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While I’m finishing up that post on His Dark Materials, I just wanted to let you know—that is, those of you who read “print” publications—that I have a brief essay in the latest minnesota review and another brief essay in the latest Common Review too.  Why do I bother to hyperlink if the essays aren’t available online?  Well, because if you look around the minnesota review website a bit, you’ll find this delightful and instructive essay by someone named Tedra Osell, and if you check out The Common Review you’ll find this fascinating essay, “When Tommy Met Sally.” And then you’ll subscribe or buy these issues, and you’ll get to read my little essays too.

In the meantime, I am genuinely surprised to find how completely I agree with Stanley Fish’s latest.

Posted by on 04/07 at 11:56 AM
  1. In the meantime, I am genuinely surprised to find how completely I agree with Stanley Fish’s latest.

    Ditto. It “does not compute”.

    Posted by  on  04/07  at  01:57 PM
  2. Tedra, eh?  Must be a Bitch to go through life with that name. <d, rlh!>

    Joining the list of “who ghostwrote this one for Fish”?

    Posted by Ken Houghton  on  04/07  at  02:11 PM
  3. Actually, I think Christian’s disbelief is directed at me, not at Stanley.  Since, you know, there’s no way I can ever be persuaded to change my mind about something.

    Posted by  on  04/07  at  02:28 PM
  4. I think it’s troll-bait.  Much of the NYT Fish comes down to taking relatively commonsensical positions but as untidily as possible, and this one is just a smidge too blithe about academic standards—or put another way it’s calculated to press all the buttons of anyone predisposed to be suspicious of academia. (I agree on the core point, as I just got through explaining to CT commenters who seem unhealthily interested in Mr. Churchill’s blood.)

    TO’s piece is really smart.

    Posted by  on  04/07  at  03:23 PM
  5. this one is just a smidge too blithe about academic standards—or put another way it’s calculated to press all the buttons of anyone predisposed to be suspicious of academia

    Fair enough, Colin.  What I meant to say (I think) is that the more I look at the end-stages of the review process that led up to Churchill’s firing, the less I like it.  I’m still not a member of the Churchill Fan Club, but I think this jury did the right thing.

    And yes, TO’s piece is really smart.  That woman should get herself a blog or something.

    Posted by  on  04/07  at  03:45 PM
  6. Perhaps Fish would have been better served if the essay had been fully supported with footnotes and citations to the relevant texts including those of known sprezzatura doppelgangers.  Then we would have felt less surprised by its apparent clarity and genuine appeal to good rational thinking. 

    It is also interesting that the book ad next to Tedra’s essay was for Critics at Work.  I suppose we can look forward to studies on the selective bias of the logic system used to search text for advertising context suggestions.  A critic’s job is never done.

    Posted by  on  04/07  at  03:45 PM
  7. Uh, no, Michael, it is directed at myself for agreeing with Fish. But don’t let that stop you…

    Posted by  on  04/07  at  03:47 PM
  8. "it” being the “disbelief” Michael thought I directed at him, of course.

    Posted by  on  04/07  at  03:54 PM
  9. A distraction rendered my half-written comment redundant, but…

    a smidge too blithe about academic standards

    Yeah, I have a hard time putting the “ghostwriting” thing into the category of “a perfectly ordinary squabble about research methods and the handling of evidence.”

    It’s not untidy, it’s excessively tidy--Fishy common sense always sorts things out very neatly. It’s nice, though, that the mountains of Churchill-induced apoplexy has been answered with legally-binding common sense.

    Posted by Robert Zimmerman  on  04/07  at  04:28 PM
  10. Sorry about that, Christian!  Fie on me.  I will have to change my mind again.

    And the ghostwriting thing is still, I think, very serious.  Everyone refers to it as plagiarism, but of course it’s much more like sockpuppetry.  The question, as Henry Farrell pointed out a few days ago, is whether—given the prevailing industry standard for research malfeasance—it amounts to a firing offense.

    Posted by  on  04/07  at  07:36 PM
  11. Part of it is the interface between academic and activist writing.  I did much ghostwriting in my activist days, sometimes because you needed a prominent name to get attention, sometimes because you wanted to look more numerous than you were.  CU wanted a public intellectual and they got one.

    Where Fish is very good is that what the committee called falsification is not distinguishable from tendentious interpretation; I wish he had spent more time on the part where other scholars go after bad interpretations and put in the work to sort issues out and literatures develop that way.  (The firing cte seemed to be trying to fit this into the standard used for faked lab reults.) We don’t want to be defending a position that says, hey, everybody screws around.  We want to be defending the position that says that the search for truth is a messy business and people need the freedom to be wrong.  But that should not need spelling out on this highly reasonable blog.

