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Thanksgiving

Is there some extra extra Random Angry Guy aggression going around the Internets lately?  Because Moloch knows I’m aware that I piss off lots of people on a regular basis, sometimes by being a rude, snarky, cheeky fellow and sometimes just by waking up in the morning.  And being a blogger has taught me that there are plenty of people out there who will type up all kinds of things about What I Am Really Like Up Close, even though they’ve never met me or exchanged so much as a single email with me.  No, I’m not talking about Dean Dad.  I have no animus toward the man, and he seems to be doing good work on everything except tenure, and his insults were pretty weak sauce compared to the random angry guy who took to the keyboard last month to write, “Berube is smarmy, juvenile, pretentious, and narcissistic. Not to mention a compulsive liar who rewrites history in his own favor.” This, in response to a blog post written by someone I know IRL and with whom I had just had a very lovely (and very delicious) dinner.  As if he’s going to tell my dinner companion what I’m really like.

The weirdest recent Random Angry Guy effusion, though, has to be that of Professor Jim Holstun, who recently chimed in on some liberal blog to say,

Berube is first, last, and always, a professional—and by that, I mean “a careerist hack.”

Richly compensated to serve as part of a team evaluating my department (English, SUNY Buffalo), he proceeded to recommend the destruction of a forty-year-old tradition of (limited) workplace democracy, whereby graduate students were empowered to participate in department governance. You don’t keep getting lucrative gigs like this if you don’t give administrations what they want. Feh!

Where does one start with a remark so profoundly full of fail?  I can’t even begin to know what to think of a full professor so resentful and/or clueless as to believe that people who conduct external reviews of English departments are “richly compensated.” If I were to calculate my compensation from Buffalo for that review on a per-hour basis, it would come out to about $12-15/hour.  Remember, once again with feeling,

But Holstun’s claim about how I destroyed “a forty-year-old tradition of (limited) workplace democracy” is even more addled than his estimation of my extravagant hourly service wages.  It’s not every day I get to have a public argument about an aspect of a departmental review, but just for the record, here’s what actually happened.  When we conducted our review in late January 2006, Cary Nelson, William Chace and I came across a provision in Buffalo’s bylaws that gave every member of the department a vote with regard to job searches.  Cool!—except that the phrase “every member” included every single graduate student, and most sane people realize that graduate students who have just entered a program really shouldn’t have a vote on job candidates that is equivalent to that of people with years of experience in a field.  There was more in this vein: graduate students were appointed to serve on search committees and on the graduate admissions committee—by other graduate students.  Our review committee was not unanimous about whether graduate students should serve on searches and admissions (I think advanced graduate students are usually competent to do either job), but we did agree that it was a mistake to have graduate students appointed to such committees by other graduate students rather than by the faculty, because Buffalo’s system didn’t look like a form of workplace democracy; it looked like a device for creating graduate-student cliques and rivalries.

There’s another issue at stake here, as well.  On the one hand, graduate programs should train students to do the kind of work they will eventually do as professors (should they get jobs as professors), so it makes sense to introduce them to committee work.  On the other hand, graduate students are already serving the department as very-low-cost teaching labor, and giving them sundry committee tasks on top of their teaching assignments might only impede their progress toward the degree.  This is no trivial matter in a discipline whose average time-to-degree is about a decade.

Sigh.  Sometimes you undertake mundane disciplinary service like departmental reviews, even though they don’t really involve rich compensation, because you want to try to do some good.  In Buffalo’s case, we filed a report to the Dean that called for the English department to be replenished: we recommended that the department be authorized to hire four senior faculty and three junior faculty for the next five years (that’s a call for 19 new positions, folks—just what our corporate masters in administration wanted us to say); we recommended that the university administration create a program that would funnel Indirect Cost Recovery funds (from research grants) from the sciences and social sciences to the humanities; and we asked the administration to remedy the fact that the department’s most richly endowed chair was being badly abused by someone who was basically a no-show (with a nod to Dean Dad, yes, sometimes bad people abuse tenure.  One might even call them careerist hacks).  For all this, I get called mean names on a blog.  Feh!

So I understand that I have a talent for making enemies in this business.  Sometimes I pick fights, sometimes (as in the curious cases of KC Johnson and The Notorious Riley) I merely answer the bell.  And sometimes I come in for bizarre forms of personal abuse just by showing up to do a departmental report.  C’est la vie.  The Internet has taught me how to brush off (most) personal attacks from random angry strangers.  But aggressively clue-free attacks from people like Holstun are just depressing.

