Friday, September 20, 2002

Who'd'a'thunk it? But Larry Summers is turning out to be the most heroic president of a major university in quite a long time.

Thursday, September 19, 2002

On a mildly-related note: See Brad deLong's and Mark Kleiman's responses to Instapundit's evaluation of my colleague Steven Levitt. DeLong says "There is something funny here. University of Chicago Economics Professors are being trashed as being too PC to be allowed onto committees." Indeed. But see also Instapundit's follow-up.
Time to talk about the University of Chicago, I think.

A new group, Campus Watch, has been formed to "monitor and gather information on professors who fan the flames of disinformation, incitement and ignorance. Campus Watch will critique these specialists, and make available its findings on the internet and in the media." Its "main goals" include the aim to:"Identify key faculty who teach and write about contemporary affairs at university Middle East Studies departments in order to analyze and critique the work of these specialists for errors or biases; Develop a network of concerned students and faculty members interested in promoting American interests on campus; Keep the public apprised of course syllabi, memos, debates over appointments and funding, etc." Its website includes "dossiers" on several professors and on a number of universities, including my own.

Now most professors are instinctively edgy about someone keeping thought-police-sounding "dossiers" on them or their colleagues, and for good reason. But it certainly has from time to time been true that one academic institution or another-- and an "institution" might mean a discipline as well as a university-- swerves ina direction that the putside society has real reason to want to be aware of. The late-80s/ early-90s "political correctness" wave, exemplified in the adoption of speech codes, was a legitimate subject of debate off-campus as well as on. (See my colleague Dan Drezner's take on the continuing cries of conservative victimization.) (That doesn't mean that outsiders get to decide what to do on self-governing private campuses-- and no, don't give me the Rust v Sullivan federal-funding line. That way lies the destruction of our private university system by tempting offer-- and, incidentally, disaster for private schools in general via vouchers.) And the direction of Middle East Studies has been, I think legitimately, a subject for general discussion over the last year. Franklin Foer's coverage of last December's MESA meeting offered a fine example of how to do this well. (And the NYT article I plug below, about the state of area studies in political science, is another good example of the outside coverage of "domestic" academic issues, and how those domestic issues impact society as a whole.) So I don't intend to condemn the Campus Watch program out of hand. Indeed, I think it's pretty important to keep events like those at Concordia University or SFSU on people's minds.

But-- you knew there was a "but" coming, didn't you?-- one of the dangers of interest groups keeping "dossiers" of this sort is that they encourage every complaint of student with an ax to grind, every friend-of-a-friend-of-a-friend story-cum-rumor, and every campus crank's misrepresentation of events to compile stories that will then enter the public record and circulate forever. And the indictment Campus Watch offers of the University of Chicago is of that character.

First I should note what kind of a place this is. Go read our campus statement on civil behavior in a university setting. There aren't a lot of universities that say, in such a setting, that "the ideas of different members of the University community will frequently conflict and we do not attempt to shield people from ideas that they may find unwelcome, disagreeable, or even offensive." When I was an undergraduate at Brown there was certainly no such commitment, though free speech was widely respected. (The new President of Brown, Ruth Simmons, who came to that campus after the David Horowitz controversy, has made such a commitment with admirable vigor.) But that is the University of Chicago's self-understanding. There's no right not to hear unwelcome ideas.

Now consider Campus Watch's complaints (or, more precisely, the complaints of the couple of people here who were the source for the dossier, whoever they are). Apart from an apparently-irrelevant digression into the events at SFSU (scroll down), presumably narrated because nothing comparable has happened here-- the indictment includes:

*A student joking about Auschwitz. When we were in the depths of the political correctness craze, everybody correctly piled on the University of Connecticut for prohibiting "inappropriate jokes" among students. We don't have a speech code, and so people are going to say inappropriate things for which it would be very strange to hold the instiution accountable.

