. Although the statements of former ministers make it clear that the Bligh Labor government was fully convinced of the free-market case, nothing of the kind was presented to voters.
Instead, we got a spurious case based on the idea that we could sell income-generating public assets and use the proceeds to fund investments in schools and hospitals. The question of how the income flow from the privatised assets would be replaced was never addressed. The Bligh government’s case was so misleading that more than 20 leading economists, including advocates of the free-market argument for privatisation, signed a statement condemning it.
Treasurer Tim Nicholls has gone one better. In his presentation, embodied in the ‘Strong Choices’ website and echoed in the Courier-Mail editorial, we can not only use the proceeds of asset sales to build infrastructure, we can simultaneously use the same money to pay down debt and then spend the interest savings on schools and hospitals.
The Courier-Mail suggests that critics of privatisation are telling us we can have our cake and eat it. But the pro-privatisation case is even worse. It is a magic pudding that we can it seems, slice and eat, however many times we want.
The sad truth, admitted even by the government’s own Audit Commission, and recognised by the public response to the Strong Choices website is that there are no magic puddings.
Successive governments have sold us the myth that Queensland can be a low tax state while still enjoying public services of the same quality as high-tax southern states. While the mining boom lasted, this might have been true. But now we face a clear choice: either pay the same taxes as other states, or accept overcrowded schools and second-rate health services. This choice, and not the financial chicanery of ‘Non–Share Equity Interests’ is what we should be debating at the next election.
I wrote not long ago about the zombie idea that the US ban on agricultural use of DDT, enacted in 1972, somehow caused millions of people elsewhere in the world (where DDT remains available for anti-malaria programs) to die of malaria. A thorough refutation is now available to anyone who cares to look at Wikipedia, but the notion remains lurking in the Republican hindbrain.
So, with the recent outbreak of Ebola fever (transmitted between humans by direct contact and bodily fluids), the free-association process that passes for thought in Republican circles went straight from “sick people in Africa” to “DDT”. Ron Paul was onto the case early, with stupid remarks that were distilled into even purer stupidity in a press release put out by his organization. Next up, Diana Furchgott-Roth, of the Manhattan Institute.
Checking up, I found that Furchgott-Roth was formerly chief economist of the US Department of Labor, a position I associate with sober wonkery. Others to hold the position include Laurence Katz, Jesse Rothstein and Betsey Stevenson, none of whom have ever said anything crazy, at least to my knowledge. But it turns out that all of these, and other sensible economists I’ve heard of in this job, were appointed by Democrats, while Furchgott-Roth was appointed by George W. Bush. The only other Repub appointee I could find, Morgan Reynolds, turns out to be a truther, who believes that that the mainstream versions of the JFK assassination, the Oklahoma City bombing, and the 9/11 attacks are all lies. Since Reynolds was appointed in 2001, and left the job in 2002, he was obviously not a known truther and presumably not a known conspiracy theorist at the time, but his publication list makes it clear that he has long been a rightwing crank. He’s currently adjunct scholar with the Ludwig von Mises Institute in Auburn, Alabama.
2700 Scholars Boycott UI; Trustees to Meet Tomorrow; Salaita’s Teaching Evaluations Superb; Philosopher Cancels Prestigious Lecture (Updated) (Updated Again)
I’m still on vacation and mostly staying offline but I wanted to do a quick update on the Salaita affair.
1. Tomorrow, August 22, the Executive Committee of the University of Illinois Board of Trustees is scheduled to meet again. The Executive Committee met on Monday, August 18. In an email, Phan Nguyen wrote to me, “According to the listing of BOT Executive Committee meetings on the website, there haven’t been two such meetings held within four days of each other” in quite some time, if ever. But where the Monday meeting agenda explicitly stated that employment and litigation matters would be discussed, the agenda for tomorrow’s meeting specifies no topics for discussion. And where Monday’s meeting was listed a closed meeting, this meeting doesn’t say if it’s closed or not.
2. Going into Monday’s meeting, many of us thought something —a decision, a deal, something—was afoot. But according to this report in the local media, no decisions were made at the meeting.
“There are a number of issues being discussed,” President Bob Easter told The News-Gazette after the meeting, but trustees are “not at a place where I can say” if resolution is close. He declined to talk further because it was a closed session about personnel.
Ali Abunimah has some further news:
However two sources familiar with the case separately confirmed that there has been no discussion of a settlement and no proposal of a settlement from either the university or from Salaita.
Both sources asked not to be identified as neither is authorized to speak publicly about the matter.
3. One of the issues that comes up frequently among the University of Illinois’s defenders is that Salaita’s tweets suggest he might create a hostile environment for students, that he’s not fit for the classroom. It’s a strange claim to make under any circumstance—how I am on Twitter bears little relationship to how I am in the classroom or in my interactions with students; all of us have different relationships with different people, and we act differently in different circumstances—but in Salaita’s case it’s especially strange because he actually has a demonstrated track record as a teacher that the University of Illinois could consult.
Salaita taught for eight years at Virginia Tech, and like most professors, he was evaluated by his students every semester. According to this report, these were the results:
The student evaluations for Steven Salaita are stunning.
In Fall 2009, 29 of 30 students responding rated Salaita’s “knowledge of subject” as “Excellent”. In the same course, 93 percent of students rated Professor Salaita’s “overall rating” as “excellent,” and 2 as “good.”