But I can’t be too too depressed right now, because I have just had the most fun holiday ever.  People started showing up at our house last Tuesday night; most of our sixteen house guests arrived on Wednesday and left on Saturday.  The last crew—Nick and his gang—departed on Sunday night.  It’s a good thing my ordinary-sized house is expandable!  And a good thing that everyone is OK with sleeping on air mattresses, futons, and couches.  We’ll always remember the guy (I’m looking at you, Hayward) who decided that the best names-game clue for “Alfred Hitchcock” would be “Schmalbert Hook-Penis.” We’ll treasure the fact that every single guest under the age of 80 joined in to play Beatles Rockband at one point or another. (Many thanks to my sister Jeannie for sending us the best intrafamily present ever—for Jamie’s birthday, no less!) I thought I would impress These Kids Today by showing them that I had mastered “Medium” level on guitar in only three weeks, only to learn that all of them play the game at Expert level, even when it involves drumming to “I Feel Fine” and “I Me Mine” (I’m looking at you, Nick) or playing guitar to “Here Comes the Sun.” (“Can you read those notes?” a friend asked me as the dizzying array of colors for Expert Here Comes the Sun flew by on the screen and Shash hit every note.  “Hell no,” I replied, “it just looks like the closing sequence of 2001 to me.” And when I announced to Nick that I had played “Come Together” without a mistake, a 254-note streak, he congratulated me and informed me that he had played it without a mistake on expert drums, a 2100-note streak.  So I hit him.) And then there was the moment when we had to prepare for the arrival of Yet More Guests by Saturday at noon, and we looked around at the piles of suitcases and electronics and bottles and cans and leftovers and overcoats and air mattresses and lost clothing and bedding, and I said, “my friends, if we clean up now, then the ‘guests’ will have already won.” Then eight of us went out Saturday night to see Fantastic Mr. Fox, which may be one of the ten most fun movies ever.

Happy sigh.  The antidote to random angry guys on the Internet, surely, is having lots of holiday fun in real life.  Now I just have to lose twenty pounds by tomorrow.  It does kind of suck to be overweight at this time of year. Fortunately, I hear that John Holbo has a new miracle diet plan, for which he no doubt expects to be richly compensated.

Posted by on 12/01 at 08:28 AM
  1. Sounds like a wonderful time—so nice to take a break with your favourite people around you. My kids are coveting Beatles Rockband as well, and I just happen to be listening to Abbey Road as I type this. They do endure, don’t they?

    I’ve come to the conclusion that many people on the internet suck. That’s my explanation for angry guy.

    Posted by  on  12/01  at  10:01 AM
  2. I imagine if you calculated your direct $$ per hour return on the time and energy you’ve invested in hosting this forum (thanks!) you’d strain your calculator’s capacity to display leading zeros. All totaled, perhaps enough to cover the odd air mattress—effective temporary lumbar support for the tired and grateful.

    Thank goodness for Thanksgiving.

    Captcha: points. Brownie, a bucket full.

    Posted by  on  12/01  at  10:15 AM
  3. Clare—Beatles Rockband is worth the coveting, even if it does violate one of the Ten Commandments.  Rockband aficionados (i.e., Nick and company) have their criticisms of it (not as much variety as Rockband, natch, and you can’t unlock songs), but what do they know?  They’re only experts.  I’m a medium.

    As for angry guy, I don’t know what to think about the Internet.  Clearly, he would be angry at me for destroying his department’s (limited) workplace democracy even if we were all working on typewriters.  So I’m not sure whether the Internet induces this kind of public pissedoffedness or merely enables it.  Even if it’s only the latter, though, the result is still that my name gets trashed in a public forum—and for really stupid reasons.

    BDB:  I imagine if you calculated your direct $$ per hour return on the time and energy you’ve invested in hosting this forum (thanks!) you’d strain your calculator’s capacity to display leading zeros.

    D’oh!  Now you tell me.  And all this time I thought I was being richly compensated!

    Thank goodness for Thanksgiving, and for in-laws who make the most amazing chili (Wednesday night) and turkey soup (Friday night) in the universe.

    Posted by  on  12/01  at  10:34 AM
  4. I’m still angry from when Louis Proyect revealed that you enjoy “playing hockey or the drums.” I never dreamed you would sink so low.

    Posted by aaron  on  12/01  at  11:12 AM
  5. This post is proof that the best revenge - even against random and not-so-random angry guys on the internet - is living well.
    Mazeltov!

    Posted by rev.paperboy  on  12/01  at  11:26 AM
  6. Berube [sic] is smarmy, juvenile, pretentious, and narcissistic.

    Wait, so now these are bad things?

    because Buffalo’s system didn’t look like a form of workplace democracy; it looked like a device for creating graduate-student cliques and rivalries.

    Erm, at Private Northeastern University with a Public-sounding Name, this is what led us grad students to move to election of student representatives to department committees.  Because appointment by faculty was a device for perpetuating faculty cliques and rivalries.

    However, none of the student reps had the vote.  They were asked for input, and the grad students were given the opportunity to meet faculty candidates and offer their opinions, but they weren’t given a role in the final say.  This seemed proper, albeit dependent on the willingness of faculty to listen.  A first-year graduate student with the power to vote on departmental matters?  What the heck?

    Oh, and none of us were richly compensated, either, unless there were sandwiches left over.

    the best names-game clue for “Alfred Hitchcock” would be “Schmalbert Hook-Penis.”

    It’s people like Lytton Strachey and this Hayward character that will make “Chicka-Wow Chicka-Wow Wow” obsolete.  Which is probably a good thing.

    Posted by  on  12/01  at  11:47 AM
  7. Erm, at Private Northeastern University with a Public-sounding Name, this is what led us grad students to move to election of student representatives to department committees.  Because appointment by faculty was a device for perpetuating faculty cliques and rivalries.