*An "offensive article" in the campus' little-read left-wing newspaper, and an allegedly-misleading ad printed in that same paper. Some of this ground was covered two years ago with the David Horowitz ad arguing against slavery reparations, wasn't it? In any event, it's certainly true that offensive articles may appear in campus newspapers, or any other newspapers in a free society.

*One-sidedness in a series of panels and lectures on 9/11. I haven't attended any of them, so I can't comment on the truth of the claim. But I can observe that panels, symposia, and lectures on a university campus are routinely organized by those with a viewpoint, and express that viewpoint. The remedy, as that old authoritarian-in-libertarian's-clothing Holmes said, is "more speech." Other panels, symposia, and lectures may be organized as well...

*Scheduling many such panels on Shabbat. This is an old question on campuses. My view is that no mandatory university function, including exams, should be offered on Friday, Saturday, or Sunday if possible, and that any such functions that must be so scheduled also must have alternate times available. But no such standard makes sense as applied to extracurricular activities, visiting lectures, one-time panels and symposia not required for a class, and so on.

*An allegedly anti-Semitic movie (I haven't seen it, but wouldn't be surprised if the charge were true) shown at the Palestinian Film Festival. All together now: "we do not attempt to shield people from ideas that they may find unwelcome, disagreeable, or even offensive."

*An anti-Zionist talk was given by a professor from Columbia. Now I have no doubt that anti-Semitism often poses as more-respectable anti-Zionism, though that doesn't turn all anti-Zionism into anti-Semitism. And, for all I know, this talk was genuinely anti-Semitic. But, again, a university appropriately gives very wide leeway to academic and political speech. Our policy is that speech will only be prevented if it consists of threats of violence against particular persons. The university insists on question-and-answer time after visiting lectures, but cannot and does not force speakers to be responsive to questions. (How could it?) Some students complained about that fact of life during the David Horowitz lecture here last year, and some are now complaining about it with respect to this talk. If a speaker refuses to squarely address a legitimate question, that should cost him or her credibility in the eyes of the audience. That's all that's needed. For a student questioner to hector the speaker by shouting "Answer the question!" (as a dear friend of mine at Brown did to Antonin Scalia) is rude and unnecessary.

*A Hezbollah flier was one item in a library collection of representative Middle East materials brought back by our scholars travelling abroad. This is a campus controversy I-- probably unwisely-- got myself involved with last year, but I'll say again what I said then. Those who study the world routinely bring back, and display, dreadful materials from the places they study. Many were the offices of a Soviet specialists decorated with the symbols of Stalinism-- because such materials were fascinating and telling. I'd probably be more sympathetic to Arab students complaining that posting the Hezbollah flier encouraged the knee-jerk equation of "Arab Middle East" with "terrorism." Instead we had Jewish students claiming that the existence of this piece in the library made them feel unsafe and personally targeted on campus. What I said about this at the time still seems right to me: this is alarmist and absurd. (See my letter on the subject from last fall here. UPDATE: My colleague Charles Lipson wrote a response to that letter-- one that it turns out he showed to a reporter for the Chicago Jewish News, who quotes from it in this article. As long as he's made his response public, I might as well point toward it.)

*There's more: shouted anti-Semitic comments both on and off-campus, with no indication that the shouter was affiliated with the University (my office is, after all, less than ten blocks from Louis Farrakhan's house; and one of the shouters was apparently a child at a local Catholic school); complaints about the content of professors' lectures and syllabi; and the defacing and tearing down of fliers. That last category is a real abuse, all-too common on most university campuses and on all sides of most controversial issues.

