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Ah, Princeton: Where the 1950s never died

21 Oct

One day I really have to write an essay on my absolutely all-time favorite magazine: Princeton Alumni Weekly.

In this week’s edition, a letter writer named Houghton Hutcheson—of course—from Bellaire, Texas—of course—writes a grumbling missive about an earlier feature on Jennifer Weiner. Weiner is the fiction writer who’s been on a campaign to broaden our definition of literature to include books often relegated to the chick lit shelf.

After the usual harrumphing about how there’s no such thing as gender in Literature, Hutcheson coughs up this hairball:

Mirroring her [Weiner's] own life experiences, many of her featured characters are “plus-size women.” Let’s be honest; do you know any men who would find this formula appealing?

I dunno. Many of Homer’s characters are strapping, bloodthirsty warriors. Many of Swift’s characters are giants or midgets. Many of Mann’s characters are phlegmatic hypochondriacs. And yet, for centuries, women have somehow managed to get past the outer trappings of these characters. So why is it so inconceivable for Houghton Hutcheson from Bellaire, Texas to get inside the mind of a plus-sized woman? Oh right: because there’s no such thing as gender in Literature.

Ah, Princeton: where the 1950s never died.

Two-Year Visiting Professor Position at Brooklyn College

4 Oct

The political science department at Brooklyn College, of which I am chair, has initiated a search for our Belle Zeller Visiting Professor, which is a two-year position in the department.

Previous holders of the Belle Zeller chair include awarding filmmaker Stanley Nelson, noted historian Genna Rae McNeil, and prominent journalists such as Gary Younge, Juan Gonzalez, and Liza Featherstone, who is our current Belle Zeller chair.

We are looking for a nationally recognized scholar, journalist, writer and/or practitioner in one or more of the following fields: labor, education, health, urban politics, environment, criminal justice, racial equality, national security, immigration, and gender and LGBTQ justice.

Review of applications to begin January 15, 2015 and will continue until the position is filled.

For information on the position and how to apply, please visit www.brooklyn.cuny.edu/facultyjobs and scroll down to 11298.Please share this post widely.

 

 

 

Is the Boycott of the University of Illinois Illiberal?

29 Sep

I’m hearing whispers that some liberal-ish academics think the boycott of UIUC is illiberal and censorious. So let me get this straight. Is the underlying idea that, as an academic, you’re obligated to accept every single speaking invitation you receive? (Let’s recall the terms of the boycott: simply that we will refuse to accept an invitation to speak, or otherwise participate in an event, at the UIUC, until Steven Salaita is reinstated.) Or is it that you’re allowed to say no if your reasons are strictly careerist—i.e., the institution is not high-prestige or the honorarium too low—but not if your reasons are moral principles? Or is it that you think careerism is not only a moral principle but the only acceptable moral principle that would justify a refusal of an invitation? Or is all this liberalism talk besides the point, and it’s just Israel Israel Israel?

It’s Not the Crime, It’s the Cover-up

28 Sep

In the latest turn in the Salaita affair, Ali Abunimah has filed a public records request with the University of Illinois, which the University has not complied with. Raising suspicions of…

Here’s Ali:

The University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign says it cannot find a key document that may shed light on donor pressure and organized efforts to convince top administrators to fire Steven Salaita for his criticisms of Israel.

The Electronic Intifada requested the document – a memo on Salaita’s views handed to Chancellor Phyllis Wise by a major donor – under the Freedom of Information Act.

However, an 18 September letter from the university informed The Electronic Intifada that “no records responsive to your request could be located.” Under Illinois law, Wise is required to preserve the document as a public record.

The existence of the document in question was revealed in a 24 July email (see below) Wise sent to the university’s senior fundraising staff reporting on a meeting she had with what appears to be a major donor…In the email, Wise writes (emphasis added):

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.

This “two-pager” is the document that was requested by The Electronic Intifada and that the university now claims it cannot find.

Maria LaHood, senior staff attorney at the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR), which is part of the legal team representing Salaita, expressed skepticism toward the university’s claim that it cannot locate the document.