    Yes, this, a thousand times. Also, what is it that makes grad students behave like jealous siblings more than being subject to professors’ whims and favors? Students know who will go to bat for them, who is active on the listserv, who will negotiate effectively between faculty and student interests. Our student body is unusually cohesive, collaborative, and trusting, in large part because we elect one another to serve on faculty committees. Most of that job involves listening and reporting back to students, but we’ve been decisive in making a case for appointments and admissions. What’s the point of having student representatives on a committee at all if they’re only there by the grace of the faculty?

    Yes, we work too much and too hard for too little pay, but that’s all the more reason not to infantilize us further by assuming we’re capable of little better than a 7th-grade class president election. Most of us consider ourselves to be professional adults who take our committee work extremely seriously because our peers chose us to be in that room. Unlike faculty members, we are not compensated for committee work, but, also unlike faculty members, we are chosen to represent interests beyond our own.

    I’ve met students at schools where they treat one another like 12-year-olds in gym class instead of collaborators and colleagues, but I don’t think it’s a coincidence that those departments don’t have meaningful student organization and representation.

    I’d like to hear what observations you’ve made that suggest the opposite, Michael. I’m willing to hear that I’m wrong, but my experience doesn’t add up that way.

    However much I disagree with you, though, I would never call you bad names on the internet. I will never understand what tempts grown men to talk to and about each other this way. We could have an interesting and fruitful conversation, or we can be nasty.

    Posted by A White Bear  on  12/01  at  12:14 PM
  8. Sounds like you had a great holiday. I just want to add my praise for The Fantastic Mr. Fox. And talk about juvenile, pretentious, and narcissistic, that is certainly Mr. Fox!

    Posted by  on  12/01  at  12:43 PM
  9. mds @ 6, A White Bear @ 7:  yes, these are good arguments.  Thanks for making them.  Originally I was going to say, “appointed by the department head” or “appointed by the director of graduate studies,” because trusting to “faculty” generally might indeed provoke all manner of cliquishness and infighting and jealous-sibling behavior.  I thought of my position as a way to split the difference between people who favored graduate-student direct elections to committees, and people who opposed graduate students serving on committees of any kind (and there were—and are—such people).  But I don’t think that direct elections to committees are necessarily the key to graduate program morale; morale is, how you say, overdetermined.  (Morale here is largely great w/o direct elections.) By contrast, direct elections to the body that represents graduate students (at Penn State, the English Graduate Organization) should go without saying, and elected graduate representatives can and should be consulted about committee appointments, too.  I guess a lot depends on whether the committees in question are themselves elected or appointed.  (At Penn State, both search committees and admissions committees are appointed.) But since I’m in favor of graduate student service on such committees, I’m happy to hear of various ways of going about it.  The only thing that struck me as obviously anomalous at Buffalo was the “everyone gets a vote in job searches” provision (which, I was told, was being honored in the breach anyway).

    Just one thing, White Bear:

    Unlike faculty members, we are not compensated for committee work

    We’re not compensated for committee work either.  My friend Amanda Anderson used to joke that there should be a pile of $20 bills in committee rooms, and that each person attending the meetings of the Curriculum Committee or Personnel Committee or Composition Committee or Admissions Committee, etc., be entitled to take one $20 from the pile at each meeting.  But no department I know of has put this idea into practice ... yet.

    I will never understand what tempts grown men to talk to and about each other this way.

    In this case, my guess is that Holstun’s demeanor takes its cue from the rhetorical style of the blog host, who is deservedly notorious throughout the length and breadth of the Internets.

    Posted by Michael  on  12/01  at  01:50 PM
  10. We’re not compensated for committee work either.

    Maybe you don’t get a check for each meeting, but isn’t committee work an expected part of what your salary is for? Service to the department might be a pain in the ass, but at least you’re not paying money for the privilege of doing it.

    Posted by A White Bear  on  12/01  at  01:57 PM
  11. 10 was sorta bitchy, but it is difficult when you make like $18K/yr teaching 3-3-2, pay tuition every semester, and find yourself sitting in meetings that the living-wage-making professors with health insurance cannot be bothered to show up or do the “homework” for. Most of the profs on committees I’ve sat on have been marvelously involved, present, generous, and helpful, but the few who haven’t have often been the most generously compensated members of the department. It’s a problem that is difficult to address.

    I don’t think the answer is yanking tenure, by the way, but there is something unhealthy about a system in which you can simply break dishes until no one “lets” you wash them anymore.

    Posted by A White Bear  on  12/01  at  02:10 PM
  12. A White Bear: Your arguments are persuasive. I think in this particular instance, you might be right and Michael might be wrong.

    capcha: mean, as in “Kathy you are so MEAN!”

    Posted by OVERLADY  on  12/01  at  02:31 PM
  13. Re: Richly compensated…

    Hey at least you got to spend quality time in Buffalo. Can you put a price tag on that?

    Posted by  on  12/01  at  02:48 PM
  14. Why is it that giving students the vote would produce cliqueishness and rivalries while giving faculty the vote would not?  Or is it assumed that faculty will be cliquish and rivalrous?