*The remaining category, the content of classroom activity, is the hard one. On one hand, members of faculty do and ought to have the right to govern their own academic affairs. The University does not claim the right to approve or disapprove syllabi or lectures. On the other hand, we do have obligations of professional ethics: to be balanced and judicious, to encourage informed debate and disagreement, to offer students the resources with which to reach their own conclusions. And we have very firm obligation not to, for example, grade students on the basis of their agreement with our own viewpoint, or make bigoted and prejudicial statements in our lectures. Here the complaints are a mixed bag at best. Two are primarily about guest lecturers. One of the pedagogical virtues of guest lecturers is that they can be treated as another primary source, the living, breathing expression of a particular viewpoint. A guest lecturer does not stand in nearky the same position of authoriry over the students that the regular lecturer does. When I've had the resources to invite guest lecturers, I've deliberately sought out scholars who would express a clear viewpoint, one that we could then discuss and debate in subsequent sessions. There are serious pedagogical disagreements about whether students should be able to discern their professors' point of view on controversial political questions; but these don't apply to guest lecturers. One incident labelled as "classroom-related" actually refers to a professor making a false statement in a story in a campus newspaper. (Or, more precisely, to a professor whose words as reported by the student reporter were false. Given that two of my colleagues were quoted by a student reporter as saying that publication isn't really necessary for tenure, I take all such quotations with a grain of salt.)

The remaining complaints are about three professors, two courses. The charge is that the courses were systematically biased and that the professors were hostile to expressed disagreement-- a combination that violates professional ethics. I know none of the three personally, and certainly didn't attend any of the classes. I note here that the literary and artistic humanities often seem to be much more hostile to political-moral disagreement than are political science, philosophy, or law, where such debate is central to our study. But I'm very wary of quotations from lectures taken out of context, or anonymous one-sided reporting on conflicts between students and professors. I've read the student evaluations of these professors' recent courses, and the teachers described in those evaluations bear no resemblance to the ones described on Campus Watch. (And students aren't embarrassed to charge bias in those evaluations; I've sometimes been charged with biases opposite to the ones I actually held.)

But suppose that all three professors were guilty as charged. That, along with the defacement of fliers, does not add up to the headline "Jewish and pro-Israel students at the University of Chicago subject to intimidation and hate." All students, and all professors, at the University of Chicago live with the possibility that they will be disagreed with, and that views will be expressed that they find repellent. So much the better for the University of Chicago.

What I will find especially disturbing is if those on the right who were so vociferous in their support of intellectual freedom and their opposition to the suppression of unpopular views on campus in the David Horowitz case now fall into a political-correctness trap of their own. We do and should condemn those incidents in which unpopular viewpoints are shouted down or threatened with violence, in which newspapers are stolen or information suppressed-- again, Concordia or SFSU. We must not conflate incidents in which our viewpoint is suppressed with those in which the rival viewpoint is expressed. The silliest elements of the left did that ten years ago, when they claimed that allowing speech they disapproved of would amount to "silencing" them. It's silly on the other side as well. The useful purpose that a group like Campus Watch might have served has, I think, already been washed away by the group's inability to draw such distinctions, its reliance on anonymous rumor, and its mixture of the serious with the trivial.

Wednesday, September 18, 2002

CORRECTION: I posted here that the partition of India left almost no Hindus in Pakistan or East Pakistan. Reihan Salam has pointed out to me (which I should have remembered) that this was not true of East Pakistan, now Bangladesh. Bengal was (even after its first religious partition and subsequent reintegration under British rule) exceptionally difficult to carve up into Hindu and Muslim districts; and the second Partititon of Bengal in 1947 did not succeed in doing so. Many Hindus migrated from East-Bengal-cum-East-Pakistan into Indian West Bengal, but not all did. I appreciate the reminder.
Today's an honest-to-goodness work day for me, so blogging will be light. But a few interesting bits and pieces:

This week's New Republic contains a piece (not yet online) on Brazil's presidential election. An interesting supporting role is played by Critical Legal Studies godfather Roberto Unger, whose democratic vision apparently now includes presidential recourse to plebiscites to get around parliament-- in other words, as TNR notes, old-style Latin American executive-populist strongman authoritarianism, and a refusal to be bound by constitutional procedures (of which Unger has been a critic for years). Unger is a figure of the radical left in the academy, but has now allied himself with the status quo, anti-globalization candidate of Brazil's oligarchs.

