Universities are highly responsive to very rich people

by Henry on September 3, 2014

As a kind of side-note to Corey’s most recent post, most people, including, I suspect, most academics, don’t realize how important rich people are to the running of universities. Some months back, I was able to listen in on a conversation including a college president (not my own), and was startled to discover how much time the president spent managing relations with the Board of Trustees. Being a board member usually involves a two way relationship. As a trustee, you get some social kudos, and some broad-scale influence over how the university is run. In return, you are expected to give the university a lot of money. Relations with rich donors who aren’t on the board are somewhat similar, albeit less organized – again, there’s an implied quid pro quo, and the implicit or express threat if if you, as a rich donor, don’t like something that the university is doing, the money will dry up. While you do not have any veto, influential officials in the administration will listen – very carefully – to what you say, and be likely to represent on behalf of your viewpoint in internal discussions.

This has consequences for bureaucratic power. The paper trail described in Corey’s post emphatically suggests that Development (i.e. money raising) was heavily involved in the decision making process over Salaita’s appointment, while Academic Affairs (which is usually responsible for teaching and research quality of faculty and the like) was consulted pro forma, and after the fact. Of course, university presidents care – in the aggregate – about research and teaching quality. Apart from their intrinsic value, if research and teaching deteriorate too much, it will damage the university’s reputation. But they contribute to the bottom line only indirectly, and in ways that are difficult to measure. When they are weighed against the immediate and concrete threat of canceled donations and skittish board members (a vote of no confidence in the president is a rather different thing when it comes from the trustees instead of an academic department), it’s unsurprising that presidents will often be prepared to take dubious decisions on hiring and firing. From their perspective, the risks of angering rich people will usually outweigh the risks of angering faculty (who aren’t usually interested in governance issues, are difficult to organize collectively etc).

It also has consequences for ideas in the university. The Board of Trustees is one of the main channels through which the university is supposed to get external guidance and new perspectives on how it can do its job. If the Board is composed exclusively of the rich and powerful, then ideas which appeal to the rich and powerful will have an unusual degree of influence on campus governance and on the direction of the university. It will be difficult to rationally debate bad ideas which are fashionable among rich people, because these are just the ideas that are most likely to be popular with the board. Plausibly, something like this was at the root of the 2012 debacle in the University of Virginia.

One of the least appreciated problems of economic inequality is that it tends to filter out ideas that are uncongenial to rich people, and to heavily overweight ideas that they like. Universities like to think of themselves as removed from all of this. More and more, they are not.

{ 163 comments }

1

Anarcissie 09.03.14 at 5:46 pm

I think it would be stranger if major bourgeois institutions were organized, directed, and influenced differently from the prevailing social order they are embedded in.

2

cassander 09.03.14 at 6:00 pm

>More and more, they are not.

Are you really arguing that universities are more the playgrounds of the rich and powerful than they were, say, 60 years ago, before the GI bill? or than 100 years ago when the college graduation rate was 3% and universities didn’t even pretend to be anything other than finishing schools for the elite?

3

Henry 09.03.14 at 6:06 pm

If the argument that you propose as mine is evidently idiotic, even to me, it’s an excellent clue that it’s not the argument I’m making. But since you appear more interested in arguments with yourself (which very naturally, given the odds of the thing, you are extremely likely to win), I’ll leave you to it …

4

Kenny Easwaran 09.03.14 at 6:17 pm

cassander – I assume there’s some sort of implicit comparison to the period from about 1975 to 2000 or so. Perhaps there was a reprieve from direct intervention by the rich during the “great moderation” in the stock market?

But I think you’re right, it doesn’t appear that things now are any worse than they had been through most of the history of the university system in the United States.

5

AcademicLurker 09.03.14 at 6:21 pm

But I think you’re right, it doesn’t appear that things now are any worse than they had been through most of the history of the university system in the United States.

2, 4: I’m not sure that “Let’s be complacent about losing the gains that were made during the 20th century” is a winning strategy for the middle class, when it comes to university governance or anything else.

6

Joshua W. Burton 09.03.14 at 6:25 pm

I made a flip remark about this in a previous thread, but my point was an entirely serious one. A university, taking the long view (as who else should?), gets the rich people it deserves.

This is most obvious at institutions whose overseers are solely and directly elected by the alumni. There was a small flap a few years ago about one of the Harvard houses putting protective rails in front of some of its library’s rare books, to prevent undergraduates from stealing or mishandling them. As an adversarial stewardship and disciplinary issue between administrators and students, this would have been a routine matter, but the intergenerational attitude leads to a more nuanced view: the alumni-donated books in the alumni-built house, managed by a hired administration under its alumni overseers, are ultimately there for the benefit of the future alumni who live there, and who will ultimately have to bear the cost of their replacement. The housemaster, herself an alumna, leapt intuitively to this view of the case, told the hired library admins to get stuffed, and opened a round table with the current students about how they could best preserve the house’s treasures for classmates unborn. Some creative but dignified solution, involving keys entrusted to a work-study student, was found and affirmed by consensus of the current class, and applauded by letters in the alumni magazine.

I will never have the personal resources to influence the companies I invest in, the politicians I elect, the clients I work for, or the organizations I volunteer for as profoundly as I can influence my alma mater by bending the ear of a billionaire classmate at a reunion. It may be partially for that reason that I have been politely listened to over decades, starting in my freshman year, by many administrators who had no information about my (negligible) present or future financial clout.