    To echo White Bear’s points, the state university biology department where I did my graduate work had students serve as full voting members on committees and gave a full vote to every student at faculty meetings (later curtailed to a bloc of votes that students could allocate by voting jointly or by electing their representatives, and I think we were forbidden by law from voting on personnel matters).  It worked fine.  The students were very collaborative and mutually supportive, and faculty respected us.  It was taken as an insult when our voting rights were curtailed (partly because the debate involved lots of insults toward grad students).  Our argument at the time was that we might well be working more closely with a new hire than faculty, and that if the goal was to hire bright young thinkers who would sustain the department and keep its reputation strong, better to give input to bright young thinkers who would rely on the department’s reputation in their immediate careers.

    Captcha: doubt, expressing the possibility that this argument is wrong.

    Posted by Josh Rosenau  on  12/01  at  03:19 PM
  15. I thought of my position as a way to split the difference between people who favored graduate-student direct elections to committees, and people who opposed graduate students serving on committees of any kind (and there were—and are—such people).

    The thing is, the former is already splitting the difference, when the actual original state of play is direct elections to committee positions with the vote.  Perhaps the direct election of non-voting members is too close to the Republic’s zombie trappings under Augustus, since presumably faculty-appointed student reps retained a committee vote.  It’s a matter of perspective, I suppose; we considered our committee reps to be advocates to the faculty, and were less concerned with having a single committee vote than a committee voice.  This is perhaps a bit more of an adversarial model, but it was in the natural sciences, where the role of graduate students has been changing in disturbing ways.

    Still, can’t we all be right, just in different ways?  You can’t fight in here; this is the Internet.

    Posted by  on  12/01  at  03:34 PM
  16. Our argument at the time was that we might well be working more closely with a new hire than faculty, and that if the goal was to hire bright young thinkers who would sustain the department and keep its reputation strong, better to give input to bright young thinkers who would rely on the department’s reputation in their immediate careers.

    This is exactly the balance student committee members bring. IME, membership committees with students on them learn to strike a balance between two purposes for the hire. Faculty members want a good colleague, someone who will play with the team, bring prestige to the department, and help create and secure programs. Students often want someone who fills a gap, brings a new perspective, and offers a challenge to the existing ways of doing things. Those goals are sometimes in conflict, but they don’t have to be, especially with the current excess of applicants for positions.

    Someone very smart once told me that every hire in a department is like buying a new lamp for a large room that has a dark corner. You’re glad to get the new lamp, but you also resent it for showing you the dusty cobwebs you haven’t been paying attention to. Students are glad to get the new lamp and want it to be as bright as possible, but we’re capable of appreciating that it needs to go with the existing decor.

    Posted by A White Bear  on  12/01  at  03:52 PM
  17. I’m perfectly willing to believe that A White Bear is right about direct election of graduate students—to elected committees.  But why should graduate students be elected to committees to which faculty are appointed?  (That’s a real question, not a dismissive rhetorical one.)

    Josh @ 14, I think you’re conflating two different things:  should graduate students serve on hiring committees?  I think they should, for precisely the reason you mention.  But should they vote on personnel matters?  You say that at your university they were forbidden by law, but that they could bloc-vote or elect representatives to vote on non-personnel matters, which sounds awfully close to my position @ 9.

    And I do know of a department in which graduate students were asked to serve on a committee that determined whether M.A. students could proceed to the Ph.D.  That seems to me ethically problematic.

    Anyway, about the compensation part:  in 11, A White Bear answers her question in 10.

    Most of the profs on committees I’ve sat on have been marvelously involved, present, generous, and helpful, but the few who haven’t have often been the most generously compensated members of the department. It’s a problem that is difficult to address.

    Yes, it is expected that I do service, but:  (a) plenty of people don’t, as AWB notes, and they are like unto the teenagers who make you clean up their room because they won’t do it themselves, and (b) there is no correlation between my service and my salary.  No one gave me a $ bump when I got elected to the MLA Executive Council, or the AAUP National Council, or the AAUP’s Executive Committee, or appointed to AAUP Committee A, or when I served on two institute advisory boards and the Personnel Committee at Penn State.  Last but not least, when AWB says, “Service to the department might be a pain in the ass, but at least you’re not paying money for the privilege of doing it,” she re-raises the question I mentioned in this post, namely, is it necessarily a good thing to ask graduate students to do mundane committee work (as opposed to serving on search committees) on top of their research and teaching?  How much committee work is too much?

    The administrative-dweeb in me is finding this discussion quite fascinating.  Expect another post on this subject, one that draws on my long history of work on departmental governance.

    Posted by Michael  on  12/01  at  04:35 PM
  18. One more thing about the Buffalo report, though.  The graduate students we interviewed did not address the “forty years of workplace democracy” issue.  Rather, they insisted, unanimously, that what the department needed was better student mentoring at the dissertation and job-market stage.  Needless to say, they are not alone in that respect. 

    Posted by  on  12/01  at  04:38 PM
  19. The administrative-dweeb in me is finding this discussion quite fascinating.

    Indeed.  I wish we had gotten more of this sort of ferment on the latest Garcetti post, though.  I blame whoever dragged the Canadians into it.