    Ya think TO could be a successful blogger?  maybe if she loses the “Habermasian” and gets a little more shtick.

    captcha “man”—too many of ‘em

    Posted by  on  04/07  at  08:06 PM
  12. No problem, Michael. I didn’t even know you changed your mind in the first place wink.

    It’s clear the ghost writing issue is the most serious. In fact, this could be an opportunity to discuss the issue in a broader context (although I am not sure it is a common problem?). The point stands, however, that it is something to be debated, not to be declared a firing offense a posteriori by fiat.

    Posted by  on  04/07  at  08:06 PM
  13. Aha, Colin, thanks for the clarification of the ghost writing (activism etc.). It seems to me Churchill’s argument as mentioned by Fish is, at least at first glance, reasonable.

    To feel out what the boundary might be, we could think of the following scenario:

    A person referees a journal submission or book project, and makes recommendations, which are followed. Later, that same person writes on the subject and quotes a passage heavily influenced by their own refereeing recommendation. What should that person do?

    The answer seems quite obvious. Ghost writing obviously differs from this example in degree (well, in most cases anyway), but is it qualitatively different? I don’t find it close to sock-puppetry at all, a priori.

    Posted by  on  04/07  at  08:53 PM
  14. Fish conveniently leaves out the actual plagiarism allegations (as opposed to the ghost writing matter), presumably because they don’t serve his argument. I have only skimmed the committee report, but my impression is that they felt that the seriousness of the case resulted from the *pattern* of conduct. The fabrication charges, in other words, may not have appeared that damning in isolation; however, when combined with the ghost writing stuff, plagiarism, and apparent lack of regard for academic standards (when interviewed by the committee), they painted a larger picture of professional misconduct. It’s worthy of note that the committee, including two non-UC members, was unanimous is finding the misconduct to be serious, and that even the committee members who did not recommend revocation of tenure felt that it merited a two-year suspension.

    Of course, in the absence of a smoking gun, a “pattern” is pretty subjective grounds for dismissal and revocation of tenure. And none of this goes to the propriety of targeting Churchill in the first place.

    Posted by  on  04/08  at  12:16 AM
  15. Sorry to follow up on my own post, but I just took a look at the summary of the report, and it sheds light on the ghostwriting question:

    “More serious still is the pattern of citing one’s own work, disguised by its attribution to another living scholar in the same field, as authority for assertions and claims that lack independent support.” (emphasis mine)

    Posted by  on  04/08  at  12:41 AM
  16. Forget about His Dark Materials. What about the latest from the Hansons?

    Posted by  on  04/08  at  08:10 AM
  17. Michael,

    I think you’re eliding three issues:

    1) Fish’s claims about how well-warranted the peer committee’s judgment was (i.e., whether this was properly a judgment about research misconduct or whether this was a misjudgment about what should have been left in disciplinary arguments);

    2) The jury’s decision on the factual question of whether Churchill was fired for misconduct or for his statements about 9/11; and

    3) If Churchill was guilty of misconduct, whether CU did the right thing in firing him as opposed to a suspension/demotion (the preference of a majority of the last peer committee).

    The reporting on the jury’s decision does NOT make it clear whether there was a consensus of the jury on either #1 or #3, so I’m placing it between the two. But while you state in the main entry here that you agree with Fish (who writes about #1, which was also the subject of the AAUP statement), your comment @10 is about #3.

    I think a disagreement with CU about #3 is far more defensible than #1. Not only am I inclined to trust the judgment of a competent peer committee—and in the humanities, most of these judgments are not going to be easy—but I am persuaded by the report that Churchill deliberately and without remorse engaged in conduct that I would never teach my graduate students to practice and that I would never find acceptable in a peer. That’s beyond disciplinary debates.

    I think the issue with #3 is pretty horridly put with the “Ogletree got away with it” defense, which is what Philo Hutcheson said at the trial. So we set our standards by SIU and Harvard? There *is* a question of why CU’s president overrode the sense of the last committee, which was in favor of a period of suspension without pay and demotion. But you can make that argument without referring to nebulous notions of professional practice (and I think there are very, VERY good reasons for both faculty collective-bargaining organizations and the nonbargaining side of AAUP to avoid that).

    Posted by Sherman Dorn  on  04/10  at  01:31 AM





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