Philosophical ruminations.
April 28 1999 3:30 AM

News from academe.

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Intellectuals Go to War

NATO's intervention in Kosovo has made strange bedfellows among European and American intellectuals. In England, left-wing British playwright Harold Pinter has pronounced the bombing "misjudged, miscalculated, disastrous," and conservative historian Niall Ferguson scoffs at the campaign's inadequacy in a Financial Times op-ed ("Bleeding Hearts and Bloody Messes"). Elsewhere, opponents of the bombing include Germaine Greer, Pierre Bourdieu, Christa Wolf, Regis Debray, and Noam Chomsky. Germany's Hans Magnus Enzensberger, who advocates arming the Kosovo Liberation Army, begs to differ: "Europeans themselves are not merely capable of intervening [in this conflict], we are morally obligated to do so." Novelist Günter Grass supports the NATO campaign and regrets only that it did not come sooner, and he is seconded by Slovenian philosopher Slavoj Zizek, who denounces the hypocrisy he sees in the Belgrade demonstrations against NATO bombs. "In Belgrade," he writes, "people are defiantly dancing on the streets while 300 kilometers to the south, a genocide of African proportions is taking place." Serb historian and former Harvard research fellow Aleksa Djilas told the Financial Times that although he would never have fought with the Serbs in Bosnia, if drafted now, "I would probably not resist."

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Service Economy

California Gov. Gray Davis has proposed community service as a requirement for graduating from the state's public universities and colleges. California State University at Monterey Bay already gives students course credit for performing two semesters of mandatory public service. Maryland was the first state to require community service from its high-school students, following the Clinton administration's emphasis on public service in the early '90s. Who could object to such civic-mindedness? In response to students' objections, the Ayn Rand Institute offers an internship of its own: Participating students earn their community service credit by working against volunteerism.

This Class Is Rated "R"

A University of Arizona student who enrolled in a class called "Women in Literature" was dismayed to discover that the class addressed gay and lesbian issues. As a result, the Arizona legislature is now considering warning labels for courses with potentially "objectionable" content. Says Arizona Regents President Judy Gignac, "The students are our customers and they are paying to be taught. They need to know in advance what it is they're paying for." Some proponents of such course labels have suggested classes be rated like TV programs--but, Gignac points out, "that might increase enrollment in some classes" with particularly racy ratings.

The Kitschy Holocaust

Is there a difference between denying the value of Holocaust scholarship and denying the Holocaust itself? One might think so. But when Commentary Senior Editor Gabriel Schoenfeld published scathing attacks on the kitschiness and obscurity of contemporary Holocaust scholarship in Commentary and in the New York Times, he found out otherwise. Steven Feinstein, acting director of the Center for Holocaust and Genocide Studies at the University of Minnesota, wrote on an e-mail discussion list that Schoenfeld "has done as much damage as deniers." The Rev. Franklin Littell, an organizer of a Holocaust studies conference, accused Schoenfeld of "subtle denial." In response, Schoenfeld says, "Littell is not merely using vicious rhetoric against a detractor, but engaging in behavior that itself undermines the cause of Holocaust remembrance."

The Polish Revolution

On the 10th anniversary of the liberation of Eastern Europe, we often refer to that event in shorthand as the "fall of the Berlin Wall." But should we refer instead to "the beginning of the Polish round-table negotiations"? The University of Michigan thinks so, and on the weekend of April 9, it gathered an array of dissidents, Communists, and priests to make the case. Most of the conference attendees, including Solidarity leader Adam Michnik and Poland's President Alexander Kwasniewski, participated in the 1989 talks that led to a Solidarity government. At the conference, they defended their activities against numerous critics: Solidarity leaders denied they made too many compromises; priests denied they had been co-opted by the party; and Communists denied they had committed treason. "We were not servile to the Soviet Union," said Poland's last Communist Party prime minister, "we were helpless before that huge force." Several Polish-American groups had planned to protest the conference, upset that the university was paying to put former Communist leaders up in fine hotels. In fact, the protests did not occur.