    Posted by  on  12/01  at  05:24 PM
  20. Don’t worry, mds, this discussion and the Garcetti discussion are linked.  It’s All About Committee Service Month on this dweeby blog!

    Posted by  on  12/01  at  06:06 PM
  21. I’m not quite administrative dweeb enough to find the conversation about grad students on committees “fascinating,” though I’d commit to “fairly interesting.” But whatever the right thing is to do in that case (I suspect it might differ according to department), I don’t see who could deny that you, Michael, are, have always been, and will always be a persistent, cogent, and enthusiastic voice in favor of better treatment of grad students. What there is in that to call “careerist” is utterly beyond me—any true careerist worth her salt would entirely avoid professional issues like that.

    Posted by Amanda French  on  12/01  at  06:25 PM
  22. So, Michael, do you think you’ll do like you did with “What’s Liberal” and dedicate a certain day of the week to respond to reviews of your book? I remember enjoying that not only for the WTF-snarkiness, but also for the real sense of intellectual engagement it represented. I just read Proyect’s review, but I can’t quite get a hold on his objections because he doesn’t really provide substantive criticism. Mostly mud-slinging (which gets even nastier in the comments section) and an unself-conscious tendency to replicate the very thing he’s accusing you of doing (sloppy scholarship). I wonder, apropos of the epigraph that adorn(o)s his website, what Horkheimer would think of the revolutionary potential of running his blog.

    Cheers!

    Posted by  on  12/01  at  06:54 PM
  23. Good Lord!

    English Graduate Organization = EGO, as in Anton Ego?

    When I was at Buffalo (ahem! 35 years ago), MLA stood for “Mother Language Association,” which was the graduate student org. Is that still the acronym and the name?

    Posted by Bill Benzon  on  12/01  at  07:31 PM
  24. Well, Ric, I meant what I said over there about Lou and company:  they are what I thought they are.  The fact that LP stands by his rousing defense of Saddam and Milosevic is the kind of thing one can’t really engage with—and can’t parody, either.  But if I do get book reviews with which I can have good arguments, then sure, I might reply here.

    Amanda, thanks.  I’ve been around this block before, though—as when the Addled Left replied to me and Cary Nelson in the mid-90s by saying that our proposals to reduce graduate programs that had largely become reserve armies of the underpaid and soon-to-be-unemployed were really self-serving attempts to shore up our professional prestige by reducing access to graduate study.  It’s not every day you find the academic left rallying under the slogan “more cheap labor,” but hey, that’s why they’re Addled.  And the idea that Cary and I could have increased our prestige by reducing the number of graduate students in our programs is just Extra Extra Addled.

    Anyway, my followup post on department governance won’t necessarily be about graduate students.  It will be about how boring procedural minutiae can have surprisingly important consequences.  Call it “Why Service Matters.”

    Posted by Michael  on  12/01  at  07:35 PM
  25. Whatever planet that blog post comes from, it’s sure a strange one.  First we have the blog owner sputtering with fury over your eminently reasonable statements on world affairs.  Then there’s Jim H. in the comments, first making an ad hominem attack (for your behavior as a departmental reviewer has no bearing on the merit of your views on cultural or political matters), and then claiming that your specific rebuttal confirms what he wrote!  Huh?  This guy is supposed to be an English professor, but can he read at all?

    Posted by  on  12/01  at  11:16 PM
  26. Bill, I think it’s EGSO, or EGS, or something like that.

    Simon, I commend to you Holstun’s otherwise excellent scholarly volume, Ehud’s Dagger, in the weak chapter of which he makes similar dismissals of de Man and one or two other scholars who collaborated with the forces of evil.  He often doesn’t seem open to the possibility that people with destructive takes on world affairs could have good things to say. 

    Michael, didn’t I speculate in Philadelphia that the Dean’s having used your report as an excuse to eliminate grad student parity might lead to scapegoating?  I didn’t know it’d be done by your fellow Dangeral Professor, of course.

    AWB, to paraphrase Borges, I am struck by the elementary and provable fact that you are almost always right.  I gotta stand up for Michael’s having called other grown men names, however: “Chair of Advanced Fatuousness” is wonderful, and even “aging Hitler youth” worked nicely in its time.

    Posted by  on  12/02  at  12:46 AM
  27. eminently reasonable statements on world affairs

    Yeah right… Not defending Louis’ ad hominem style of debate, which is tiresome, and which, btw, he’s dishing out in equal opportunity fashion. But Michael’s views on “world affairs” are at least debatable. Leave the “eminently reasonable” stuff to the foreign policy establishment.

    Also, Michael gives as good as he gets. His regular attempts to paint anyone who didn’t think NATO’s wars in the former Yugoslavia were the product of a sudden humanitarian impulse as members or sympathizers of the (indeed for the most part horrible) “Committee to defend Milosevic”, for example, seem to qualify as name calling. So what? Blogs are what they are, and blog comments in particular aren’t books.

    [P.S.: It looks to me like Michael deliberately provoked Louis by writing what he did in the book. “Columbia University computer programmer” indeed - maybe it wasn’t meant that way but it reads incredibly condescending.]

