Friday, March 31, 2006

The Footnote Fallacy

Please forgive me if it seems that I have a one-track mind: David Horowitz is not only dangerous and an easy target, but he exemplifies much of what I find wrong with what passes for “research” among today’s undergraduates.

As I teach these undergraduates and struggle to find ways of enabling them to do real and considered research, examination of someone like Horowitz (who presents what he claims is research but who clearly doesn’t understand what research is) helps me develop new ways of talking to my students (not about him—but about the poor methodologies he “exhibits”) when discussing their own research. At the same time, I further a political purpose dear to me: The thwarting of attempts to institute Horowitz’s Orwellian “Academic Bill of Rights.”

An article posted today by Horowitz on his entitled “’The Nation’ Has a Little Lie....” provides a fine example of one misunderstanding of research that Horowitz and the weakest of undergraduates share. That is, dictionary definitions and encyclopedia entries provide the last word. “It says so in the dictionary, so there!”

It’s amazing how many undergrads rely on the dictionary—without ever even exploring just what a dictionary is. It’s an easy appeal to authority that allows one to sidestep any real consideration of the argument being used.

Doing this certainly allows Horowitz to get away with circumventing real discussion. Instead of replying to the argument presented in the article from The Nation that he is responding to, Horowitz zeros in on the use of “Savanarola” to describe him, trying to diffuse a real refutation of his stand by making that particular comparison seem silly. Horowitz later does something similar with “auto-da-fe.” Like the rawest of undergraduates, Horowitz then feels he has “defeated” his opponent.

In addition, Horowitz is an exemplar of the fallacious belief that the existence of footnotes makes something scholarly, makes something “research.”

Though, for a real scholar, footnotes can be a tool (both for the reader and the writer), for the poor scholar, they are no more than a crutch, a false front. The footnotes in this article of Horowitz’s are there for show, nothing more. They add not a jot to his “argument” and do not facilitate further discussion or research on the topic—something a footnote is generally meant to do.

A final note: Horowitz also seems to have missed logic in his philosophy classes. He uses the false syllogism of A implies C and B implies C, therefore A equals B to imply that The Nation is a Stalinist magazine. He feels that he can get away with this because he puts two footnotes in the paragraph—something undergraduates try when writing their papers at four in the morning the day they are due. He even ends his piece with a bit of bluster based on his faulty logic: “the views I attribute to Lingeman and The Nation are not made up.”

Well, they are, for the depiction is based on a logical fallacy as old as the Acropolis.

Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Learning the Thing in Itself

A connection with Regnery Publishing isn’t the only thing that brings Ben Domenech and David Horowitz together: Neither has a clear understanding of what it means to do the real work on a topic before publication.

In Domenech’s case, this led to his use of the words of others. For Horowitz, it leads to acceptance of simplistic cut-and-paste as research.

A decade ago, in his book Breaking the News: How the Media Undermine American Democracy (New York: Pantheon, 1996), James Fallows wrote about the star journalists who “parachute” in for an interview as the capstone of a story. By doing so, they miss:

a reporter’s immersion in new information that will shape his views. Through the process of listening, learning, testing assumptions, and letting themselves be surprised by new evidence, reporters decide what they think is true enough to write.[…] The star journalist who is working from briefing papers and a set of proposed questions is an actor rather than a real interrogator. He lacks the background to ask the right follow-up question or to recognize when the person being interviewed has said something surprising and new. (58)

Both Domenech and Horowitz want that “star” position and, like so many today, both expect others to do the real work for them—Domenech just taking that work without attribution and Horowitz merely creating a slap-dash collage and calling it serious research. Neither understands the point Fallows is trying to make, that one has to immerse oneself in a topic, study it, and live with it, if one is going to write about it with any real understanding.

Many of the pieces that Domenech plagiarized in are film reviews. Having written a book on home viewing of movies, I know something about the topic of film. While preparing the book, I watched many hundreds of DVDs and even went so far as to buy a 16mm projector and start collecting the short films marketed for home viewing starting even before the advent of sound. Oh, and I read, and read, and read about film. This, on top of decades as a movie buff and collector of videotapes. At the end of it all, even after I had finished my book, I had more confidence in defining what I don’t know about movies than what I do--but I had learned a great deal, and did feel that I had become a real expert in my target area. Even so, I would not now be willing to set out as a movie review on any but the most amateur level: There are so many films of the last decade I would need to see first, and so many reviewers I would have to read.