Breaking the link between money and power, or between a privileged few and money, are big jobs for our civilization as a whole. Sustaining the link between the previous generation’s money and power, and the present generation’s vision of opportunity, diversity and civic virtue, is a more realistic but still worthy job for which our universities have been organically designed by their own sons and daughters.

7

mud man 09.03.14 at 6:27 pm

Debating fashionable bad ideas should be a necessary function of somebody.

8

Phil 09.03.14 at 6:32 pm

More and more I find myself hearing academic radicalism through a manager’s ears, with a kind of reflexive sneer – good luck getting that into $BIG JOURNAL, the Research Councils are going to lap that up, you can talk like that if you’ve already got a Chair* and so on. Of course it’s not really the voice of management, just the voice of a junior & rather insecure academic who’s internalised the need to damp down the rhetoric and triangulate**. But then, that is the voice of management. O governmentality.

*Although, increasingly, you can’t.
**Old-fashioned, gratuitously oppositional research question: “Has police brutality increased under the Coalition?”. Friendly, constructive research question: “How can the police build confidence in their work?” Clever, split-the-difference research question: “What factors determine positive or negative perceptions among people in contact with the police?”

9

Joshua W. Burton 09.03.14 at 6:38 pm

A university, taking the long view (as who else should?), gets the rich people it deserves.

More starkly: a university that is not run by its alumni will be run by its faculty. Whither democracy?

10

MPAVictoria 09.03.14 at 6:48 pm

I wish I was a very rich person….

/Hey! Here is a crazy idea. Why don’t we fund public education so that they don’t have to suck up to rich donors? Also stop paying University president’s crazy high wages that just attract the wrong sort of people.
//Yeah, yeah I am just a dirty hippy….

11

Lynne 09.03.14 at 6:53 pm

MPAV—so glad to see your comment. This post is a real downer.

12

Louis Proyect 09.03.14 at 6:56 pm

Ironically, the more prestigious universities, particularly the Ivies, have less problems with a grubby and politically motivated board. Columbia University, where I worked for 21 years, has a consistent record of beating back attempts to victimize pro-Palestinian professors. This is a function of board members having a better grasp of the need for academic freedom in an elite institution as part of their own elite education at Columbia and other such institutions. The lower you are on the academic totem pole, the more likely you are to end up with a board of very wealthy mediocrities.

13

T 09.03.14 at 7:22 pm

@12 Yeah, Louis. By the time you reach the bottom of the barrel like U of I you can’t expect much. Tell us more.

14

Zamfir 09.03.14 at 7:50 pm

I think it would be stranger if major bourgeois institutions were organized, directed, and influenced differently from the prevailing social order they are embedded in.

And yet, universities in other bourgeois countries do not operate like this at all. They might reflect their social order anyway, but through different channels.

In most places, both universities and rich people are amazed by the amount of money American rich people give to universities, with all the good and bad effects of it.

15

MPAVictoria 09.03.14 at 7:53 pm

“MPAV—so glad to see your comment. This post is a real downer.”

As are a good portion of the posts here.

/Not complaining. I love Crooked Timber and it is not the fault of any of the contributors here that we live in a messed up world.

16

ifthethunderdontgetya™³²®© 09.03.14 at 8:27 pm

From their perspective, the risks of angering rich people will usually outweigh the risks of angering faculty.

From the perspective of our politicians, the risks of angering rich people will usually outweigh the risks of angering citizens.
~

17

Lynne 09.03.14 at 8:33 pm

MPAV, yes, agreed.

18

SamChevre 09.03.14 at 9:05 pm

I think this phenomenon is pretty common, and generally lauded.

For a key example–most histories I’ve read credit the Ford Foundation’s “hire who we say and admit who we say, or we won’t give you money and will encourage others not to” as a key factor in desegregating the private universities int he South.

19

MPAVictoria 09.03.14 at 9:19 pm

“I think this phenomenon is pretty common, and generally lauded.

For a key example–most histories I’ve read credit the Ford Foundation’s “hire who we say and admit who we say, or we won’t give you money and will encourage others not to” as a key factor in desegregating the private universities int he South”

This would be an excellent post if the University of Illinois were a private university. Of course since it isn’t it is a terrible point and you should be ashamed.

20

que_es 09.03.14 at 9:27 pm

@SamChevre

So it’s good that a handful of really rich people control the universities because they know best?

21

T 09.03.14 at 9:51 pm

@20
Let’s see. The U is funded by the state, alumni, and student/families. But all control should be with the tenured faculty because they know best?

Given that this blog is run by academics, it is not surprising that the Salaita threads focus on the faculty vs. the administration. But the discussion on the Salaita affair might benefit from considering the university in a broader perspective. And not just the evil zionists blah blah blah. I thought there were political scientists around? I hope this thread is a start.

22

mdc 09.03.14 at 10:02 pm

Indeed, who pays the piper calls the tune. The only way out of this (aside from publicly funding higher ed) would be if some of the right Board members are persuaded that a governance structure designed to ensure maximal faculty independence is a good idea. Of course, since any firewall or policy derives its authority from the contingent will of the Board, all it takes for everything to go south is a new crop of less enlightened plutocrats.

23

Bloix 09.03.14 at 10:21 pm

“the risks of angering rich people will usually outweigh the risks of angering citizens”

Does someone want to argue that the citizens of Illinois if asked in a referendum would vote to give Salaita life tenure? Same question for Minnesota and P.Z. Myers? Michigan and Juan Cole?