    Posted by  on  12/02  at  02:28 AM
  28. What i haven’t yet seen mentioned (although it might have slipped by as i read through all the comments) is the expected role of grad students who are appointed (or voted) to search committees.  In my third year of my doctorate program i was appointed to a search committee by two of my dissertation professors.  I was assigned to critique and review readings by the candidates as well as being charged with creating and asking a series of questions (fairly typical i suppose).  The university (UCLA) was at that moment selecting for a new position, one that would in fact become my primary mentor/dissertation chair (since the new position represented the acknowledgment of a specification in which i had become deeply interested). 

    So, i was put into the role of choosing my new mentor, while being evaluated for my work on the search by my committee, and allowed to vote on the candidates.  It was a very interesting mix of emotions and experiences, and completely lacked any rich compensation.  I don’t know if this is common (perhaps more so if a search committee member is appointed, than if membership is by ballot); i didn’t really know how to balance all the pieces, and wasn’t provided much guidance on the premise of reducing bias and prejudice.  I think i made good choice, and the committee felt likewise on its own.

    Posted by  on  12/02  at  02:32 AM
  29. His regular attempts to paint anyone who didn’t think NATO’s wars in the former Yugoslavia were the product of a sudden humanitarian impulse as members or sympathizers of the (indeed for the most part horrible) “Committee to defend Milosevic”, for example, seem to qualify as name calling.

    Um, Christian, here it would help if you read my book.  Before commenting on it, I mean.

    And “Columbia University computer programmer” is an incredibly condescending term?  Goddamn.  I thought it was a job description.

    Posted by  on  12/02  at  02:45 AM
  30. Michael, I wasn’t talking about the book there. I was talking about blog posts and blog comments. Which I assumed was the subject of your post. Everything isn’t about your book you know wink.

    As for the computer programmer thing, you are a bit tone-deaf there. I’m sure you didn’t mean it that way, but written by a professor and in combination with “Columbia university” it does sound condescending. I also fail to see why you would include the information at all, given that you expressly don’t discuss anything Louis has written in the book.

    OT: Are you grading papers, or why are you up so late? It’s past my bed time and I’m three time zones West.

    Posted by  on  12/02  at  03:45 AM
  31. There is indeed a reason I was up late, but I’ll tell you later.  As for Proyect, the relevant passage in the book is this:

    if I wanted to engage with the divagations of the radical left online, I would include figures like Louis Proyect, a Columbia University computer programmer whose name is well-known to far-left listservs and blogs, and who is capable of writing things like, “To the credit of the late Slobodan Milosevic and to Saddam Hussein, who now is on trial for his life in another kangaroo court, they never bowed down. In life and in death, these imperfect men will always remind us of the need to resist the injustice perpetrated by states acting out of perfect evil.”

    In all this, you object to the term “computer programmer?” OK, maybe I am tone-deaf.

    As for the Balkans:  even a rereading of My Single Most Incendiary Post Ever on the Balkans will show you that I’ve always said (as I do in that post) that “you don’t have to have supported war in the Balkans to know what’s wrong with the defend-Milosevic crew.” (And I’ve always cited Bill Weinberg’s demolition of Ed Herman with hearty approval.  Weinberg opposed war in Kosovo.) So your claim in 27 --

    His regular attempts to paint anyone who didn’t think NATO’s wars in the former Yugoslavia were the product of a sudden humanitarian impulse as members or sympathizers of the (indeed for the most part horrible) “Committee to defend Milosevic”, for example, seem to qualify as name calling.

    is really not true, as in “easily falsifiable.”

    Posted by Michael  on  12/02  at  10:21 AM
  32. Josh @ 26:  Michael, didn’t I speculate in Philadelphia that the Dean’s having used your report as an excuse to eliminate grad student parity might lead to scapegoating?  I didn’t know it’d be done by your fellow Dangeral Professor, of course.

    Ah, yes, then I suppose I was asking for it, Josh.  But really, we’re talking about a provision that gave every graduate student a vote on job candidates—a provision the department wasn’t even honoring, because it made no sense.  (The phrase “grad student parity” obscures this, you know.) For all of AWB’s rightness above, I don’t see anything that addresses this point.

    Posted by Michael  on  12/02  at  10:34 AM
  33. OT: Are you grading papers, or why are you up so late? It’s past my bed time and I’m three time zones West.

    He felt a great disturbance in the blog, as if millions of math professors commented in anger and were suddenly replied to.

    And if Professor Bérubé referred to me as a “Columbia University computer programmer,” I’d be upset, too.  But that’s because I’m not at Columbia.  On the other hand, “computer programmer” wouldn’t be a completely incorrect description, just one that’s blissfully unaware of the subtle distinctions within computology.  For instance, sometimes “Yale University computer science professor” means “overrated reactionary hack.” Regardless, I wouldn’t presume that it was a dismissive usage unless there was sufficient additional evidence.

    Anyway, it’s clearly past my bed time.  Good thing I have a comfortable office chair.  Deadwood without tenure: the ultimate dream realized.

    Posted by  on  12/02  at  11:03 AM
  34. And “Columbia University computer programmer” is an incredibly condescending term?  Goddamn.  I thought it was a job description.