In a rush to further his career (rather than his knowledge), that’s what Domenech, apparently, did not do: immerse himself in his subject matter until he had enough confidence to write about something he really did know. Instead, he wanted to simply be that star journalist who gets the recognition while others have done the work. So, he considered the writings of others simply as the “briefing papers” Fallows refers to—perhaps even seeing what he did as something not that far removed from what Mike Wallace has been doing for decades.

In a rush to further his political agenda (rather than his or anyone’s knowledge), that’s what Horowitz, certainly, did not do: immerse himself in his subject matter until he had enough knowledge, up close and personal, to write from a position of real knowledge. There’s no sign in his book The Professors that he examined the syllabi of the professors under question to really determine whether they are indoctrinating or teaching. There are no interviews done by Horowitz or his staff with colleagues of the professors. There was no attempt to survey students who had taken their courses. In other words, there was no real research at all (Horowitz’s disingenuous claim to “prosopography” notwithstanding).

Here again, I can speak ‘from the belly of the beast,’ having dived back in to academia recently, making a new career for myself after more than a decade as a shopkeeper. Contemporary American academia is complex and frustrating, with any number of problems that need solving. Making judgments about it from far outside, however (as Horowitz does), isn’t going to help, for the view is distorted. Horowitz makes decisions about academia through a fog of other people’s words, not through real knowledge.

Sometimes, it is necessary to do that (which is the purpose of “prosopography”—not that Horowitz even is really using that technique), but it is a poor substitute for direct, hands-on examination. The thing is, it takes time to really learn a subject. I have been back in academia only five years now, and am just beginning to feel I have a real handle on its contemporary situations. Horowitz “parachutes” in for lectures, talks to a few right-wing students, leaves, and claims that, somehow, he has gained real insight.

What both Domenech and Horowitz are doing is taking shortcuts so that they can achieve some other goal—fame and achievement of political agendas. Like so many of us, now, they aren’t at all interested in the process, in the hard work that goes into really learning about something. Real research, real learning, requires something else: to come to know a field, one needs to concentrate on it, not on what one can get by using it.

Friday, March 24, 2006

An Emergency Solved by a Questionaire

That’s the funny thing about David Horowitz and his “Academic Bill of Rights”: It’s an attempt to conjure up an emergency situation in academia—when one just doesn’t exist. Gib Armstrong, Horowitz supporter and State Senator from Lancaster, where hearings on a Pennsylvania bill based on the Horowitz campaign were held the last couple of days, seems to recognize that himself. On some level, he knows he’s involved only in creating that ole tempest in a teapot:
Armstrong said that while universities are quick to defend ethnic and racial diversity, they are often loathe to stand up for right-leaning political speech. “All we’re asking universities to do is to live up to the policies they have in place,” Armstrong said.[…] However, Armstrong said legislation was a last resort and that common-sense solutions could be reached. Those solutions may include adding questions about political bias to student evaluations of professors, he said.
Is that all? He wants legislation passed because he doesn’t think the questions asked tell enough? Personally, I don’t mind questions on evaluations concerning political bias, but I certainly would mind if it were state mandated. And that’s the real problem and real purpose in all of this: There is no room for politicians in the classroom—but Armstrong and Horowitz want to put them there. Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to attend the hearing, though they were held only an hour from where I teach—no matter what Horowitz thinks, we college teachers have a lot more work that the six hours a week he imagines—but I have been trying to keep track., a website from the Lancaster newspapers, also quoted Armstrong as saying:
“I’ve learned a couple things,” Armstrong said before today’s testimony. “First is that there is evidence within our state system that some professors are indoctrinating when they ought to be sticking to education,” he said.
Just how has he learned this? Was evidence of “indoctrination” presented? No. This is a carbon-copy of the sort of statement Horowitz throws about—and is just as meaningful… er, meaningless. Putting forward political beliefs in the classroom is not indoctrination. College students are mature enough, smart enough, and able enough to recognize political views for what they are—and to evaluate the views of another in light of their own. They do not accept what the professors say at face value—in fact, their training in college is meant to insure that they do not—and also are able to divide what their professors say into categories: expertise and opinion. Anyway, if these professors are indoctrinating, where are the results? Anyone seen the resulting automatons marching around with their Little Red Books? I thought not. No, and that’s the final proof that this isn’t a campaign for protection of poor little students. What we have here is an attempt to bring the universities more directly under political control. Protecting “Academic Freedom” has nothing to do with it.

