Academic Politics

Academic Politics

Academic Politics

The latest chatter in cyberspace.
April 11 2005 7:19 PM

Academic Politics

Responding to a Columbia University faculty review of its Middle East studies program, bloggers debate the balance of Israel supporters and Palestinian sympathizers in academia. They also discuss a New Scientist list of the top 10 evolutionary leaps in world history and write about Al Lucas, who died Sunday after suffering an injury in an Arena Football League game.

Academic politics: Last Thursday, a New York Times editorial examined the findings of a faculty committee investigating allegations that professors intimidated students who held pro-Israel or pro-Zionist views. (The Times obtained the report on the condition that the writer not contact any of the involved parties, a violation of its own code of conduct; read about that controversy here). The editorial noted that although the report seemed "to indicate that the controversy … has been overblown," the school nevertheless "botched the handling of this emotionally charged issue from the start."

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"The New York Times editorial board went over to the Dark Side on Thursday," writes eminent contrarian and Middle East specialist Juan Cole. At Informed Comment, Cole points out that the panel failed to find any wrongdoing and suggests the "the real question here is whether it is all right to dispute the Zionist version of history." He argues that such "ethnic nationalism," which distorts history in service of national goals, threatens to destroy the discipline of history and has already corrupted the study of the Middle East. "Personally, I think that the master narrative of Zionist historiography is dominant in the academy," he writes.

Cole's statement that "nations actually did not exist in the modern sense before the late 1700s … there are no eternal nations through history," draws the ire of Daniel H. Abbot at TDAXP. "[Nations] did not somehow magically appear—they have existed for centuries," he writes. "Perhaps Cole means that nationalism did not exist before the late 1700s—but that's entirely different." Eternal Vigilance seconds Abbot: "We would like to know what history they have been reading that says the modern nation-state did not exist prior to the late 1700s."

As for that "Zionist historiography"? "This doesn't at all gel with my experience of how international relations is taught or practiced," writes political scientist Henry Farrell at Crooked Timber. Farrell admits there might be a bias toward Israel in international relations departments but attributes that to the discipline having a traditional preference for dealing with states rather than nonstates. University of Chicago professor Daniel Drezner dares Cole to produce a single relevant university course with a Zionist syllabus.

At Societas, Thomas J. Haslam is more sympathetic. Citing the report, he writes, "I have to side with Cole. … The students were challenged on what they believed. That's part of the education process. Period. They were not–by all accounts–punished or persecuted."

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Read more about the Times article here and more on Cole's take here.

All-time top 10:In its latest issue, the New Scientist unveils "Life's top 10 greatest inventions," a collection of short essays about the monumental, and often underappreciated, evolutionary leaps in the history of life on earth. Multicellularity, sex, and language all make the list.

"Don't read it if you believe the Earth was formed in 7 days," warns Dave Goodman at eMusings. "One of the most interesting items on the list is Death," he adds. "Where would we be without it? Up to our necks in ancestors who never had their wealth inherited. … Where would we put them all? How would we feed them?"

"Killer NS piece," proclaims Umair Haque at economics and innovation blog Bubblegeneration. In particular, the essay on the eye, he writes, acutely illustrates how small adaptations can affect whole systems. "Replace 'eye' with 'information' (or 'Net') and 'organisms' with 'firms,' " he writes, "and you have a nice analogy for how the competitive landscape of production has been, and will continue to be disrupted." According to The Fix, however, the article includes one factual slip-up in claiming that the vast majority of species relies on sexual reproduction (innovation No. 6). But they gentlemanly let it slide, acknowledging, "Everyone always forgets the prokaryotes."

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Read more blog posts about the list.

Al Lucas, 1978-2005: Al Lucas, a former NFL defensive lineman who had been playing with the Los Angeles Avengers of the Arena Football League, died yesterday after suffering a spinal injury when attempting a tackle during a kickoff return.

At Outside the Beltway, conservative blogger extraordinaire James Joyner remembers Lucas. "Al was a student in an American government class I taught during my first quarter at Troy State University," he writes. "He was a solid student with an air of maturity and decency about him."

Some bloggers take the opportunity to address the marketing of violence in football. "Players are getting bigger and stronger. This kind of thing will never be routine, but it just highlights how lucky the NFL has been to avoid this sort of disaster," writes TD at Porch Monkeys. "SportsCenter, after warning us to turn away, then helpfully spot shadowed the injury. That way they could keep their moralistic tone while simaltaneously exploiting the tragedy." The ESPN coverage also disgusts Dan Brekke. "ESPN promotes the voyeurism along with the rest of the media," he writes at Infospigot. "So go ahead and roll the tape. Just spare us the solemnity."

Read more about Lucas.

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