    ---

    What a bullshit artist you are. The reference to my lack of academic credentials is a disgusting elitist touch consistent with your participation on Crooked Timber, where my posts on Yugoslavia were censored. This, of course, was to be expected since defending NATO’s war in the Balkans involves a level of Pecksniffian self-deception that brooks no challenge from an upstart like me who has actually given more attention to Yugoslavia than you have. I once asked you what *scholarly* books you have read about Yugoslavia on this very blog and it drew a blank. Let me repeat that, my good professor. What exactly have you read on Yugoslavia, outside of the highly partisan material you cited in your worthless book.

    Posted by  on  12/02  at  11:16 AM
  35. I just read Proyect’s review, but I can’t quite get a hold on his objections because he doesn’t really provide substantive criticism.

    ---

    Of course I provide substantive criticism. Berube asserts that the USA had cold feet about intervening in the Balkans, whereas David Gibbs, a real scholar as opposed to a patzer like Berube, shows that it was a prime mover as far back as 1995.

    Posted by  on  12/02  at  11:31 AM
  36. a level of Pecksniffian self-deception

    Chicka-Wow Chicka-Wow Wow!

    Posted by  on  12/02  at  11:40 AM
  37. is really not true, as in “easily falsifiable.”

    Yeah nice try, as in, sorry no beef. So you allow that in the abstract, someone opposed to the NATO aggression might not be also a supporter of the Committee to defend Milosevic. Not so much in concrete examples. You have labelled me as such before, even though you could easily verify that I don’t agree with them, and never have. As I said, blogs are blogs so fair enough, but don’t pretend you only ever make “eminently reasonable” arguments on the internet. It’s “easily falsifiable”.

    Posted by  on  12/02  at  12:01 PM
  38. The reference to my lack of academic credentials is a disgusting elitist touch consistent with your participation on Crooked Timber

    Sometimes I have to love Lou.  Yes, and it is also consistent with my drumming and hockey playing.

    OK, for the record, I really didn’t mean to be condescending.  I do mean to say that Proyectile leftism engages in vile slurs, incompetent readings, and reactionary apologetics for totalitarianism, but I didn’t mean “computer programmer” as an insult.

    And what books on Yugoslavia other than the ones I cited?  As for Gibbs, I’ve been in touch with him, and he’s far, far more sensible than you are.  He opposes intervention but engages in none of the Milosevic-defense nonsense.  Of course the US was a prime mover in 1995—we rewarded the Serbs at Dayton and gave our de facto OK to the ethnic cleansing of Bosnia.  The question is why we eventually turned on Milosevic.  As Adrian Hastings put it, “For years Milosevic had remained NATO’s chosen instrument for maintaining peace of a sort in ex-Yugoslavia. To the disgust of many of us, that remained the case at Dayton in 1995. On a Chomsky-style account of Machiavellian American policy, coupled with supine European acquiescence in whatever Washington wanted, there is no reason why the attitude of the West should have changed. It was easy enough to go on portraying the KLA as ‘terrorists’ who had rightly to be crushed—and some in Washington long remained attracted to that position.”

    Posted by  on  12/02  at  12:06 PM
  39. And Christian, for the record:  the vast majority of the people who opposed war in Kosovo were and are not Milosevic-defense maniacs or members of the Proyectile left.  You might consider whether it might be worth your while to take this up with the Milosevic crew, who (imho) do considerable damage to the antiwar position w/r/t the Balkans.

    Posted by  on  12/02  at  12:14 PM
  40. One last thing before I get back to my real life:  Proyect, you get one more comment here.  Make it a good one—I have a very generous 5000-character limit.  Call me an “asshole liberal” again!  Because that critique really stung. 

    Posted by  on  12/02  at  12:17 PM
  41. Gosh Michael,

    If I knew you had so many detractors, I never would have come here to participate in this blog. It could sully my reputation as an all around good guy.

    I guess I’ll just have to learn from this experience.

    Posted by  on  12/02  at  12:32 PM
  42. My problem with your review, Louis, was that it had far more shrill ad hominem attacks than substantive criticism. For that reason I couldn’t quite get a hold on your beef (and it made me suspicious of your motives). You assumed, it seems wrongly, that Michael didn’t take the “eminently reasonable” position that the US had its dirty fingers in the Yugoslavia pie early on. But in fact he had without directly saying so (which is rather like not having to say the US is supporting terrorist groups in Iran and Lebanon—everyone simply knows it). That, according to you, is fatal and shows up the bullshit of the academic left; for me (and perhaps for others) it’s the responsibility of a scholar—and, really, I don’t care about credentials, even though I don’t think they’re meaningless—to start from, even assume, the most complex premises of an argument. That said, you can certainly disagree with Michael—and I’d be happy to read, as I’m sure Michael would, a principled response. But little in your expletive-riddled post and subsequent comments convinces me you’ve got it in you. If you do, I’m willing to be proven wrong.

    Posted by  on  12/02  at  12:35 PM
  43. Gosh Michael,

    If I knew you had so many detractors, I never would have come here to participate in this blog. It could sully my reputation as an all around good guy.

    Yeah, Elliot, sorry I didn’t tell you earlier.  But it was nice knowing you, virtually!  We’ll always have From Eternity to Here....