Thursday, March 23, 2006

Horowitz Anti-Professor Campaign Collapsing

Good news! As anyone who has been following the responses to David Horowitz’s new book on what he thinks are “dangerous” professors now knows, Horowitz’s campaign to bring American universities under right-wing political control is foundering. The death-knell may have been Pat Robertson’s endorsement of the book, in which he takes Horowitz’s contention that “the professors” have been damaging generations of college students a step further: Robertson sees the professors as “termites,” “killers,” and “murderers.”

A balloon losing its air, spinning around the room with no direction, creating meaningless noise. That's what Horowitz and Robertson now amount to.

A Florida legislative report, released yesterday, may have been the final puncture in the balloon. Of course, Horowitz:

called the report “meaningless” and a “whitewash.” He said that most students and faculty members don’t understanding what academic freedom means, so they wouldn’t know to file grievances. Rather than looking at grievances that have been filed, Horowitz said, Florida officials should have asked students this question: “Have you ever been in a class where your professor made remarks about the war in Iraq or President Bush that was not a course about the war in Iraq or President Bush?” Horowitz said that “if you think the response would be only 1 percent positive, you haven’t talked to students in a long time.”

Of course, as I have made clear in earlier TPMCafe blog diaries, Horowitz himself rarely talks seriously to anyone on campus. His exposure to students is through only small right-wing cadres and his evidence is anecdotal, at best. He doesn’t know what he is talking about—and his characterization of the report show only that he has no rebuttal (“meaningless” and “whitewash” are not particularly viable terms for debate).

The report asks and answers these questions (among others):

Do all Florida public postsecondary institutions have an academic freedom policy/statement and to whom do these policies apply? All Florida public postsecondary institutions have language and policies addressing academic freedom. In general, these statements focus on faculty and their teaching rights and related freedoms. Student academic freedom policies and/or statements generally are found in the institution’s student handbook or student code of conduct.

How are faculty and students notified of academic freedom policy statements? All of Florida’s community colleges and public universities publish their academic freedom policies in school catalogs or faculty and student handbooks. These documents also frequently are available electronically on the schools’ Internet and/or intranet sites.

Do the end-of-course evaluations include questions that address academic freedom? All postsecondary students are given the opportunity to evaluate courses and their instructors. Fourteen institutions (4 universities and 10 community colleges) reported that their evaluations ask students questions related to academic freedom principals, such as whether instructors showed respect for students and their opinions, encouraged student participation, considered multiple points of view, and were fair and impartial. Some of the remaining institutions reported that their course evaluations include open-ended questions asking how the course could be improved and/or whether students have any issues of concern. These questions would enable students to identify academic freedom-related problems or concerns, even though not specifically asked about these issues.

In a blog entry on Free Exchange on Campus, the report is characterized this way:
"Not only is there no smoking gun, the gun never went off," says Tom Auxter, president of the United Faculty of Florida, the joint AFT-NEA union that represents all faculty in the 11-university system. "Meanwhile, the same legislators who launched this investigation of faculty, attempting to distract the public’s attention from the real crisis in higher education and poison the public attitude toward higher education, draft budgets that are woefully inadequate in every category. The Legislature is punishing all of higher education for crimes that were never committed."

Quite clearly, as many of us have argued over and over, all Horowitz is doing is trying to create enough fear and controversy to enable the right to grasp control of public university classrooms.

Quite clearly, there is no need for his campaign, no students crying out for rescue from dastardly professors.

Quite clearly, there is no brainwashed-by-the-left army of recent college graduates, mindlessly following their “leaders” in an attempt to overthrow the American system.

