Randa Jarrar and Academic Freedom

April 20, 2018

Randa Jarrar doesn’t seem to understand academic freedom, and I don’t think officials at Fresno State University, where she has a tenured appointment, do either. I say ‘seems’ because I’m finding it difficult to locate thoughtful statements from any of them (pro or con).  But what I do find they are saying is seriously inadequate.

Fresno State

Fresno State

Jarrar is the Creative Writing professor who fired up a tweet storm after Barbara Bush died, calling the former first lady “an amazing racist.”  When the tweet storm brought on a public backlash, she declared “I will never be fired.”  I take that to be a claim that her tenured status makes her invulnerable to dismissal for anything she says.  Said Jarrar in a follow-up tweet,

“LOL let me help you. You should tag my president @JosephlCastro. What I love about being an American professor is my right to free speech, and what I love about Fresno State is that I always feel protected and at home here,” Jarrar wrote. “GO BULLDOGS!”

Pressed to say something, President Joseph Castro said that her remarks went “beyond free speech. This was disrespectful.”  He said, “A professor with tenure does not have blanket protection to say and do what they wish,” he said. “We are all held accountable for our actions.” A statement from the university declared that Jarrar’s tweets were “obviously contrary to the core values of our University” but that they “were made as a private citizen.”

Later, the university backtracked by issuing another statement in which Castro declared ““academic freedom is at the core of our University, something we promote and practice every day in our teaching, research and public service. I am a fervent supporter of academic freedom and its underlying principles, as defined by the First Amendment. This is the essence of our democracy.”

Academic Freedom, First Amendment: we confuse these all the time and we should not.  The First Amendment is a constitutional guarantee that the government cannot prevent speech.  Because Fresno State is a public (i.e. government) institution, there may well be First Amendment protections for Jarrar.  I’m not a lawyer; I won’t try to address those.  We should note, though, that the First Amendment recognizes rights that everyone has, and carries no parallel responsibilities.

Academic Freedom, however, is a professional understanding of the relationship between a university and its faculty and students.  It is commonly written into Faculty handbooks, employment contracts and other legal documents that give it force of law.  It does NOT, however, protect a professor from being dismissed no matter what they say.  It carries both rights and responsibilities.  Foremost among those responsibilities are to speak truthfully and respectfully.

Its canonical expression is the 1940 Statement on Academic Freedom and Tenure of the American Association of University Professors.  Its explication of academic freedom comes in three parts: one concerning research and the publication of the fruits of research, one concerning teaching and the classroom, and one concerning public expression.  All three parts articulate both rights and responsibilities of professors.  Here is what the 1940 Statement says about public utterances:

College and university teachers are citizens, members of a learned profession, and officers of an educational institution. When they speak or write as citizens, they should be free from institutional censorship or discipline, but their special position in the community imposes special obligations. As scholars and educational officers, they should remember that the public may judge their profession and their institution by their utterances. Hence they should at all times be accurate, should exercise appropriate restraint, should show respect for the opinions of others, and should make every effort to indicate that they are not speaking for the institution.

“Obligations,” “appropriate restraint,” “respect for the opinions of others,” “indicate they are not speaking for the institution:” Jarrar failed each of these tests in the opinion of many.

Could she be disciplined: suspended? docked pay? fired? All these are possible under the 1940 Statement.  She is not invulnerable under the 1940 Statement.  Instead she has a right to specific process using professional judgments.

A judgment that she had failed to live up to her professional responsibilities would have to be considered by a committee of other professors at Fresno State, she would have to see all the evidence gathered against her, and an opportunity to respond to the charges and the evidence.  The President or Provost could not simply sanction her.  But she could be sanctioned by joint action of the her peers and officials of the university.  More specifically, here is what the 1940 Statement says:

Termination for cause of a continuous appointment, or the dismissal for cause of a teacher previous to the expiration of a term appointment, should, if possible, be considered by both a faculty committee and the governing board of the institution. In all cases where the facts are in dispute, the accused teacher should be informed before the hearing in writing of the charges and should have the opportunity to be heard in his or her own defense by all bodies that pass judgment upon the case. The teacher should be permitted to be accompanied by an advisor of his or her own choosing who may act as counsel. There should be a full stenographic record of the hearing available to the parties concerned. In the hearing of charges of incompetence the testimony should include that of teachers and other scholars, either from the teacher’s own or from other institutions. Teachers on continuous appointment who are dismissed for reasons not involving moral turpitude should receive their salaries for at least a year from the date of notification of dismissal whether or not they  are continued in their duties at the institution.