    Posted by  on  12/02  at  12:39 PM
  44. You might consider whether it might be worth your while to take this up with the Milosevic crew, who (imho) do considerable damage to the antiwar position w/r/t the Balkans.

    Just because you don’t follow arguments on the hard left doesn’t mean there aren’t any. But then I suspect you really don’t want argument, you want denunciation and expulsion. I can’t serve with that.

    Posted by  on  12/02  at  01:22 PM
  45. But then I suspect you really don’t want argument, you want denunciation and expulsion.

    Don’t suspect that.  There are a number of antiwar arguments w/r/t Kosovo that I agree with—not only the one about high-altitude bombing but also the one about how bypassing the Security Council in the face of Russian opposition set a dangerous precedent that was then used (by both the neocons and the liberal hawks) as a template for the invasion of Iraq.  Just for example.  And I really do try to say this in the book—as with Afghanistan, where I try to distinguish the antiwar arguments that were (imho) right from the ones that (imho) weren’t.

    Posted by Michael  on  12/02  at  01:36 PM
  46. Michael, I don’t doubt it. I’m just generally cranky at people who don’t want to work with those they agree with on many issues in a situation where the left is incredibly weak anyway. For god’s sake, our previous “center-left” administration destroyed welfare, and the current one is about to appoint a commission to undermine Social Security, we have been bombing and invading countries one after another for decades, and the same so-called center-left party can’t even pass a mess of a health care reform without some forced birth amendment - and I’m supposed to fight my natural allies because they have some wrong-headed ideas on issues they can’t actually do anything about? To be blunt, I’m happy to talk to and work with you, even though you happen to be wrong (and I mean this in the mathematical sense wink) on issues of war and peace that are at least theoretically decided by people you can vote for or against. So why should I not work with people who entertain horrible ideas about North Korea?

    One more thing: you did seem to suggest that we on the hard left aren’t arguing about things like the role Milosevic played, or (to take a big recent example) the position one should have on the opposition in Iran. Trust me we are. A lot. One look at Louis’ blog, or Lenin’s Tomb, or our papers and magazines will make this perfectly clear.

    Anyway, I’m off to protest the escalation in Afghanistan. And yes, it’s called by ANSWER among other groups. So sue me.

    Posted by  on  12/02  at  08:59 PM
  47. In reading along, i have noticed that this thread tilted off in a canyon with some pretty steep cliffs.  Therefore i shall ask this silly pointless question to increase the levity and thus get us to the pinnacles of the peaks (or at least the top row in the Album cover). 

    Would a Columbia university computer programmer have the same academic freedom as a Penn State Professor?? It seems that the Trustees at Columbia feel quite comfortable with Louis, given that they could, at any time, find his speech detrimental to the well being of the university (apparently they don’t).

    Posted by  on  12/02  at  09:04 PM
  48. Needless to say, I’m opposed to employers (or trustees!) firing employees because they say radical-left things on the Internets.  I don’t know what kind of civil-service protections obtain here, and I don’t know whether Louis belongs to AFSCME or SEIU (I do recall demonstrating on Broadway in support of 1199, back in the day).  But I think it would be hard to make the case that he speaks on behalf of the institution, or in the course of his professional duties.

    Christian:  much depends, of course, on who one considers one’s natural allies.  One of the reasons I opposed ANSWER, for example, was that (as I said to someone at a conference in 2003) they were doing a great job of alienating progressive Jews from the antiwar movement.  “Well,” I was told, “you can’t separate Israel-Palestine issues from the larger crisis in the Middle East.” “Yes, that’s exactly what I’m saying,” I replied.  “And that’s why having the support of progressive Jews on I/P issues is crucial—because what plausible left position on I/P is there, without a coalition that includes Jewish leftists?” The astonishing reply came back:  “Well, Michael, maybe we get there with them, and maybe we get there without them.” I did not ask what this person meant by “we” or “get there.” I simply decided I had other more natural allies.

    That said, I hope the protest went well.  You will be hearing from my attorneys, the ones with guns and money.

    Posted by  on  12/03  at  10:47 AM
  49. How does “four senior faculty and three junior faculty for the next five years” turn into a call for 19 new positions?

    Is this the New Math I keep hearing about?

    Posted by JD  on  12/03  at  05:43 PM
  50. 4 + 3*5 = 19

    Posted by  on  12/03  at  07:16 PM
  51. 4 + 3*5 = ?

    4 + (3*5) = 19

    (4 + 3)*5 = 35

    Interpretive conventions make a difference.

    Posted by Bill Benzon  on  12/03  at  07:26 PM
  52. Four senior faculty = 4.

    Three junior faculty per year over five years = 15.

    Total hiring recommendation = 19.

    Deliberate misinterpretation of interpretive conventions involving multiplication and addition and parentheses = priceless.

    Posted by Michael  on  12/04  at  02:02 AM
  53. Hi…
    May a whole time be filled with fun, laughs, great food and great company. I am thankful for my friends and family, and of course you Missy. sometimes i think your blog can be mean, but i always come on cause i appreciate your brutal honesty in a world full of fake.

    Posted by adaptateur  on  12/07  at  01:39 AM

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