Quite clearly, this balloon has lost almost all of its air.

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

"Methosopography": Horowitz Pretends to Scholarship

According to David Horowitz on his blog, I am now a Stalinist! He headlines his diary entry: "Prosopography. A Stalinist strikes back." He's annoyed that I criticize his gobbledegook attempt to claim a methodology for his book The Professors. Let me give you the whole of his post:
Among the relentless academic critics of The Professors, one is more relentless than others. Adam [sic] Barlow is a professor of English at Kutztown University, who has attacked me on TPMCafe and EPluribusUnum [sic--it's ePluribus Media] and whom I have dealt with here. Now DailyKos, the Democratic hysteria blog has re-posted his latest effort, which deals among other things with the methodology of using a collective profile to identify patterns of academic abuse. The methodology is an academic approach known as prosopography. I asked a distinguished professor of history to comment on Barlow’s critique. The critique can be found here. Professor X: “Barlow’s arguments are worthless. If you examine the careers of Roman consuls from 40 B.C. to 20 B.C., how they got to the high political point where they got, you are not examining ALL Roman consuls (509 B.C.-476 A.D.: a thousand years of them), nor are you examining all Roman office-holders in this 20-year period (many of who did not reach as high as consul). If, even more narrowly, you examine all Roman consuls who come from Etruria in this 20-year period, you are not even examining all Roman consuls from 40-20 B.C.. Yet methodologically this is perfectly reasonable to do, and it is done all the time. If you discover patterns in how careers proceeded among our Etruscan consuls in this 20-year period, it doesn't matter that this is a sub-group of all consuls: the pattern remains. What you did was look at your 100 subjects and see if there were patterns in careers. There were. End of story. “Barlow is a composition teacher, not a historian. He knows nothing about prosopographical method and how it is used.”

First of all, I love a quote from a "Professor X." Clearly an authority willing to stand behind his or her comments! Such courage!

But that aside, my comments weren't on the validity of prosopography at all, but on Horowitz's usage of it. I suspect that "Professor X" has not read Horowitz's book, for his/her comments actually show how he/she didn't examine what Horowitz has done.

Let's take "Professor X's" example of Roman consuls: What Horowitz has done is akin to selecting certain consuls within a time period for certain pre-selected traits--and then trying to generalize from those consuls. That is not appropriate use of "prosopography." It's nonsense--and "Professor X"'s comments even make that clearer than I did.

Yes, I am a composition teacher (among other things) and not a historian--but that doesn't mean I can't identify bogus use of methodology when I see it!  Don't simply trust me, however: A "real" history professor (one with a name, not an "X"), William Culter of Temple University, agrees with my contention that Horowitz misuses the concept of "prosopography."

As to being a Stalinist... well, as a Quaker dedicated to the promotion of nonviolent political action, I don't think that shoe quite fits. It's a nice, sweeping insult, though: Don't like that someone has demolished your argument? Just call them a Stalinist.


UPDATE:  Shucks, David says I'm not a Stalinist:


Apparently Adam Barlow whose hash was settled in my previous blog wants to be called a Stalinist, perhaps so he can call me "paranoid." Barlow, who claims to be an English teacher, should look up what a period means. The title of the blog was "Prosopography. A Stalinist Strikes Back." Regular readers of the blog appreciate how we use the limited space afforded to us for announcing what's in the current post. In this case there were two items. First, a response to Barlow's critique of our prosopographical method, and second a showcase for the academic world's most preposterous Stalinist, Grover Furr. Missing the subtleties of our punctuation, Barlow has launched a new attack on TPMCafe based on his misunderstanding. In the process, he has enlisted the help of an army of enemies of academic freedom and America's war on terror that has been formed under the Orwellian banner "Free Exchange of Ideas" whom I will be dealing with shortly.


Guess I just don't make it with the "best."


Oh, and I love that he "settled my hash."   Quite an imagination, has he.