Again, the First Amendment may give her different rights relative to the university.  But “academic freedom” doesn’t make her invulnerable to dismissal.

For the record, I don’t think Randa Jarrar’s tweets make any case for dismissal.  Rude, they were.  Perhaps she should be made to read the 1940 Statement (and other AAUP statements on academic freedom) before she returns to the university. President Castro should read it, too.

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Susan Collins’s Ever-So Pleasant World

I had a column in yesterday’s Brunswick Times Record about the (to me) strange silence of our Senior Senator while our republic continues its plunge into constitutional crisis.  Screen Shot 2018-03-22 at 5.45.11 PM

Here’s the text:

I wish I lived in Susan Collins’s world. It’s much more pleasant than mine.

I wake up to a daily worsening constitutional crisis: a president showing contempt for the rule of law. I wake up to a Republican Party whose leadership shows no interest in reining in this out-of-control president. I wake up to a Congress that is hell-bent on increasing the wealth of the wealthy and on loosening regulations that prevent banks, oil and chemical companies from doing as they please.

Susan Collins, for what I can see, wakes up to a world that needs to focus on celebrating the 106th birthday of the Girl Scouts and receiving a Congressional Champion Award from the YWCA. Reading her twitter feed is like returning to the late 1950s world of Leave It to Beaver.

I see nothing that troubles me in her press releases. She is concerned in one about Boko Haram in one, eager to help lower health care premiums in another, determined to protect seniors from financial scams in a third. These are all worthy causes, all appropriate for legislative concern.

No, it is the silences that take my breath away. It is what she doesn’t seem to notice that makes me think she has teleported to the land of Father Knows Best.

Republican members of the House Intelligence Committee s shut down their investigation of Russian meddling in the 2016 election. They do so without taking testimony from key witnesses and without talking to the Democratic members of the committee. Susan Collins is silent.

Donald Trump fires James Comey and now regularly decries the Mueller investigation. Susan Collins is silent.

With crises in Syria, in Iran, in the Koreas, in Saudi Arabia, Trump fires Rex Tillerson as Secretary of State. About the chaos in U.S. foreign policy, Susan Collins is silent.

Donald Trump daily tweets insults aimed at federal judges, at FBI officials, at elected members of Congress. Susan Collins is silent. On Congressional oversight of the Executive Branch she says nothing.

We do know how Susan Collins votes; those are a matter of public record. She shows us she is a reliable vote for nearly anything Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell allows the Senate to vote upon. Trump-appointed judges: she votes to confirm nearly every one. Trump-appointed cabinet members? She voted for all but DeVos (Education) and Pruitt (EPA), but about their many failings and misdeeds she is silent. On regulatory roll-back she has voted to approve nearly every such initiative. And is silent.

While Barack Obama was President she opined that his Supreme Court nominee Merrick Garland should be given Senate consideration. But she balked not at all when Mitch McConnell refused him a vote. Subsequently she voted again for Mitch McConnell to be Senate Majority Leader, and then voted to confirm Trump-appointee Neil Gorsuch when McConnell allowed a vote on him.

Susan Collins continues to work on the signature issues that have defined her so-far four terms in the U.S. Senate: strong defense spending (including contracts for BIW), support for veterans, protections for seniors, concern for the environment. By her actions (if not her words) she daily shows she wishes these were the only important issues of the day

Mitch McConnell and House Speaker Paul Ryan are enablers-in-chief for Donald Trump. See-no-evil, Hear-no-evil, Speak-no-evil is their watchword when it comes to the President. Tax cuts, conservative judges and deregulation are their only concerns. In her silence especially, and in her being a reliable vote for Mitch McConnell, Susan Collins, too, allows our constitutional crisis to deepen.

Please, Senator, come back to the disturbing world in which the rest of us live. Help all of us find our way back to a healthy constitutional democracy.