I would have thought that it is a given that tenured professors are members of a very small and unusually protected elite. The whole point of tenure is to give professors protection from (1) rich people, (2) the government, and (3) the great unwashed.

The Board at UIUC is not, btw, composed primarily of people whose main claim to prominence in life is wealth. My count is that four are probably “rich” from an academic’s point of view – these include Patrick Fitzgerald, the former prosecutor who won convictions of Scooter Libby, Rod Blagojevich and many others. Only one of the four – Chris Kennedy – seems primarily to be the scion of a wealthy family. Five are not rich, and three are students.

24

T 09.03.14 at 10:41 pm

Henry and @22

If you look at the UVA affair, it was started by a conservative Board member who was hooked up w/the Hoover institution and, sort of, some hedge fund alumni. At the end of the day, however, the faculty (with a delay) and most of the alumni weighed in for Sullivan. The governor keep his head down. The attempted coup was considered an embarrassment and debacle by almost all the stake holders.

@22
Why do you think even a fully state funded university would cede control to the tenured faculty? The taxpayers would want oversight which is exactly what you get with an executive-appointed board confirmed by the legislature.

25

Joshua W. Burton 09.03.14 at 10:52 pm

que_es @20: So it’s good that a handful of really rich people control the universities because they know best?

It depends. Where did they go to college, and what was taught there?

26

mdc 09.03.14 at 10:59 pm

T: “taxpayer oversight”- that’s true. Given the varieties of higher education in this country, we might have a good natural experiment testing the relative merits of democracy (voter control), plutocracy (donor/Board control), and aristocracy (faculty control).

27

Joshua W. Burton 09.03.14 at 11:08 pm

MPAVictoria @19: This would be an excellent post if the University of Illinois were a private university. Of course since it isn’t it is a terrible point and you should be ashamed.

Maybe there’s a middle ground where nobody has to be ashamed. Alumni governance and dependence on alumni generosity are both terrible where mere access and repeatable execution are the figures of merit; if you’re going to have community colleges, the community should own them (and the state and nation should fund them, if the community is poor). But flagship state universities were built through public/private partnership from the first land grant, and have always commanded both assent and funding from both loyal benefactors and the public purse. Look around; the names on the buildings are not some perverse Reaganite novelty. (Cal itself might not have survived Ronald Reagan if it weren’t for the alumni, by the way.)

The thinking behind UIUC and its peers has been that there is productive synergy between the two funding models; that by having both a tax base and an endowment the leading public universities can preserve a meaningful identity and mission even in adverse times like the present. This may in fact no longer be true, in which case we all lose. But it was true for a century and a half, and it was not shameful when it was true.

28

AcademicLurker 09.03.14 at 11:42 pm

Let’s see. The U is funded by the state, alumni, and student/families. But all control should be with the tenured faculty because they know best?

That’s an utterly absurd statement. Professors don’t exercise anything close to “all control”. They have, by general agreement between the administration, the state and the faculty, been given (some) control over pedagogical matters, and a great deal more control over the evaluation of the quality of the scholarship of their colleagues (for the purposes of promotion) and job candidates (for the purposes of hiring). They have virtually no control over the budget or budgetary priorities.

A new gym with a climbing wall or a new wing for the library? More money for the football program or more money for academic scholarships? These are questions over which the faculty have very little control.

In short, the faculty have been given significant control over those aspects of the university’s mission (scholarship and teaching) in which there are presumed to have special competence because that’s actually what they do all day. This is no different in principle from navigators in the navy being given discretion in how best to pilot ships. Hey, I’m a tax payer! How come I’m not allowed to have a vote over what speed aircraft carries should cruise at?

You’re constant refrain about “why should professors have all the power?!” make you sound like a conspiracy theorist.

29

Thornton Hall 09.04.14 at 12:06 am

“More and more, they’re not [insulated from the concerns of the rich].” LOL!!!

The university was invented to educate the younger sons of the nobility so they could control the poor via the church while the first born sons were controlling them through the state. Until WWII only the richest 5% of Americans were granted bachelor degrees. Flagship state universities have been educating black people since about 1970.

Like so many things, focusing on the experience of Baby Boomers obscures the historical truth.

30

Thornton Hall 09.04.14 at 12:09 am

Reading other comments now. I guess mine is out of bounds. Like criticizing Israel.

31

jdkbrown 09.04.14 at 12:12 am

“My count is that four are probably ‘rich’ from an academic’s point of view – these include Patrick Fitzgerald, the former prosecutor who won convictions of Scooter Libby, Rod Blagojevich and many others. Only one of the four – Chris Kennedy – seems primarily to be the scion of a wealthy family. Five are not rich, and three are students.”

You must have a rather inflated idea of how much most academics make.

You cover Fitzgerald and Kennedy. Estrada is the president and CEO of Metropolitan Family Services and makes ~$200k in that role; he also likely makes a fair bit as President and CEO of Erie Charter School, which spent ~$170k on executive compensation in 2012. Holmes is a partner at a major national law firm. Koritz is an anesthesiologist; google tells me that median income for anesthesiologists in the states is $350k. McMillan is a venture capitalist, past president of Purina, and sits on the board of directors of at least one company. Montgomery is managing partner of his own law firm. Strobel is a past corporate president, and last year pulled down at least $480k as a corporate director. Hasara, I’ll grant you, doesn’t appear to be rich. That’s nine of ten non-student members of the board I would count as rich. (And only one of those students you mention has voting rights.)