It's nice, though, that he seems disturbed enough by my comments to imagine that I can enlist "the help of an army of enemies of academic freedom and America's war on terror [how did that get in there?]... "

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Research, Eric Burns, and David Horowitz

It's our fault, we college teachers: we haven't kept up with technological changes; we keep giving students assignments assuming students will learn through the process of completing the assignment--forgetting that the process has changed. And yet we are still surprised when writers like Eric Burns, David Horowitz, and Ann Coulter produce books with lots of footnotes but that aren't really research at all.


To be fair, Burn's book, Infamous Scribblers: The Founding Fathers and the Rowdy Beginnings of American Journalism (New York: PublicAffairs, 2006) is a lot better than anything that I have read of either Coulter or Horowitz--and not only in terms of research--but Burns does make the classic mistake of turning to research material to bolster his contention, not to test it or to learn from that material. In a discussion of a 1731 Benjamin Franklin article called "Apology for Printers," for example, Burns manipulates Franklin's words so that they seem to refer to journalists instead of to job printers producing handbills for others. He does this by simply eliding Franklin's points that make that clear. This isn't an important manipulation in itself, but it does provide a nice example of how "..." can be used to completely change the meaning of the quoted text.


What Burns has done reminds me of what many of my students have been taught to do: Come up with a point and then go and find three things that can be manipulated into looking like support. They turn it in--and believe they have done something called "research." It is bad enough that this has been happening since college study began. But, before the Internet, students had to at least spend some time in the library looking through books and journals to find the material. That experience, we hoped, would teach them something about libraries, even if their papers rarely showed "good" research.


Today, students don't necessarily even learn that much: All they need to do is a quick Google search. Though the result may be the same, the students learn even less about "research" than they did before. Because they learn so little about it, they are then unprepared to spot the little tricks like the one Burns plays (either intentionally or not--it doesn't matter). And they are then open to the greater cons of people like Horowitz and Coulter, whose "research" impresses no one who has ever done real research, but that can seem like research to those who have only used "cut-and-paste" themselves.


In his most recent book, The Professors: The 101 Most Dangerous Academics in America (Regnery, 2006), David Horowitz even goes so far as to claim a research methodology, “prosopography,” trying to dazzle readers with the idea that there's rigorous scholarship going on--when what's really being presented is simple a cut-and-paste list of people Horowitz doesn't like.


What's the solution? How do teachers teach "real" research, so that our students can identify it and the pretenders later in life?


First of all, we have to stop demanding "sources." What we mean by that and what students hear are different things. We expect students to have studied the sources they use in their papers, to have read them for authorial intention and then analyzed them. All too often, the students hear us asking simply for a list, a presentation--never considering the study the sources are supposed to represent.


Perhaps, instead of asking students to go to the library (or the Internet) and come back with "results," we should start providing the texts ourselves, more frequently and directly, for their papers, asking the students to study them more deeply and write proposals for their research papers from them. Then, once they have a little in-depth knowledge, they can go to the Internet or the library.  Sure, that sounds like what we already expect students to do--using our classroom activities and our primary texts as background for their papers--but students, too often, aren't making the connection.  Perhaps we have to make it more explicit. 


I don't know what the best method will be, only that we teachers have (as a whole--there are plenty of exceptions) become sloppy in what we demand from our students. And the result is that our students have become sloppy in their demands on the writers they read after they graduate.


[This diary is sparked by a longer piece of mine that appears in ePluribus Media Journal.]

Monday, March 13, 2006

Blather As Argument!

David Horowitz responds here to a recent TPMCafe post of mine, a critique of his "Academic Bill of Rights."

His defense can be summed up in the word he uses most often (even in response to a passage from Edward O. Wilson that I quoted): "Blather."

Oh, he also uses such insightful arguments as "No it doesn't." Another favorite line: "Every sentence above is false."

Once again, in responding to me, Horowitz makes the claim that college professors (law professors, quite specifically in this case):


And, once again, Horowitz shows that he doesn't know the first thing about academic life.

That's the problem with Horowitz versus the universities: he doesn't know what he is talking about, and isn't interested in learning (no academic works only six hours a week, for example, or has "four months paid vacation" a year).

And that's the problem with his "Academic Bill of Rights"--it has nothing to do with the real needs of our universities. 

