Thursday, September 06, 2007

After Finkelstein, a New War on Academic Freedom

The vultures smell blood. They're still picking at the academic corpse of Norman Finkelstein, but they're looking for new victims everywhere.

Case in point is Frontpagemag's Steven Plaut, and his essay today, "The Next Piece of Housekeeping for DePaul?"

The focus of Plaut's "housekeeping" is his desire to sweep away assistant professor of English Matthew Abraham, whose primary crime appears to be defending Norman Finkelstein. Abraham noted, "Will those faculty associated with, and standing in support of Finkelstein, be the next targets of DePaul's administration? If so, I would certainly be a likely target." Plaut proudly declares, "Well, we would like to take Abraham up on the challenge..."

Here, Plaut reveals the fact that his cries about "academic standards" are nothing but a farce. Plainly, one cannot determine the academic worth of a young scholar by the mere title of his dissertation. Plaut complains, "he wrote a dissertation about 'The Rhetoric of Resistance,' in other words a propaganda tract for the 'revolutionary' left." Ah, it is so easy to be a right-wing nut; you are freed from the inconvenience of having to actually read the work you dislike.

It's particularly appalling to denounce the academic record of an assistant professor after one year on the job, when he is barely beginning the process of building his academic CV. This proves how Plaut and Horowitz want to purge left-wing faculty from college campuses, and it has nothing to do with academic standards. Welcome to the new wave of academic McCarthyism. If Matthew Abraham is next for the thoughtcrime of defending Finkelstein's academic freedom, who will be after him? And when academia stand up against this repression of dissenting ideas?


Anonymous said...

John: this might help clear things up. There is also a 24 page summary available if you have the proper login

"The Rhetoric of Resistance and the Resistance to Theory: Controversial Academic Scholarship in the American Public Sphere," builds a reception theory that accounts for the ways in which scholarship that advances the perspectives of marginalized groups is configured and corrupted within our general culture. Through an analysis of the 1993 Lani Guinier nomination controversy, the 1986 Edward Said-Michael Walzer debate over the interpretations of Walzer's Exodus and Revolution, and the relatively recent attempts to malign Norman G. Finkelstein's A Nation on Trial: The Goldhagen Thesis and Historical Truth and The Holocaust Industry: Reflections on the Exploitation of Jewish Suffering; I assess the socio-political forces that condition the American public sphere's understanding of academic work that touches upon sensitive issues concerning the past and present oppression of ethnic minorities. Through the Paul de Man controversy, I assess the political conditions that may have contributed to de Man's journalistic collaboration, as well as the ways in which figures who contribute critical strategies for minority critiques are often attacked within the American public sphere. Minority critiques often act as violent allergens. Coming to understand the important of these interventions and the “allergenic” reactions these interventions have induced may very well be the first step toward constructing a “rhetoric of dissent” for the twenty-first century. Such a rhetoric of dissent requires a re-visioning of the intellectual mission itself; a task that figures such as Guinier, Said, and Finkelstein have effectively performed. If we are to resist the dawning of a new age of intellectual orthodoxy, it will be important to look to the examples of critical intellectuals who have refused a gregarious and tolerant outlook for the way things are and to understand the strategies of dissent they provide.

Robin West said...

Though I think you are suffering from paranoia, you have unwittingly illuminated what I see as the whole problem in the current academic freedom wars. First, because academic have allowed the infiltration of politics into the discussion (left and right)we are no longer talking about the core rationale for academic freedom. Rather, as you have wrongly done, you have stereo-typed all conservatives as anti-intellectual reactionaries who don't read or think; you imply that we are crusaders out to purge "liberals" from higher education. You misrepresent Horowitz's ABOR (which by the way, while supporting the principles it encourages, oppose its implementation via governmental imposition). A comparison of ABOR with the 1915 General Declaration of Principles reveals numerous similarities. Anyway, my main point is this: discussions about academic freedom have deteriorated into closed-mined, partisan arguments. The arguments themselves fly in the face of what academic freedom is: the open-minded, full and frank discussion of topics and issues with the goal of coming as close to the truth as is humanly possible. We have become so defensive about our politics that we can no longer discuss anything without bringing our left/right biases into the discussion. We have allowed our politics to permeate all that we are.

I will close with what I believe to be cases that demonstrate the hypocrisy and problem with the current debate over academic freedom. Finkelstein at DePaul and Barrett at Wisconsin are deemed by liberals to be respected scholars whose controversial ideas and statements are above reproach; and their academic freedom violated. At the same time Gonzalez at Iowa State University (a conservative scientist no doubt) was denied tenure for his equally radical ideas about intelligent design (an idea that he does not impose upon those he teaches). Where are the liberal defenders of academic freedom in this instance?

Rufus said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Rufus said...

I have to be honest- that abstract doesn't really convince me that the dissertation is "a propaganda tract for the 'revolutionary' left."