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Monday, March 14, 2005

Renard News:  nous rapportons, vous décidez

Over the weekend I came across an essay posted on Campus Watch’s website.  You all remember Campus Watch: long before there was “Discover the Network,” there was Campus Watch’s “Solidarity with Apologists” page (the page has since been taken down, but you can learn about it here).  “Solidarity with Apologists” featured the names of over one hundred professors (myself included) who had written to protest Campus Watch’s targeting of individuals, programs, and entire universities they deemed insufficiently patriotic or pro-Israel.  But it didn’t have pictures and it didn’t have Katie Couric or Roger Ebert, so it just wasn’t as much fun as the Discover the Network.

The essay, “Confronting Anti-Israel Attitudes on Contemporary College Campuses,” wasn’t originally written for Campus Watch– it had appeared late last year in Midstream, a monthly Jewish review, and was picked up by “Campus Watch in the Media,” a kind of clipping service for CW fans.  But the concluding paragraphs of the essay leave no doubt that it fits quite well in the Campus Watch repertoire:

[S]tudents, whether working through groups such as Students for Academic Freedom or contributing to websites such as No Indoctrination or Campus Watch, can have enormous influence, by exposing in-class bias that otherwise never would see the light of day. Faculty members, in turn, need to support students in these efforts. Finally, academic administrators should add intellectual diversity– an especially needed element in Middle East Studies programs– to the panoply of diversity-related measures that they regularly support.

Faculty and administrators need to support students in these efforts, no question.  On some campuses, faculty and administrators should help students distribute red stars for the office doors of anti-American professors; on other campuses, they should institute intellectual diversity programs so that conservative students will feel more comfortable in class and have higher self-esteem.  And how can you help at home?  Why, with constant, vigorous oversight, particularly with regard to commencement speakers whose remarks about George Bush or Iraq suggest that they are contributing to anti-Israel attitudes on campus:

[T]his issue will require constant, vigorous oversight, as events at Hofstra University’s 2004 commencement suggested. The commencement speaker, author E. L. Doctorow, bitterly condemned the war in Iraq and effectively called President George Bush a liar, drawing vigorous boos from the crowd and many students. In a stark illustration, however, of the ideological gap between today’s professoriate and the undergraduates that they teach, most of the faculty gave Doctorow a standing ovation. As Alan Dershowitz cautioned, as long as many professors see Israel as a proxy for their opposition to U.S. foreign policy, faculty members like those who applauded Doctorow are likely to contribute to rather than resolve the problem of anti-Israel attitudes on contemporary college campuses.

By this point, I imagine, some of you are saying, “all right already with all the Horowitz Hackwork, Michael– get off the case, it’s been a month or more now, and really, everything that can possibly be said about the man and his organization has been said.” But this isn’t David Horowitz, folks.  It’s Robert David (KC) Johnson, professor of history at Brooklyn College, and one of the most outspoken and (sometimes) thoughtful conservatives in the business.  (He’s currently a visiting professor at Harvard.) And the reason his essay came to my attention is that it popped up in the course of a Technorati search.  Because somewhere in the middle of the essay, there’s a very strange passage that has nothing to do with Middle East Studies:

In most social sciences and humanities departments, registered Democrats overwhelmingly outnumber registered Republicans; in an extreme example, Duke’s History Department contains 32 Democrats and zero Republicans.

An almost comical hostility to perceived conservatives heightens the impact of this imbalance. To cite a few examples from the 2003-2004 academic year alone, the nation’s leading academic journal, the Chronicle of Higher Education, published an essay by Penn State English professor Michael Bérubé advising professors to treat conservative students as they would students with learning disabilities or who exhibited aberrant behavior.

Some of you might remember that essay and the short-term shitstorm it provoked over in Wingnut Alley in late 2003, but you might not remember that I advised professors to treat conservative students as they would students with learning disabilities or who exhibited aberrant behavior.  And that’s because . . . amazing but true . . . I said no such thing!