Furthermore, Horowitz wants to insert this into university governance through the legislatures. No matter how much he may deny it, this means ceding further control over our universities to our legislatures. It would also mean the end of academic freedom. When legislative politics gain control of the classroom, academic freedom cannot exist, no matter what Horowitz might say.

If Horowitz really cared about reforming our universities, he would learn something about them (he is adamant that he knows enough already, but constantly shows his ignorance). He will not, for that is not his purpose. All he is interested in is control, in bringing one more American institution under right-wing dominance.

His response to my blog makes that all the more clear.

By the way: Soon, an article of mine discussing the "research" in Horowitz's new book will appear on ePluribus Media Journal.

Saturday, March 11, 2006

David Horowitz’s Academic Bill of Rights: Restriction or Freedom?

Is it possible to promote academic freedom by forcing professors to present divergent viewpoints—or is that itself an abridgement of academic freedom?

On his blog, David Horowitz responds to criticism of his Academic Bill of Rights:

Anyone who bothers to read the Academic Bill of Rights, let alone anything the author has written about it, would know that it is designed to remove politics from the academic curriculum into which it has been inserted by the radicals who oppose the bill. The very first tenet of the Academic Bill of Rights, as I have been forced to repeat to the hard of reading innumerable times forbids the hiring or firing of faculty for political reasons. Yet here is yet another article, this time by the aforesaid President [Donald R. Eastman III, the president of Eckerd College] writing in the St. Petersburg Times called "Leave Politics Out of Faculty Hiring Choices" asserting that black is white and up is down and I am the one attempting to insert the politics and the tenured politicians who have blacklisted conservatives for the last 25 years are academic innocents who have not.

What Horowitz’s ingenuity artfully leaves out is that the very attempt to enforce his Academic Bill of Rights through a political process makes Eastman’s point. Academic freedom is a freedom from scrutiny over political belief. Horowitz wants to change that and, in so doing, would destroy it. He would make political scrutiny an active part of his own version of academic freedom. That is, to attain “balance,” he would insist that all professors be judged on a political scale and that university hiring, etc. be used to keep a spectrum of views on the faculty. Therefore, his own methods undermine his so-called end. His whole point is to insert a conservative element into academia, whether that element is qualified or not. In no way will that help bring about academic freedom.

His use of the word “blacklisted” in response to Eastman also shows the extremely political nature of his jihad. He cannot show a blacklist against conservatives, nor does he have any example of anyone who can reasonably demonstrate that they were kept out of academia through such a blacklist. Yet he throws the word around as if it were something “everybody knows.” In fact, the reasons that there are more liberals in academia, as I have written elsewhere, have nothing to do with a blacklist but have everything to do with the nature of the beast. Academia is essentially humanist at its base and so, as liberalism and humanism fit together quite easily, it’s no surprise that most professors are politically liberal—no more so than businesspeople being conservative for other cultural reasons.

Horowitz is imagining a blacklist because he wants to change academia, to rid it of that humanist base and to create something else—not a place of exploration, but a place of transferal (as if knowledge is a thing and not also a process). His Academic Bill of Rights, at first glance, seems to deny this (a rather devious placement, designed so that Horowitz can use those passages to try to rebut people like Eastman), but a reading of the whole thing gives a different picture—and it is a reading of the whole thing that Eastman has done.

Consider these points:

4. Curricula and reading lists in the humanities and social sciences should reflect the uncertainty and unsettled character of all human knowledge in these areas by providing students with dissenting sources and viewpoints where appropriate. While teachers are and should be free to pursue their own findings and perspectives in presenting their views, they should consider and make their students aware of other viewpoints. Academic disciplines should welcome a diversity of approaches to unsettled questions. 5. Exposing students to the spectrum of significant scholarly viewpoints on the subjects examined in their courses is a major responsibility of faculty. Faculty will not use their courses for the purpose of political, ideological, religious or anti-religious indoctrination.
Who decides what are “unsettled questions”? Who enforces all those examples of “should”? Though couched in terms of broadening debate and exploration, these points actually narrow it. Academic Bill of Rights supporter Stephen Balch, in testimony the Select Committee of the Pennsylvania House of Representatives in Pittsburgh on 11/9/06, said:
The legislature must expect a full accounting on progress toward these goals each time the state’s universities seek new statutory authority and renewed financial support. If a good-faith effort is being made to overcome these problems, it should leave the remedial specifics to the universities’ own decision making. If a good-faith effort isn’t made, it should urge governing boards to seek new leadership as a condition of full support. Failing even in that, it might, as a last resort, consider a full-scale organizational overhaul, to design governance systems and institutional arrangements better able to meet the obligations that go with academic freedom.