Michael McConnell seems likely to win Senate Judiciary Committee approval for a seat on the federal bench, with subsequent Senate approval all but assured. An important factor in that is the vocal support for him among center-left legal academics like Sunstein and Tribe. What's interesting to me is the variety of responses to that fact, from Byron York's view that this is near-nepotism ("[M]any of the professors know and like McConnell — and it appears that those personal connections trump any objections to his opinions on abortion. Priscilla Owen, it seems, just didn't know the right people.") to the NYT's matter-of-fact view. Is there any other moment in American domestic politics when the academy plays as significant a role as in judicial nominations?

Finally: Secretary of the Interior Gale Norton, like her predecessor Bruce Babbit, has been held in contempt of court in connection with Interior's shameful mismanagement of the trust fund that is supposed to send royalty checks to Indian landowners for the mining and logging that takes place on their property. The judge in the case, Royce Lamberth (a Reagan appointee) held that "there is no longer any doubt that the Secretary of Interior has been and continues to be an unfit trustee-delegate for the United States." The truth about this case is that the United States has been and continues to be an unfit trustee for the interests of American Indians, who would not need a paternalistic trustee-guardian relationship for land ownership even if the trustee had not proven itself "disgracefully" incompetent. The U.S. should settle the $10 billion lawsuit for mismaganement of the fund, and should then get out of the Indian trust fund business. Any Indian landowners who want help in managing their relations with the miners and loggers can find much more competent assistance in the private sector. This is one of my areas of academic expertise-- the pseudo-paternalistic treatment accorded to indigenous landowners by settler-state governments such as the U.S. and Australia. ("Pseudo" because paternalism is supposed to be in the interest of the person being trated like a child; in fact the settler states have often acted assumed the role of trustee or guardian even though it was from those states' interests that the indigenous peoples most needed protecting.) But I'm wearing my citizen's hat as well as my scholar's hat here; I'm disgusted with Interior and the Bureau of Indian Affairs, and don't want such abuses to be committed by the government that acts in my name.

Tuesday, September 17, 2002

The always-contentious Martin Kramer mourns the loss (ten years ago) of Elie Kedourie and his knowledge of Iraq. Kedourie's reputation has suffered under attack from Said and company; and I certainly think he was wrong about some important things. (Kant, for instance, was not the father of nationalism.) But, along with Ernest Gellner, Kedourie represented a now-fading-or-faded type of intellectual that is much missed.
More, from the NYT magazine, about the rural Democrats' pitch for pro-gun southern votes. The NYTM's angle, unsurprisingly, is whether this strategy is good for the Democratic Party. I remain interested in the puzzle of whether voting for such candidates is a good strategy from the voters' perspective. As a personal reaction, as distinct from an intellectual one, I'll admit to some sympathy for Tapped's complaint that "in this rural-urban dialectic, it's always assumed that the urban folks are supposed to pay homage to the rural folks." I care more about encouraging pro-trade, pro-market suburban Democrats and pro-choice, pro-gay Republicans-- both suburban species, not rural ones-- than about encouraging pro-gun Democrats; and I share the suspicion that parties pandering to the prairies and the Old Confederacy will be wrong more often than they are right. The occasional Zell Miller seems to me more than outbalanced by the Daschles, Hollingses, Harkinses, and Dorgans (disclaimer: I once worked in Byron Dorgan's office, when he was in the House rather than the Senate), the occasional Gramm or Goldwater by the Helmses and Thurmonds. (I know, I know-- if the sticks are so bad, where are the impressive Senators from big urban states, now that Moynihan is gone? But the House looks somewhat different. The suburbs don't yet dominate any big state, but they own lots of House seats.)