But back in 2003 before I had a proper blog and my very own nightly one-hour show on the Renard News Channel, if I wanted to reply to mischief like this, I would have to write an actual e-mail to the author or to Midstream or to Campus Watch, explaining that my essay’s only reference to “disability” comes in the final paragraph:

Over twenty years I’ve had many conservatives in my classes.  I think I’ve even had a few Stalinists, too.  I’ve had many intelligent, articulate students who behaved as if they had a right to speak more often and at greater length than anyone else in the room; I’ve had versions of Reese Witherspoon in Election and Hermione Granger in the Harry Potter series, who knew the answers to every question ever asked; I’ve had my share of blurters with very little sense of social boundaries, a few of whom may genuinely have had some degree of Asperger’s Syndrome, with various autistic or antisocial symptoms.  To all such students– indeed, to all students, those with disabilities and those without– I try to apply the standard of disability law: I make reasonable accommodation for them.  The challenge, though, lies in making reasonable accommodations for students whose standards of “reasonableness” are significantly different from yours.  Few aspects of teaching are so difficult– and, I think, so rarely acknowledged by people who don’t teach for a living.

You know what, though?  That Old Media method of responding to unscrupulous critics sucked.  Now, however, I can simply utilize the famously self-correcting features of the blogosphere– noting, for instance, that Professor KC Johnson does his very own blogging at the widely-respected Cliopatria and the somewhat less widely-respected National Association of Scholars Online Forum– in order to call attention to the fact that Professor Johnson did something here that real professors, or at least honest ones, really shouldn’t do.

So welcome to The Bérubé Factor, KC!  Glad you could make it.  Here at the Renard News Channel, we know you’re a busy guy, so to save you time and trouble, we’ve prepared for you some possible answers to our first two questions:

Q.  Why did you try to claim that my Chronicle essay advised professors to treat conservative students as if they were people with disabilities?

__ Actually, Michael, sometimes I’m not a very careful reader.  I completely missed the bit about making reasonable accommodations for all students, and I didn’t realize that you weren’t “advising” anyone to do anything.  It won’t happen again– I’ll be sure to slow down and read every word in the future.

__ Listen, Michael, I’m sorry I tried to get away with this nonsense.  Please forgive me.  I’m really not always unethical– only when I’m writing for journals where I don’t expect to run into anyone who’ll call me on stuff like this.  It will happen again, but only when I need to tell a few stretchers in order to smear liberal academics.  Always business, never personal, you know!

__ Golly, Michael, I just don’t know what I was thinking when I wrote this.  I’d completely forgotten that you have (a) a widely-read blog, (b) a nationally-televised talk show on a fictional network, and (c) a well-known tendency to visit the offices of conservative academics, fly into violent frothing frenzies, and nail people’s heads to the floor.  Please don’t nail my head to the floor, Michael!  If you promise to keep my head one hundred percent nail-free, I’ll promise to use it more wisely in the future!

Q.  Thank you for your candor.  But still, Professor Johnson, how can we institute programs of constant, vigorous oversight to keep track of faculty members who applaud E. L. Doctorow?

__ That is an unfair question, Michael.  Applauding E. L. Doctorow is not the problem.  The problem is that E. L. Doctorow criticized George Bush and the war in Iraq.  This form of leftist indoctrination on college campuses must be stopped.

__ Michael, that is precisely the kind of slanted, perverse interpretation of my work that I’d expect from the Renard News Network.  My essay made it quite clear that applauding Doctorow is just a “gateway” phenomenon:  faculty members who applaud Doctorow, as I carefully pointed out, are associated– indeed, in my very next sentence, which makes the connection extremely logical– with professors who “see Israel as a proxy for their opposition to U.S. foreign policy,” and these professors are “likely to contribute to rather than resolve the problem of anti-Israel attitudes on contemporary college campuses.” Moreover, I explicitly said that we need to focus on “faculty members like those who applauded Doctorow.” The chain of inference is clear; you just need to follow the steps.

__ You’re kidding me, right, Michael?  We already have those programs. 

Reader/viewer poll: which answers do you think Professor Johnson will choose?  Vote as often as you like, or make up entirely new replies!

Posted by Michael on 03/14 at 08:25 AM
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