In other words, academic freedom would cease to exist if certain standards were not met.

Freedom is not freedom if it is restricted. Through its demands, Horowitz’s Academic Bill of Rights is a limitation of freedom absolutely—its own words to the contrary notwithstanding.

One other thing Horowitz would do is limit the range of exploration open to any one professor. In an article titled “Academic Hanky Panky,” Horowitz writes:

The first point I made… was that as a trained animal psychologist Barash was academically unqualified to write an academic text on the complex issues of geopolitics and in particular the social, cultural, and economic causes of war and peace. In other words, Barash’s co-authored text was not a scholarly work and should not be presented as such to students.
In other words, animal psychologist David Barash’s work should not be judged on its own merits, but on the academic background of the author! Such reasoning doesn’t deserve much of a reply, but a quote from Edward O. Wilson’s book Consilience: The Unity of Knowledge is appropriate:
A balanced perspective cannot be acquired by studying disciplines in pieces but through pursuit of the consilience among them. Such unification will come hard. But I think it is inevitable. Intellectually it rings true, and it gratifies impulses that rise from the admirable side of human nature. To the extent that the gaps between the great branches of learning can be narrowed, diversity and depth of knowledge will increase. They will do so because of, not despite, the underlying cohesion achieved. The enterprise is important for yet another reason: It gives ultimate purpose to intellect. It promises that order, not chaos, lies beyond the horizon. I think it inevitable that we will accept the adventure, go there, and find out.

Thursday, March 09, 2006

"Daddy" Becomes "DeLay": A Parody

Sylvia Plath's poem "Daddy" is one of the most powerful I know--so I am sure it can withstand the abuse I put it to here:


You do not do, you do not do

Any more, black shoe

In which we have lived like a foot

For five Bush years, black and white,

Barely daring to breathe or Achoo.

DeLay, we have had to defeat you.

You were indicted before we had time --

Money-heavy, a bag full of gold,

Ghastly statue with one gray toe

Big as a Presidential seal

And a head in that Sugarland Texas

Where corruption pours green over you.

In the rest of our beautiful country

We used to pray to get rid of you.

Yes, you.

In the American tongue, in the average town

Scraped flat by the roller

Of greed, greed, greed.

But the name of the town is common.

My struggling friends

Says there are thousands or more.

So we never could tell where you

Put your foot, your root,

We never could talk to you.

The tongue stuck in our jaws.

It stuck in a barb wire snare.

Ick, ick, ick, ick,

We could hardly speak.

We thought every congressman was you.

And your corruption obscene

An engine, an engine,

Driven over us by you.

By you in Austin, Boston, DC.

But we began to talk about you.

I think we began to understand you.

The snows of the Sun Valley, the clear beer of Wisconsin

Are not now pure or true.

You have poisoned them, taken our luck

And our dreams, and our dreams.

I hope we're not a bit like you.

I have always been scared of you,

With your bug spray, your gobbledygoo.

And your neat cash stash

And your Aryan eye, bright blue.

Panzer-man, panzer-man, O You --

Not God but a swastika

So black no sky could squeak through.

Every country adores a Fascist,

The boot in the face, the brute

Brute heart of a brute like you.

You stand in Congress, DeLay,

In the picture I have of you,

A cleft in your chin instead of your foot

But no less a devil for that, no not

Any less the corrupt man who

Bit our pretty country in two.

I wish we could bury you.

In Austin, you they are trying

To get back, back, back at you.

To redeem us from the damage you do.

But they might pull you out of the sack,

And stick you back together with glue.

But then we will know what to do.

We found the source of you,

A man in black with a Meinkampf look

And a love of the rack and the screw.

And we said that's you.

So DeLay, We're finally through.