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Guns and White Male Privilege

AR-15‘White Male Privilege’ and Other Themes of Gun Culture is the title of a recent post by James Fallows on his blog for The Atlantic.  He has been writing quite a number of pieces about guns in the U.S. featuring not only his own thoughts but responses (of all kinds) from readers. (All the entries are worth reading.)  This paragraph from one of his readers especially caught my attention because of the connection it makes between U.S. gun culture and white male privilege:

The reason guns cannot be regulated in the USA is because of the violence, not in spite of it. The violence is necessary to maintain the fear, and the fear is necessary to maintain white male privilege. The idea that white men can and do shoot people causes every interaction with a white man to carry a tinge of threat: If you disrespect him, or merely fail to please him enough, he just might explode. When they say that two dozen dead children are the price we pay for freedom, what they mean is that they are willing to pay that price to preserve white male privilege. As recent events demonstrate, white male privilege is the preeminent policy goal for them, outweighing even honor, truth, and democracy. That they pursue it through terrorism should not be surprising; it was ever thus. That they cannot admit their true goal, even to themselves, is a side-effect of the defeat of the Confederacy. They cannot bear to be called a “racist” because to them, that term evokes “loser.” When the South lost, we tied the shame of defeat to the cause of racism, hoping to kill it. Instead, it appears we have killed shame.

“…because of violence not in spite of it.”  That takes my breath away.  But even more breath-taking is the connection to white male culture: “When they say that two dozen dead children are the price we pay for freedom, what they mean is that they are willing to pay that price to preserve white male privilege.” 

But wait, I think, and no doubt you do, too. Aren’t guns at least as prevalent in non-White communities across America? Isn’t the toll of gun deaths even higher? Yes, true and true.

But how did that come about? Isn’t the prevalence of guns also in non-White hands best seen as largely a defensive reaction against decades/centuries of White violence against non-Whites in the U.S.?  And now that we have built a cross-race culture of guns, the resultant fears unleashed on all sides can be (and are!) used to justify even more guns — even in schools.

And notice that the N.R.A. is a White organization through and through in its leadership.


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Repeal the Second Amendment

February 24, 2018

Bret Stephens has this one right: Repeal the Second Amendment.

Americans who claim to be outraged by gun crimes should want to do something more than tinker at the margins of a legal regime that most of the developed world rightly considers nuts. They should want to change it fundamentally and permanently.  There is only one way to do this: Repeal the Second Amendment.

He argued this on October 5, 2017, right after Stephen Paddock murdered 58 people in Las Vegas.  On February 16, 2018, after Nikolas Cruz gunned down 17 schoolchildren in Parkland, Florida, Stephens wrote To Repeat: Repeal the Second Amendment.  It’s no good nibbling around with the regulation of firearms while trying to uphold a general right to keep and bear arms.  We have to start by denying any such general right and then ask what makes sense in a free country regarding the right to purchase and use firearms.

Today, on the Washington Monthly’s blog, Martin Longman provides a useful summary of how we came to have the Second Amendment and why it is an anachronism.  He says:

The rationale for the Second Amendment is an anachronism. This is true if you look at the narrow language they used (“A well regulated Militia, being necessary…”), and it’s also true if you look at the wider context and purposes of the amendment. Not only is a militia no longer necessary, but the whole scheme we use for our national defense is a gigantic violation of the principles the amendment sought to preserve and protect.

It is worth reading his account of why the Second Amendment made sense in the late 18th century as part of a scheme of national defense through militias, and why it no longer makes any sense at all.

If you want a fuller account, see Jack Rakove (Stanford Professor of History and Political Science, and my classmate 50 years ago at Haverford) on why the current Supreme Court reading of the Second Amendment is a serious misreading of what the Founders intended.

I’m for repealing the Second Amendment.

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February 20, 2018

So many stories this past week; it’s been another dizzying week trying to stay well informed: the Parkland (FL) school shootings, the Mueller indictment of Russian agents for meddling in the 2016 election, Ronan Farrow’s account of yet another Trump sexual liaison while married to Melania: with all these tumbling upon us, it’s hard to stay attuned to the Olympics or Syria/Iran or Scott Pruitt.

Here’s one linkage that struck me.

The most dramatic stuff in the Ronan Farrow account is not the affair itself but rather the depiction of how the National Enquirer’s publisher, David Pecker, purchased the story from Karen McDougal in order to bury it.  “Catch and kill” we learned was the name of this tactic.  Why would Pecker do this — something he apparently does frequently?  Perhaps out of friendship with Trump, but often his motive is to gain leverage.  If he has a bad story about someone he’s not printing, he can pressure them to give him other salacious stories.  Leverage: Pecker may have had leverage over Trump.