“It is hard to believe that Chancellor Wise would have thrown out the two-pager on Professor Salaita given to her by a donor at a meeting that was important enough for her to email details about to top Illinois fundraising officials at midnight, unless there’s a reason she didn’t want it to be made public,” she told The Electronic Intifada.

“The two-pager might indicate a more organized effort to go after Salaita, and it will be one of the many documents we’ll seek in litigation,” LaHood added.

Under the Illinois State Records Act, documents received by Wise and the university are the property of the state. As a public official, Wise is legally required to preserve such records, which may not be disposed of except under conditions set out in the law.

The Electronic Intifada has filed a request with the Public Access Counselor at the office of the Illinois Attorney General to review the facts and law surrounding the University of Illinois’ failure to release the “two-pager” on Steven Salaita handed to Chancellor Phyllis Wise by a pro-Israel donor.

The request notes that under the Illinois State Records Act, Wise, a public officer of a state agency, is legally required to preserve the document in question and the university is legally required under the State Records Act and the Freedom of Information Act to produce the record for public inspection.

As the State Records Act states:

All records made or received by or under the authority of or coming into the custody, control or possession of public officials of this State in the course of their public duties are the property of the State and shall not be mutilated, destroyed, transferred, removed or otherwise damaged or disposed of, in whole or in part except as provided by law. Any person who knowingly and without lawful authority alters, destroys, defaces, removes, or conceals any public record commits a Class 4 felony.

Such felonies may be punishable by a term of imprisonment.

Given the facts set out in the post above and provided to the Public Access Counselor, the request asserts that “reasonable suspicion exists that a public record has been disposed of without lawful authority.”

The Public Access Counselor is an office established by law to help enforce the Illinois Freedom of Information Act and the Open Meetings Act.

“Working under the direction and supervision of the Attorney General and with a team of attorneys and professional staff, the Public Access Counselor’s mission is to help people obtain public documents and access public meetings,” according to the Attorney General’s website.

Chronicle of Higher Ed Profiles Me and My Blog

19 Sep

Marc Parry has written a long profile of me, this blog, and my work and activism in the Chronicle of Higher Education.

Some excerpts:

The Salaita Affair has riveted academe. One story line that has drawn less attention is the role played by Mr. Robin. For more than a month, the professor has turned his award-winning blog into a Salaita war room, grinding out a daily supply of analysis, muckraking, and megaphone-ready incitement.

“A lot of people see him as an intellectual leader,” says Michael Kazin, a professor of history at Georgetown University and co-editor of the magazine Dissent. “He can be counted on to battle people.” (Those people include Mr. Kazin, who crossed swords with Mr. Robin last year when Mr. Kazin published an article critical of academic anti-Israel boycotts.)

Mr. Robin is something of an odd fit for his current role.

Although people constantly ask him to speak about the Israel-Palestine question, he turns down the invitations because he does not consider himself an expert on the subject. His current scholarship focuses on the political theory of capitalism. His last book, The Reactionary Mind (Oxford University Press), was a much-debated collection of essays about conservatism.

And although he has been lauded as the “quintessential public intellectual for the digital age,” Mr. Robin is really something of a technology dinosaur.

The professor does not own a smartphone. He flees the Internet by riding New York’s subway trains for four hours at a time after dropping off his 6-year-old daughter at school or camp. He devotes these trips to reading: ­”Schumpeter in Queens, The Theory of Moral Sentiments in the Bronx, Hayek in Brooklyn,” as he wrote in one post.

Like an addict, Mr. Robin tries to set boundaries for his habit. For instance: No blogging first thing in the morning. That way the process won’t eat up his whole day.

“I’m always telling myself, ‘OK, this is the last day I’m blogging,’” Mr. Robin says.

When I arrived at his apartment for an interview around noon one day this week, he had already violated his no-blogging-in-the-morning rule. Twice.

Mr. Robin can be a pugnacious online presence. During the BDS donnybrook, for example, he ripped a former student, Jumaane D. Williams, who had gone on to become one of the City Council members critical of the event. “U took my class on civil liberties,” Mr. Robin wrote in a series of tweets directed at Mr. Williams. “Pressure from govt officials on campus speech is ok? That’s what U learned?”