32

cassander 09.04.14 at 12:17 am

@Academiclurker

>2, 4: I’m not sure that “Let’s be complacent about losing the gains that were made during the 20th century” is a winning strategy for the middle class, when it comes to university governance or anything else.

My claim isn’t that we’re losing ground, my claim is that the universities have gotten to be less and less the playthings of rich donors over the course of the century.

>Hey, I’m a tax payer! How come I’m not allowed to have a vote over what speed aircraft carries should cruise at?

Well first, the navigator on a ship doesn’t decide how fast it goes, the captain does. the captain might ask for advice, but the boat goes as fast as he says it does regardless what the navigator thinks is wise. Second, you can’t simultaneously have democracy and expert control. any decision you take out of the hands of voters and put into the hands of anyone else ceases to be made democratically.

@MPAVictoria

>Hey! Here is a crazy idea. Why don’t we fund public education so that they don’t have to suck up to rich donors?

Why is sucking up to congress any better (or any different than) than sucking up to congress and state legislators?

33

js. 09.04.14 at 12:18 am

most people, including, I suspect, most academics, don’t realize how important rich people are to the running of universities.

Universities like to think of themselves as removed from all of this. More and more, they are not.

Context, trolls, context! You’re making it so easy!

34

LFC 09.04.14 at 12:41 am

@Joshua W. Burton
There’s no particular reason to think that alumni, as a class or category of people, should have the decisive say in how a university runs; they should have a role, but so should faculty and students, the people who are actually there. And there’s especially no reason to think alumni should have much of a say in who gets hired and who doesn’t. [Even wealthy alums who endow a chair don’t usually, I think, get to pick the particular person who holds it, though there are no doubt exceptions to this, and the title of a chair (e.g. “the xyz professorship of the virtues of free markets” or whatever) can skew the incumbents in one direction.]

On a related pt, I question your implicit assumption that anyone who has been a student at a university that tries to instill certain values in its students (accepting, for the sake of argument, that some universities in fact do try to do so) necessarily internalizes those values. Universities can try to (gently) indoctrinate their students in the ‘liberal’ values of openness to differing views, diversity etc, but that’s no guarantee these values will ‘take’ in any given case. In short, your saying “a univ gets the rich people it deserves” seems to assume too much about the effects of the ‘educational experience’ at any particular univ. (Btw you didn’t mention that the smaller, unelected Harvard Corporation has more power than the larger, elected Board of Overseers. My guess is that the Univ. of Illinois Board of Trustees is probably more comparable to the Corporation in terms of its powers, though I’m not sure.)

ISTM that Henry’s basic point in the OP about wealthy donors having considerable influence is right, regardless of whether particular boards of trustees are mainly composed of wealthy people or not. If a particular board of trustees is not composed mainly of wealthy donors, then the latter will exercise their influence through more informal channels, but I suspect they will exercise it one way or another.

35

Collin Street 09.04.14 at 12:50 am

The university was invented to educate the younger sons of the nobility so they could control the poor via the church

Err, very very much no. Younger sons of nobility had private tutors, it’s the growth in middle-class education that lead to the modern university.

[actually, the university arose out of the fact that the middle-class students’ desire for certification/quality standards and cost-sharing could be solved by the exact same structures that met the middle-class lecturers’ desire for employment security and eliminating unqualified competition. Bourgeois — town-dwelling — from beginning to end.]

36

Main Street Muse 09.04.14 at 12:56 am

The state of Illinois is in an economic disarray right now. Significant debt. A woefully underfunded state pension plan (woe to all UofI profs – they may never get to retire.) It is the place that most people want to leave (according to a survey I saw not long ago.)

States (including IL) have – for years – shaved significant dollars from higher ed support. I know in NC, the state sheds more and more support for higher ed with each year – I am not sure it will ever go back to where it was. All state employees get a raise this year in NC – except for university faculty. Tuition grows, access to higher ed becomes problematic for students without a trust fund.

Funding matters. When the state divests itself from supporting higher ed, funders matter. Not the way it should be at all. But a terrible reality for public universities today in the US.

(To be clear, I am not defending UofI in this issue.)

37

LFC 09.04.14 at 12:58 am

T. Hall @29
Until WWII only the richest 5% of Americans were granted bachelor degrees.

Not right. Attendance was skewed toward the top of the income/wealth dist., no doubt, but there were non-wealthy students who got bachelors degrees before the GI Bill (through scholarships etc.) A glance at any hist. of US higher ed. will confirm this, I’m certain.

38

T 09.04.14 at 1:03 am

@28
Please read in context of the previous posts. My point is that in addition to the tenured faculty there are taxpayers, alumni and students/family. They are all stakeholders, the later three which actually fund the place. There is a natural tension among these groups because they view the institution differently. The idea that is faculty should be able to make lifetime hiring decisions without oversight, decisions costing millions of dollars paid for by others, is hubris.

The relationship among these four stakeholders has changed significantly in the last 35 to 40 years. The old norms are under stress. The idea that certain norms that primarily benefit one set of stakeholders are sacrosanct while those benefiting the other stakeholder fall by the way is an idea being questioned.

39

ifthethunderdontgetya™³²®© 09.04.14 at 1:06 am

Bloix 09.03.14 at 10:21 pm
————-
So very precious, Bloix.