In the same term, another group of students gave Salaita nearly identical—though even better —marks: 29 of 30 rated him “excellent” for knowledge of subject, 30 of 30 graded him excellent for grading fairness, and 93 percent rated him “excellent” for overall rating, 1 good.
These numbers repeat consistently over all six of the courses Professor Salaita submitted for review. The lowest rating he received in the “excellent” category for “overall rating” was 86 percent. Salaita never received, in any of the six courses evaluated, a single rating of “poor” for any of ten categories of teaching reviewed. In his lone graduate seminar, he scored a perfect 100 percent rating of “excellence” in the category of “overall rating.”
But for purposes of our argument, it is especially important to note student evaluations of Professor Salaita in the category of “concern and respect” for students. Here is where students evaluate their professor for professional empathy, respect for diverse points of view, and sensitivity to student opinion and student lives.
In the six courses reviewed Professor Salaita scored as follows in this category:
# of Students
30 Total: 28 Excellent 2 Good
30 Total: 30 out of 30 Excellent
10 Total: 10 out of 10 Excellent
29 Total: 28 Excellent 1 Good
28 Total: 28 out of 28 excellent
28 Total: 25 out of 28 excellent, 2 good, one No Response
In addition to these metrics, Professor Salaita submitted a peer review letter of his teaching by a Virginia Tech colleague in English. This colleague visited Salaita’s classes to provide the department an assessment of Salaita’s teaching.
The letter cites Salaita’s numerical excellence in student evaluations, but goes on to praise his teaching in terms that would be the envy of Professors everywhere:
While the numbers are impressive, the student comments bear out in detail how deserving Steven is of the high ratings. The students are acutely aware that they are privileged to be studying with a well-regarded scholar, who draws his knowledge from years of study and experience. Steven is perceived as being knowledgeable and accessible—he takes time to talk with students and to encourage them in preparing their writing assignments… When asked questions in class, Steve gives factual and thoughtful replies. It is clear to all that the teacher has mastery of his field.
Salaita’s colleague goes on to say:
The classes I visited focused on several very contemporary bodies of literature, most specifically Arab-American literature. These works are difficult to understand and appreciate fully without the help of a good guide who knows the turf. Professor Salaita is extremely well-informed on the history and current status of the many nations, political parties and religious sects of the Middle East. This subject matter is urgently important not only for specialists in international affairs, but for anyone seeking to better understand the violent and volatile contemporary world.
This record shows only one thing: that Steven Salaita is an outstanding classroom teacher.
4. The campaign on behalf of Salaita has gathered steam. Yesterday, philosopher David Blacker canceled his scheduled appearance at the prestigious CAS/MillerComm lecture series at the University of Illinois. In a letter to the university, he wrote:
I regret to inform you that I must cancel my CAS/MillerComm lecture at the University of Illinois scheduled for September 29….
I have decided I must honor the growing worldwide pledge of academics not to appear at U. of I. unless the Salaita matter is acceptably resolved….
…Instead of choosing education and more speech as the remedy for disagreeable speech,the U. of I. has apparently chosen “enforced silence.” It thus violates what a university must stand for—whatever else it stands for—and therefore I join those who will not participate in the violation. In my judgment, this is a core and non-negotiable issue of academic freedom.
My hope is that the U. of I. will relent and restore its good name. I would be delighted to reschedule my talk if and when this happens.
5. I haven’t got complete updates on the boycott campaign, but here are some new numbers (if I don’t have new numbers, I don’t list the petitions here; for a fuller list, go here):
Philosophy: 241 (including our very own Chris Bertram)
Political Science: 169 (including our very own Henry Farrell and myself)
Contingent academics: 210
Along with our other signatories on other petitions (for which I do not have updated numbers), we’ve got 2716 scholars committed to not engaging with the University of Illinois until Steven Salaita is reinstated.
A more general petition calling on the University of Illinois to reinstate Salaita has over 15,000 signatures.
Updated (9 pm)
The Education Justice Project at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign has been carefully observing the growing international academic boycott of our campus and weighing the potential impacts upon our Strategies for Action National Conference on Higher Education in Prison. After thoughtful deliberation, we have canceled the national conference.
This decision has not been easy.
We reached this decision after consulting with conference presenters and attendees, directors of other prison education programs, members of the higher ed in prison listserv, and with members of the Education Justice Project. We concluded that for EJP to host the conference at this time would compromise our ability to come together as a national community of educators and activists.
Updated (10 pm)
Yet another scholar has pulled out from a distinguished lecture series at the University of Illinois. This time it’s Allen Isaacman, Regents Professor of History at the University of Minnesota.
… persuade them to stop being rightwingers
(This is a cross-post from my blog)
I have a piece in (Australian magazine) Inside Story arguing that the various efforts to “frame” the evidence on climate change, and the policy implications, in a way that will appeal to those on the political right are all doomed. Whether or not it was historically inevitable, anti-science denialism is now a core component of rightwing tribal identity in both Australia and the US. The only hope for sustained progress on climate policy is a combination of demography and defection that will create a pro-science majority.
With my characteristic optimism, I extract a bright side from all of this. This has three components
I expect lots of commenters here will disagree with one or more of these, so feel free to have your say.
fn1. Or, in the case of young people, not to start.