In person, though, he comes off as polite and cool-headed (mostly). The professor is a compact man with rosy cheeks and light brown hair that falls over his forehead; on the day of our interview, he wore a wrinkled white shirt and dark slacks, which gave him the look of an off-duty waiter.

Recent years have radicalized his views on the role of the academy in Israel debates. Previously, he didn’t have a position on BDS and even sympathized with critics who questioned the relevance of such boycotts. He now supports the movement. “I think the academy actually is quite important on the Israel debate,” he says.

In the Salaita case, Todd Gitlin faults Mr. Robin for failing to engage with the substance of Mr. Salaita’s tweets, at least as far as Mr. Gitlin has seen. Mr. Gitlin, a professor of journalism and sociology at Columbia University, points to this Salaita tweet from July: “There’s something profoundly sexual to the Zionist pleasure w/#Israel’s aggression. Sublimation through bloodletting, a common perversion.” As Mr. Gitlin views it, “Salaita crossed the line from incivility to rank hatred.”

Mr. Robin has actually blogged about one of the most potentially offensive tweets. More broadly, though, he acknowledges “deliberately not engaging in the content.”

As he explains why, he seems on the verge of exploding.

“Todd Gitlin and I could go back and forth for days,” he says. “Parsing tweets! Like, tweets! Tweets!”

“The serious thing to do is to figure out what’s actually happening,” he says. “An outspoken critic of Israel, speaking in an inflammatory way about it, being punished and drummed out of the academy—that’s what’s happening.”

Getting into the details of the tweets, he says, is “missing the forest for the trees.”

Wished I had remembered, when I was talking about why universities and academics like Steven Salaita get targeted in the Israel/Palestine debate, that I had remembered this, from Hobbes’s Behemoth:

The core of rebellion…are the Universities; which nevertheless are not to be cast away, but better disciplined.

I have here in my hand a list of 205

15 Sep

AMCHA, an organization whose self-declared purpose is to protect Jewish students from anti-Semitism on campus, has a list.

A list of 218 professors who have called for the boycott of Israel. Which is somehow a threat to Jewish students on campus.

And they wonder why we call it McCarthyism.

Several folks have suggested that all of us who are academics, from graduate students to endowed chairs, write the organizers of the initiative and urge them to add our names to the list. As an act of solidarity. I think it’s a good idea, so I’m going to do it, and I encourage you to do the same.

Here are the folks and email addresses you should write:

Tammi Rossman-Benjamin, Lecturer, University of California at Santa Cruz, tammi@amchainitiative.org

Leila Beckwith, Professor Emeritus, UCLA, leila@amchainitiative.org

administrator@amchainitiative.org

Update (11:30 am)

Here’s what I wrote:

Dear Professors Rossman-Benjamin and Beckwith:

I noticed this morning that you listed on the AMCHA website 218 professors who are a threat to Jewish students (“Thank you for your actions to protect Jewish students”). As a practicing Jew, I think your list is abhorrent. As a citizen, I think it’s pure McCarthyism. As an act of solidarity with the professors who have been unfairly maligned by you and your list, I’d like you to add my name to it. Below please find my identification.

Corey Robin

How Do I Deal With Israel/Palestine in the Classroom? I Don’t.

15 Sep

A long while ago I was interviewed by a reporter who asked me how I handle the issue of Israel/Palestine in my classes. I told him I’m a political theorist who teaches the canon and, occasionally, the first-semester sequence of constitutional law (that is, not the Bill of Rights part, but the part on the rise of national institutions, questions of federalism, and so on). Israel/Palestine never comes up. And though I could be wrong about this (my memory is not what it used to be), I don’t think I’ve ever even had a conversation about Israel/Palestine with a student. And the truth is: I wouldn’t want to. While I care about this issue passionately as a citizen and as a Jew, it’s not something that interests me as a teacher. Nor am I  interested in what my students think about it. (I also never talk in the classroom about activism or civic engagement or the need to get involved politically—another set of topics that have zero interest for me as a teacher.) The reporter couldn’t believe me. Just one more, albeit extreme, instance of people not understanding the difference between what we do inside the classroom and what we do outside the classroom.

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