100 Senators voted to condemn Hamas and not even mention Bibi’s murderous rampage.

Is that democracy?

Or is it a powerful lobby whose money and influence over our politicians and media make the N.R.A. look like a bunch of kids in a sandbox?

I know where you lie in this debate.
~

40

engels 09.04.14 at 1:13 am

One of the least appreciated problems of economic inequality is that it tends to filter out ideas that are uncongenial to rich people, and to heavily overweight ideas that they like

This has been noted by some

41

godoggo 09.04.14 at 1:32 am

I am Groot!

42

Harold 09.04.14 at 2:14 am

LFC, @37. I agree. My FIL was the son of a postman who sent his 4 children to private colleges during the depression. My g-grandfather had a dirt farm in Blanco, Texas (they raised goats), and sent 8 of his 9 children to the U of Texas and other colleges. (The eldest son had to stay home and manage the farm.)

43

AcademicLurker 09.04.14 at 2:17 am

@38: Claiming that there are multiple stakeholders is a far cry from claiming that “all control is held by the faculty” which, as I pointed out, is incorrect.

As a specific example, I was involved in establishing a new masters degree program a few years ago. This consisted of 1) We put together a proposed program of study, together with an explanation of why this filled an existing need. 2) this was forwarded to the office of the dean of the school for review. 3) After the review and some revisions, it was forwarded to the office of the provost for additional review. 4) After this it was forwarded to the university president and board for review. 5) The proposed program was presented to a State board. 6) Changes, recommended by them, were passed down to us. 7) Most of said changes were implemented and the program was re-reviewed. 8) The revised program was again submitted to the state for approval. 9) It was voted on, by State appointed authorities, an approved.

You might notice that a large number of “stakeholders” and their representatives had a say in this process. Several, in fact, could have nixed it at any point.

That doesn’t exactly fit with the picture you’ve been painting of voters, governors and everyone else as poor downtrodden peasants ground under the iron boot of tyrannical autocratic professors.

44

Thornton Hall 09.04.14 at 2:28 am

In a decade when one in three people did not have a job, son of a postman is not poor.

45

Thornton Hall 09.04.14 at 2:35 am

It’s simply a fact that in 1940, less than 5% of Americans had a BA. Now, that includes black people and women as Americans. But of course they weren’t as far as admissions were concerned. So if you want to limit the inquiry, then, yes, the income spectrum of higher education probably included the merely affluent as well as the truly rich.

http://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Educational_attainment_in_the_United_States

46

Anarcissie 09.04.14 at 2:39 am

It would be possible for a university to be governed by its faculty, if the faculty owned the university. They could own one by starting one. The reasons why this will not work — I feel sure I will be told that in a minute — the reasons might be interesting.

47

T 09.04.14 at 2:53 am

@43
Last try – read 18, 20 and 21. Mine was a rhetorical point. I’m arguing that all stakeholders will demand a voice and should have a voice in university decisions including tenure. (The State of Illinois thinks so too. That’s why tenure it requires board approval.) How big a voice is open to discussion. Commentators in this thread and previous threads seem to think that the tenure decision should be exclusively made by the faculty barring felonies.

And the military analogy fails on several counts. They are not guaranteed a job for life. And they have a mandatory retirement age. And where they live and what they do are controlled by others and that control is exercised all the time. And there is executive and legislative civilian oversight where you got a vote.

Sounds like your program had lots of input from many sources. You needed funding and approval from the state and university. Maybe you contacted alums for funding or chairs. I hope you checked w/students to see if there was a demand for program. I hope it’s successful and I hope there are jobs related to field. If there aren’t jobs, you should let the applicants know very clearly beforehand so they go in eyes wide open. See humanities PhDs and law school, esp. in the lower tiers. They’re not much different than for-profit university scams.

48

Joshua W. Burton 09.04.14 at 3:01 am

LFC @34: Btw you didn’t mention that the smaller, unelected Harvard Corporation has more power than the larger, elected Board of Overseers.

The Corporation is elected by the Board, at one remove. And I believe every current member of the Corporation (except one former US Treasury secretary) is a professor with a distinguished research record, a former elected Overseer, or both. To the larger point, I’m not holding up Harvard governance as a Platonic ideal, but neither do I share your broad cynicism about undergraduate affiliation as a defining and transformative moral passage. At any rate, that’s why they write songs about it, and come back at their own expense for reunions. I would emphatically not trust Harvard alumni to run UIUC, nor vice versa.

49

MPAVictoria 09.04.14 at 3:08 am

I really wish I was surprised that some posters here are defending the practice of rich assholes telling public universities what faculty to hire. I wish I was but sadly, tragically I am not.

/you bastards have destroyed my innocence.

50

Bloix 09.04.14 at 3:15 am

#39 – I like your pictures of butterflies very much. But I don’t have a clue, not a smidgen of a hint, of what you’re trying to say.

#31 – Midwest law partners and anesthesiologists with 6-figure incomes are not the kinds of people who can sway university decisions by threatening not to buy a new building. Rich people as I understand the original post means people with tens or hundreds of millions in wealth.

51

Collin Street 09.04.14 at 4:27 am

#31 – Midwest law partners and anesthesiologists with 6-figure incomes are not the kinds of people who can sway university decisions by threatening not to buy a new building. Rich people as I understand the original post means people with tens or hundreds of millions in wealth.

Which is why income inequality per se is a problem, even if standards-of-living go up.