Meanwhile, remembering that Trump is (holysh*t!) the President, let’s wonder again why Trump is so desperate not to acknowledge any involvement with Russians or to make any move adverse to Putin.  Of course he doesn’t want to look bad, but he’s making himself look foolish with all his denials.  This leads Tom Friedman of the New York Times to open his Friday column with the following paragraph:

President Trump is either totally compromised by the Russians or is a towering fool, or both, but either way he has shown himself unwilling or unable to defend America against a Russian campaign to divide and undermine our democracy.

Wow!  That’s not Friedman’s normal tone of voice.  And he adds this: “In sum, Trump is either hiding something so threatening to himself, or he’s criminally incompetent to be commander in chief.”

One suspicion that is voiced in the infamous Steele dossier is this: “The document also claims that Russian operators possessed “kompromat” about Trump which could make him subject to blackmail.”  Again, the possibility of leverage.

From Dylan Farrow we get confirmation that domestically, someone (Pecker) has already achieved what could be leverage against Trump.   Trump acted recklessly, and not just with McDougal: we’ve only recently learned of Stormy Daniels.  If Trump has opened himself to leverage within the United States, should we not worry that he has exposed himself to leverage vis a vis the Russians?

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More on Fascism

February 12, 2018

One of my favorite correspondents — OK, my son Tommy — adds depth and corrective about fascism.  He writes:

On this topic, I find Robert Paxton’s slim (~220p) The Anatomy of Fascism to be extremely helpful. Paxton is a scholar of midcentury European fascism (he has also written the leading book on Vichy as well as lots of great essays in the NYRB on the fascism literature).
Here’s his definition:
“Fascism may be defined as a form of political behavior marked by obsessive preoccupation with community decline, humiliation, or victim-hood and by compensatory cults of unity, energy, and purity, in which a mass-based party of committed nationalist militants, working in uneasy but effective collaboration with traditional elites, abandons democratic liberties and pursues with redemptive violence and without ethical or legal restraints goals of internal cleansing and external expansion.”
He also finds it important to create conceptual boundaries from related concepts. So, he argues, we must not confuse fascism with classical tyranny, military dictatorship, and authoritarianism (“Authoritarians would rather leave the population demobilized and passive, while fascists want to engage and excite the public.”).
Lastly, he theorizes fascism as proceeding in stages:
  1. The creation of movements;
  2. Their rooting in the political system;
  3. Their seizure of power;
  4. The exercise of power;
  5. The long duration, during which the fascist regime chooses either radicalization or entropy.
Most of the time, in most places, fascism exists only in stage one. The clearest example of traditional fascism in the United States is probably the first (post-bellum) KKK, which was locally rooted in the political system and in some cases seized and exercised localized power. And of course, it challenged the legitimacy of the “liberal” Reconstruction regime. And every subsequent identifiable fascism candidate in the United States (from the second Klan to Father Coughlin to George Wallace) has been similarly rooted in white supremacy.
Usually, when people mislabel things as “fascism,” it’s because they’ve ignored the feature of fascism that it be backed by a mass movement. Such was the case with liberal over-reactions to George W. Bush. But today? I’m not so sure we aren’t closer to realized fascism than since the Jim Crow south.
My objection to Eco’s list of ur-fascistic criteria is that it focuses too much on intellectual tenets, which ignores the role of action, dynamism, and self-contradiction in fascism. “It doesn’t matter if none of this makes sense, at least we’re going to do something, and do it fast and violently.”
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What Is Fascism? Has It Bloomed in the U.S.?

February 7, 2018

fascismOver the past few days, James Fallows has been musing about “the challenge of calling the Trump era by its proper name.”  He is especially wrestling with whether “fascism” is the proper term as, he notes, Dutch writer Rob Riemen argues in his new book To Fight Against This Age.  

Yesterday, in a post that included a number of responses from readers one correspondent (who does think fascism is the proper term) urged reading an Umberto Eco essay titled Ur-Fascism.  It was published by the New York Review of Books in its issue of June 22, 1995.

It’s prescient and also chilling.  Eco argues that Fascism is a fuzzy term.  Nevertheless:

But in spite of this fuzziness, I think it is possible to outline a list of features that are typical of what I would like to call Ur-Fascism, or Eternal Fascism. These features cannot be organized into a system; many of them contradict each other, and are also typical of other kinds of despotism or fanaticism. But it is enough that one of them be present to allow fascism to coagulate around it.

The ensuing list of fourteen features capture Trump — as well as those who have fallen in step with him or been called out of the woodwork.  Worth reading.

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