Monday, September 16, 2002

I complain a lot about the NYT Saturday Arts & Ideas page, for reasons largely similar to those offered by Lee Siegel in TNR some time ago, combined with some reasons common to most academics who read the page (an inability to distinguish marginal from innovative claims, political bias, etc). So, in fairness, I ought to praise two recent pieces on that page that impressed me. One, "A World War Among Professors," provides a basically fair and accurate assessment of political science's deficiencies in Middle Eastern and South Asian studies, and of its relationship to the ongoing tensions within political science between formal/quant types and adherents of other methodologies. The other, "To Keep the Peace, Study Peace" (which is too old to be accessed for free but can be purchased) analyzed the important work of political scientist Ashutosh Varshney on ethnic violence and its absence. (Varshney, it should be noted, bridges the aforementioned methodological divide, and is a fine example of the need to do so.) "Arts & Ideas" shows no sign as yet of filling the gap left by Lingua Franca; but it may be getting better.
Hmm. The NYT reports on a turn in Australian public opinion against war with Iraq. The Australian reports that, while some of Australia's left is defecting from Labor to the more decisively anti-war Greens, Liberal Prime Minister John Howard and his Coalition government remain popular despite weeks of attacks for their pro-American position. Howard has a 36-point lead over his Labor rival as preferred PM, and party preference shows a widening lead for the Coalition.
Consider this, just a day after the NYT magazine's already-widely-and-justly ridiculed headlines calling Pete Domenici a "hard-line conservative." The "Inside" box on today's front page, blurbing this story, begins
Sweden Stays Liberal. One of the parties that the Social Democrats beat was the Liberal Party.

Tom Palmer long ago pointed out to me that, for the NYT, "liberal" is simply a term of editorial approbation. Whoever the newspaper likes, in whatever country, is a liberal. (In democracies, this generally means the center-left, though it can even include avowed Communists who seem sufficiently warm and fuzzy.) But the incoherence of this approach can be almost comical. Social Democrats aren't liberals. In the great traditional divides of European politics, the liberals oppose both social democrats and conservatives or Christian Democrats. In the postwar era especially, Liberal parties have joined with both, in various combinations and coalitions at various times. But a Liberal coalition with conservative parties does not suddenly turn social democracy into liberalism. Moreover, the Social Democrats are in loose coalition with Greens and with the successor to the Communist Party; it's that entire grouping that is somehow more "liberal" than the liberal party. The semantic drift involved in calling a Social Democratic win over Liberals "staying liberal" is really quite bizarre.

At some point I intend to start posting on the fate of Europe's liberal parties. The theme: turning the traditional political scientists' question of why there is no socialism in the United States (i.e. why no explicitly socialist or social democratic party ever thrived) into the one of why there is no liberalism in western Europe. Outside the Benelux countries and occasionally Norway or Denmark, liberal parties are perpetual junior partners at best, and often seem to be on the verge of extinction. The very first liberal party, Britain's, has ceased to exist as a distinct entity, folding into the Social Democrats. Alain Madelin, the admirable liberal candidate for the French presidency last spring, came in behind not only Le Pen but also a splinter candidate from Le Pen's group and no fewer than three Communists. Germany's Free Democrats have even lost their traditional coalition-kingmaker role to the now-larger Greens. The combination of secularism, support for international trade, support for a free domestic labor market, and protection of civil liberties seems to have lost its constituency in most of western Europe (even before throwing in, say, support for immigration or for gay rights). This is, I think, a serious long-term problem for European politics. Without a revitalized liberal center, for example, Germany seems incapable of the labor market reform it so desperately needs. And France, which was once home to the most distinguished liberal parliamentary delegation ever known (including, at various times, Tocqueville, Constant, Tracy, Bastiat, Lafayette, Guizot, and more) now flirts with Weimar politics: a plurality of votes delivered to the combined fascists and communists, with a desperate struggle by the Gaullists and the social democrats to stave off disaster and no room for liberalism at all.

Todd Seavey has long tried to convince me to give up on the word "liberal," to just accept that in 21st-century America it means whatever the New York Times thinks it means. I think that-- among other reasons for not doing so-- this usage makes both history and current events in the rest of the world even more opaque to Americans than they ordinarily are. Those who cannot understand why Adam Smith was a liberal not a conservative, and why liberals run against social democratic parties, are condemned to an understanding of politics as shallow as... well, as that of the front and op-ed pages of the NYT.