52

Meredith 09.04.14 at 4:42 am

I suspect that Thornton Hall is vinteuil (see Belle and Chris Bertram posts of late). Or Indecipherable @39 may be. (Or they are all the same person?) They/he (maybe she — why do I have trouble imagining she here?) = You all haven’t suffered as much as I have (the vast suffering of the virtuous, anonymous objector is somehow to be assumed), so you don’t deserve any voice at all! ( I kept thinking about feeding my niece with MS her lobster at vinteuil’s posts over on Belle — my niece’s Medicaid-supported healthcare greatly limited by LePage…. Glad I could treat her to some lobster: real lobster! not the mere roll! My brother and his wife can’t afford either — and they actually live near the coast in Maine.)

Public universities are under particular stress due to underfunding, making them vulnerable to the demands or expectations (the latter can be insidious) of donors. (Donors are also, often, wonderful.) Is this news? But whatever the history of public/private partnership with land-grant and other public schools (a thoughtful post above on this), the balance has been way off for some years now.

Most of all, reading these comments, I am struck: this is why we have LAWS and such. To protect us from our own short-term, hunger-at-the-moment inclinations. “Our” being all the stakeholders, who, in the case of a university or college, public or private (the latter must be chartered by state governments, btw), tend to cede a great deal to the, you know, professors. At least, they once did.

And to change the direction of whining or rah-rahing that I may seem to have gone in: I wonder how many of the assistant and recently tenured profs at my college will show up for faculty meetings this year? Fewer and fewer every year. Most are too busy “elsewhere,” at a conference or something.

Eternal vigilance, and all that. Sorry to be so all over the place — maybe, but I think somewhere in here I am not.

53

Thornton Hall 09.04.14 at 5:38 am

@52 I take “vititulle” is a commenter in other threads? I keep being accused of not being real or not being myself… Maybe I’m not aware of some other personalities?

In any case, I think that I 100% agree with you. A post that says colleges being swayed by the rich is a recent phenomenon is obviously going to lead to some reflexive criticism of the kind I produced. That doesn’t mean that I think whatever it is you seem to imagine I think.

In fact (speaking only for Thornton and not “vinny?”) I think something named “The University of Illinois” should be funded in whole by the State of Illinois (which has plenty of money and has never failed to pay a single pensioner exactly what he was promised).

I think that to the extent education in this country has been funded by the rich or the poor or anybody other than the taxpayer that is self-evidently stupid. I think the only reason this is not acknowledged is that, in our modern world, we delegate the job of “public intellectual” to university professors. On some subjects (eg, biology) this has salutary results. But on the subject of post secondary education, it turns out that tenured professors making well above the median wage monetarily and who enjoy unparalleled status compensation, it turns out that professors are just a little biased in favor of the status quo and propose but the tiniest of tiny reforms.

Why the bright line at age 18? Does that reflect any fact of the world whatsoever? No. Not a single person is fit for citizenship or success after 12th grade. Our guarantee of free public education should reflect this reality and send every last high school graduate to the University of Illinois. A lot of faculty would teach things like how to cut hair. Many others would find out that publishing on critical theory is not a good way to make yourself useful. It would be uncomfortable for career services to have to get to know somebody other than the recruiters from tech and I banking. But the world would be a better place.

54

Thornton Hall 09.04.14 at 5:49 am

@52 also, I can’t quite tell, but I think you think I feel I have suffered a great deal???

In fact, I have suffered very, very little in my life that wasn’t self-inflicted. The fact that I have escaped suffering thanks to the fact that I was born to the right parents is what fuels my energy in attacking those who imagine that it was the skill or value or wisdom of their ancestors that put them in the catbird seat. When you have screwed up as much as I have and still find yourself rich, then you truly know the pernicious power of the myth of meritocracy.

55

Meredith 09.04.14 at 6:00 am

Thornton Hall, must to bed. But I look forward to engaging/exchanging. I may well have misunderstood whence you were were coming.

56

Collin Street 09.04.14 at 9:50 am

> hy do I have trouble imagining she here

Autism is sex-linked.

Just sayin’, is all.

57

Trader Joe 09.04.14 at 11:42 am

Blah, blah, blah stakeholders.
Blah, blah, blah who is rich and how much in the real world.
Blah, blah, protected academics.

In the real world, job appointments are confirmed more or less immediately. Had this occurred in the first place, the normal certainty on which most employment is conducted in 99% of the world, Wise/the board would have been left with the far different problem. Either trump up a charge to dismiss the employee to apease the fat cat donors or alternatively telling said donors ‘our hands are tied he has tenure’

Imagine how the case would have unfolded in a ‘normal’ employment world and the discussion of who influenced who, why and how much becomes even more absurd.

58

LFC 09.04.14 at 1:04 pm

J.W. Burton @48
neither do I share your broad cynicism about undergraduate affiliation as a defining and transformative moral passage. At any rate, that’s why they write songs about it, and come back at their own expense for reunions

I think there’s a range of individual variation. Some are v. positive about their undergraduate ‘experience’, others have more mixed feelings about it. Some go back for reunions, some don’t (either never or not regularly). Re the Corporation: there have been some changes in membership lately, plus the # of members has been increased. I’m fairly sure that if you examine its composition over the years, you’ll find there has been a considerable albeit not exclusive representation of (very) wealthy people/alumni, esp. in certain positions such as senior member of the Corp., treasurer etc. (Which doesn’t necessarily mean the Harvard governance system is bad or obvs. defective: it prob. more or less does what it’s intended to do, given the social-economic system in which univs. are embedded.) Anyway, this is somewhat off the main topic of the thread, so I think this will be my last comment on this.