The money telephone's off at the root,

The voices just can't worm through.

If we've killed one corrupt man, we've killed two --

The Abramoff who said he was with you

And drank our blood for a year,

Five years, if you want to know.

DeLay, you can lie back now.

There's a stake in your fat black heart

And the villagers never liked you.

They are dancing and stamping on you.

They always knew it was you.

DeLay, DeLay, you bastard, we're through.

I wrote this last fall and posted it on My Left Wing.

Saturday, March 04, 2006

Tierneying Against the Wind(mills)

The discussions about the professors in American universities are getting a little bit silly—at least on the part of the Don Quixotes on the right who see dragons where there are only everyday academic windmills. In the New York Times (subscription required) of March 4, John Tierney’s feverish imagination leads him to describe the ouster of Lawrence Summers as president of Harvard as a “coup d’etat.”

Summers resigned—and without a gun to his head. Furthermore, Harvard, like all of our educational institutions, is made up of a number of constituencies, all with power—all of whom retain their power at Harvard, even with Summers gone. No more are faculty able to stage a coup than they are able to produce brigades of lock-step Marxists (as David Horowitz imagines).

Tierney assumes a need for reform in American universities, but doesn’t say why. All Tierney can point to as problems are excessive power on the part of the faculty and a dearth of survey courses. That’s understandable: Tierney has no more real nuts-and-bolts experience with academic communities over the last quarter century than Horowitz. Which is to say, none.

What are the problems? Why do universities need reform? Are our universities turning out morons? No more so now than they ever have. In fact, more Americans attend college than ever before—reflecting the wide-spread belief that a college education has value to the adult life of an American.

So what is Tierney’s point? For some reason, he tries to create an analogy between newspapers and colleges, equating reporters with college professors:

After a while, as we hired more reporters like ourselves, we'd be surprised when outsiders complained.
Huh? What are you talking about?
If newspapers were run like this, by committees of tenured journalists unconcerned with circulation and ad revenue, we wouldn't spend much time trying to improve the weather map or the news summaries or movie listings. We'd all be too busy writing 27-part series to be submitted for peer review by the Pulitzer board.

Oh, I see: weather maps are more important than research and scholarship. Is he nuts, or just completely ignorant of the difference between education and business or journalism? I’m not sure.

There are plenty of problems with American universities, and I (for one) am not shy about pointing them out. I’d like to see tenure reformed, for example, making it a real protection of academic freedom for everyone and not a brake on change and experimentation. In his article, Tierney sort of agrees, taking the perplexing stand that tenure is the root of the “problems” with American universities (giving the faculty too much power, somehow) while claiming it is not. At one point, he suggests that administrators be given the hiring/firing powers of business executives (completely ignoring the fact that the two cannot be modeled towards analogous ends). But then, at the end of his article, he quotes Fred Siegel, a professor at Cooper Union and fellow traveler with David Horowitz:

"Abolishing tenure could just turn the decision making over to deans who come out of today's orthodox academic world…. "That would mean that the few remaining non-leftists would get pushed out."

So, because the “bosses” in academia wouldn’t make the right (wing) choices that Siegel, Tierney, and Horowitz want, they shouldn’t be given that power. So tenure might as well stay. Not a very creative view of possible solutions, now is it?

As a low-level Assistant Professor not even on a tenure-track line, survey courses are my bread and butter. I have a job because survey courses are both needed and wanted.  So I was surprised to read, “Humanities survey courses are out of favor now” in Tierney’s column. Again, not only is Tierney just plain wrong, but he once more shows how out of touch he is with American academia.

At the end of his piece, Tierney asks:

So is there any way to change academia? [Siegel says,] "The Achilles heel of academics is their status anxiety," Siegel said. "The only way to attack them is with mockery."

Perhaps that gives me my first real understanding of Horowitz’s new book on dangerous professors: He’s trying to mock them. If so, the attempt is a failure. The one being mocked is Horowitz—often by the very professors he wrote about. And Tierney, who seems to know as little about what goes on in American universities as Horowitz, seems to want to join him.

Yes, perhaps Tierney, too, is trying to mock. If so, the only one satirized is himself.