"I'd Like To Thank Members of the Academy"

Academia's most popular one-year fellowship, the Guggenheim, has been awarded to dozens of academics, including the University of Chicago's Neil Harris, who will research the history of the American urban newspaper building, and Williams College's Richard Stamelman, who will study the literature and culture of perfume. Meanwhile, the New York Public Library's brand new Center for Scholars and Writers unveiled its first class of fellows, each of whom will receive a $50,000 stipend and an office in the venerable library. Chosen under the auspices of the center's director, historian Peter Gay, the fellows include cultural critic Paul Berman, at work on a literary and political history of the Nicaraguan revolution; technology historian Gregory Dreicer, who will study the architecture of racial segregation; and historian Marion Kaplan, who studies the daily life of Jews in Nazi Germany.

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For Whom the Calls Toll

George Mason University has dropped three star runners from the track team for the wrongful use of campus phones--and fired their women's track coach, Norm Gordon. According to the Washington Post, assistant coach Joe Showers allowed three members of GMU's women's track team--all of whom hail from Jamaica--to make long-distance personal calls from his office. After a routine audit of the departmental phone bill, GMU discovered the calls and found them to be in violation of NCAA rules intended to curb recruitment abuses. Even if the NCAA allows the athletes to regain their eligibility by reimbursing the school, GMU's athletic director has decided they will not run with the team this semester.

www.nazistudent.com

Students at Wofford College in Spartanburg, S.C., staged a protest March 3 against one of their fellow students, white supremacist Davis Wolfgang Hawke, a Web-savvy junior who runs a neo-Nazi organization from his dorm room. Hawke is also double-majoring in history and--sensibly enough--German. While his fellow students aren't banding to his racist wagon, the Southern Poverty Law Center reports that Hawke has garnered about 100 faithful adherents, most of whom are linked to him through his Knights of Freedom Web site. The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reports that Wofford officials don't feel they can do much about the situation because of Hawke's First Amendment rights, but the school's dean says, "There is no feeling here that we just say it's free speech and go the other way. The institution has the obligation to speak out forcefully against speech that is offensive."

Honk if You Love Honkies

Meanwhile, Florida State University psychology Professor Glayde Whitney has given David Duke his scientific blessing. In a foreword to Duke's latest book, a 700-page autobiography judged by hate group watchers to be the most naked statement yet of the former KKK grand wizard's racist views, Whitney calls Duke a "seeker of truth," comparing him to Enlightenment philosopher Voltaire and declaring his vision of racially segregated societies to be based on "good science." The endorsement--along with the revelation that Whitney has quietly pursued race-based research for 30 years--has provoked a furor at FSU, which has the second-highest number of black students among the state's public institutions. At a town meeting, FSU President Sandy D'Alemberte declared Whitney's beliefs "obnoxious" but defended the tenured professor's right to publish them.

Look for the Union Label

Abetted by AFL-CIO outreach campaigns, students are mobilizing in the name of labor on college campuses. On April 16, demonstrators at Harvard, Yale, Stanford, and Kent State spoke out on labor issues ranging from graduate student unionization, academic stipends, and teaching loads to sweatshop abuses. At Yale, the protest was organized by the Graduate Employees and Students Organization, which is fighting for recognition from university administrators. Turning out to support GESO and its recent study claiming that 70 percent of undergraduate instruction at the college is performed by poorly compensated graduate students and adjuncts were 500 student activists and labor leaders, including an AFL-CIO vice president and Nation columnist Katha Pollitt. Meanwhile, in California, the state's Public Employment Relations Board has ruled in favor of allowing union elections at the seven University of California campuses by the end of the semester.

Friday the Rabbi Went to a Gay Bar

Confronted by an increasingly vocal faction of rabbinical students and liberal rabbis, New York's Jewish Theological Seminary may be forced to reconsider its ban on admitting homosexual students. According to a recent article in the Forward, the matter is expected to spark heated debate at the late April meeting of the Conservative movement's religious leaders, the Rabbinical Assembly. In 1992, citing Torah prohibitions on homosexual acts by men, the Conservative Committee on Law and Standards declared a ban on gays within the rabbinate. A backlash against the ruling has been growing ever since. At the very least, Rabbi Gordon Tucker, a former dean of the Jewish Theological Seminary told the Forward that the Rabbinical Assembly should provide "assurances to members ... that their sexual orientation will not be a factor in limiting their options in furthering their careers."

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