59

Bloix 09.04.14 at 2:03 pm

#51 – “Which is why income inequality per se is a problem”

This really is a key point, isn’t it – rising income inequality poisons every area of social life.

60

Bruce Wilder 09.04.14 at 4:18 pm

A biography of Ed Meese, concentrating on what he did after the Reagan Administration, would be enlightening, concerning how academic institutions are shaped from above.

61

chris london 09.04.14 at 4:30 pm

An oldie but goodie: https://nacla.org/whorulescolumbia

62

Thornton Hall 09.04.14 at 5:31 pm

Through a collection of circumstance I found myself in an argument with the head of Princeton Career Services during reunions a few years back (not my alma mater). When I found out that the investment banking firms were given access to Sophomores I was astounded. What was really shocking was the justification and how infused it was with the religion of free markets:

If our graduates end up as investment bankers it is because they choose that path. Our job is to give them a range of choices.

This is a school that pre-dates the word “capitalism” by a century. That history has taught valuable lessons as to what a true education requires and so while Harvard is content to handout sheepskins upon the collection of 30 gentleman’s A minuses, Princeton requires a thesis of every single student.

Why would you let a sophomore wander down the road to Gomorrah when you know he or she is incompetent to make such a choice before completing a senior thesis?

Our job is simply to facilitate their choices.

In this model, universities are run by 18 year olds. No wonder Princeton also has a brand new gym full of fancy exercise equipment after the old one worked just fine for a century.

63

Thornton Hall 09.04.14 at 5:37 pm

PS the rise of the university as free market for student choices is exactly contemporaneous with the supposed rise of influence by rich donors. I think the rise of Reaganism (and not just the direct ending of California master plan) and the Gary Becker vision of everything’s a market is what is playing the most important role. Add in USNews rankings (why don’t they get sued for libel) that heavily weight per student spending and you have the rise of air conditioned rock climbing facilities.

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Trader Joe 09.04.14 at 5:49 pm

@62-63
When you ask student and their families to pay, borrow or otherwise procure +$200k for the privledge of an undergraduate education, is it not perhaps understandable that the payors would expect a bit more than clean gym mats and a 50-year old set of free weights?

Your comment seems to overlook that most purchasers of a university degree are only tangentially concerned with the pursuit of knowledge and deep learning. What most want is the credentials necessary to land work for which they are at least reasonably qualified and an avenue from which to recoup their $200k.

As it happens investment banking is one such profession which provides that possibility. While you might would rather that not be so, why should Sophmores or anyone else be denied the opportunity to seek a path that allows them to repay the cost of their education as expeditiously as possible.

65

Harold 09.04.14 at 5:55 pm

“Free” choice? It is to laugh.

66

Harold 09.04.14 at 5:57 pm

Golden handcuffs, more like.

67

Harold 09.04.14 at 7:16 pm

Thornton Hall 44 “In a decade when one in three people did not have a job, son of a postman is not poor.”

The mere fact of having steady job (i.e., being employed by the civil service) is not equivalent of being moderately wealthy even in conditions of high unemployment. However, it did qualify one as a member of the middle class. It is true that in those days the job of a postal service worker was more prestigious than today. My FIL’s father had to sort mail while riding on a train, and to qualify for this job (which I guess involved deciphering handwriting), he had to take a test every six months.

His son, my late FIL became a professor, an academic administrator, and, in due course, after his retirement, a member of the board of trustees of his original alma mater. Much of his time in that, and in other, previous administrative positions, was spent in courting wealthy donors. At no time was he personally even moderately wealthy, though early in his career he did make some money from writing a textbook.

As far as Thorton Hall’s potted history of the universities: “The university was invented to educate the younger sons of the nobility so they could control the poor via the church while the first born sons were controlling them through the state. … only the richest, etc., etc. ” I think he ought to fact check on that. The word universitas in Latin means “corporation”. As I understand it, universities were founded by students and teachers of law and medicine, etc., in the late middle ages, not by or for “younger sons of the aristocracy”. Aristocrats had private tutors for their sons and daughters, younger and older.

As I understand it, an unusually large number of the Puritan settlers of Massachusetts were graduates of Cambridge University, in England. They founded Harvard in 1650 and asked the noted Czech educational reformer John Amos Comenius (forerunner of Rousseau and Dewey) http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/John_Amos_Comenius to be its president (he was unable to), but I never heard that they or he were “younger sons of the aristocracy.”

68

anon 09.04.14 at 7:35 pm

“So it’s good that a handful of really rich people control the universities
because they know best?”

Absolutely not. We should have poor college professors control the universities because they have some much more experience dealing with ‘the real world’.

You guys are a hoot. You live and work in protected bubbles and Ivory towers. And you don’t understand why those who do not think you are all a bunch of idiots*.

* for the benefit of the highly “educated” clowns who host the blog and do most of the posting I would suggest a class in the Greek language. Then you might begin to bea able to actually understand the derivation of that word. Of course, that would require effort on you part. Instead of taking classes in ‘racism’ or ‘imperialism’ or ‘gender studies’. So very, very, challenging. But I guess you did get to play a lot of beer pong when you were undergrads.

69

Harold 09.04.14 at 7:52 pm

Excuse the pedantry, anon @68, but “educare” is a Latin word not a Greek one.

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Harold 09.04.14 at 7:53 pm

ēdūcere — my bad!

71

matt w 09.04.14 at 7:57 pm

@47: ” Commentators in this thread and previous threads seem to think that the tenure decision should be exclusively made by the faculty barring felonies.”

Yes, that’s pretty much the definition of academic freedom and what it’s for. This is why universities reject donations for chairs when the donor demands veto power over hires, for instance.

Part of the mission of the university is free inquiry. Letting the rich people who fund the university fire professors whose results they don’t like would be inimical to this purpose. The tenure system is a looooong way from perfect, but at least it leaves open the possibility that academics will be able to pursue their research without regard to the question of whether that research hacks off some rich know-nothing.

72

Omega Centauri 09.04.14 at 8:07 pm

“Until WWII only the richest 5% of Americans were granted bachelor degrees.”
Both of my parents were poor but University students at Ohio State. Education was interrupted by WW2, so they didn’t get the degrees until after. But, clearly at least some states made it possible for nontrivial numbers of non wealthy to do it.

73

AcademicLurker 09.04.14 at 8:25 pm

Until WWII only the richest 5% of Americans were granted bachelor degrees.

Is there a source for that number? Land grant universities were up and running by the last decades of the 1800s, and they weren’t purely educating the wealthy elite.

74

Andrew F. 09.04.14 at 8:34 pm

Perhaps the best institutional design would be one that meliorated the worst tendencies of a tenured faculty in complete control of tenure and a Board of Trustees in complete control of tenure? One in which the Board shows deference, but occasionally says “no.” One in which the faculty sometimes acquiesces, but occasionally throws a fit (and says no)?

If the donor’s message had been limited by the facts to simply “Professor Salaita does not agree with my political views of Israel, and therefore I demand you reject him for tenure”, is it likely that the Board or Chancellor would have acquiesced? But here, like it or not, the nature of the tweets would give any reasonable person pause before hiring the tweeter as a tenured professor.

The correspondence indicates that the donor was able to be heard, but I do not see where the donor was able to purchase a decision. I haven’t read all of it though. Is there an exchange in particular that persuades anyone that donor-influence is the cause of the University’s decision?

75

djr 09.04.14 at 8:57 pm

Oh for goodness’ sake, Andrew, do we really have to go through this again on yet another thread? Clearly anyone with two brain cells to rub together knows that you don’t say “don’t hire him cos I don’t like his politics”, you come up with some bullshit argument about tone or something.

The question on this thread isn’t “should there be external oversight of universities?” it’s “should the external oversight be quite so weighted towards oversight-by-the-rich?”

76

Mdc 09.04.14 at 9:17 pm

“the worst tendencies of a tenured faculty in complete control of tenure”

Namely?

77

Theophylact 09.04.14 at 9:51 pm

Trader Joe @ #57:

In the real world, job appointments are confirmed more or less immediately. Had this occurred in the first place, the normal certainty on which most employment is conducted in 99% of the world, Wise/the board would have been left with the far different problem.

Your experience of the “real world” is somewhat different from mine, as a (now retired) federal civil servant. I was interviewed in April, told I had the job by May. But until I was actually sworn in in September, I had no actual guarantee of employment.

This is not an empty statement. I had a colleague who (like Salaita) had quit his job. sold his house, and moved to Washington after receiving a letter of appointment — only to be caught in a job freeze. We managed to bring him on board as an employee of a contractor until the freeze came off, but a court later found that letters of appointment had no legal significance; only being sworn in constituted the actual contract.

I suppose things may have changed in the last 35 years, but certainly not for the better.

78

MPAVictoria 09.04.14 at 9:57 pm

“I suppose things may have changed in the last 35 years, but certainly not for the better.”

Nope, pretty much the same. At least in Canada…

79

T 09.04.14 at 10:10 pm

@71
Thanks for saying that so clearly. I think some other academics have beat around the bush a bit but agree with you. Unfortunately, the people paying for the enterprise don’t quite agree. And I think when the academy’s norms start diverging significantly from the folks who pay — the state, alumni, and students/families — their willingness to pay for your definition of academic freedom slowly crumbles as it has in state after state. Part of that is rich people wanting lower taxes and viewing college education as a private good, not a public good as it has historically been perceived. (And the lobbying money to screw their fellow citizens.) Part of that is legislators thinking a subsidy for relatively wealthy and smart state students (and that describes the kids going to the state’s flagship university on average) is at the expense of the more needy. And some of it is the behavior of the academy itself. Couple those views with an extraordinary sense of entitlement — AF means we hire people for life on your dime without oversight — and the future does not bode well. The latter two issues, especially in the humanities, are a real problem at state funded institutions. Less so where the kids are buying an elite brand on their own (parents) dime.

80

Thornton Hall 09.04.14 at 11:47 pm

I’m happy to learn the real history of the university. Fascinating. Seriously.

As for who was poor, etc. I have never ever met anyone who had ever alluded to being related to a rich person in the Depression. As far as the anecdotal evidence is concerned, poverty was universal. And yet in all these anecdotes I have never heard a single person mention their grandfather the sharecropper. Do you think that was better or worse than a skilled government employee?

In my own family I hear tales of the desperately poor attorney. But I wasn’t there, so who knows, right?

81

Thornton Hall 09.04.14 at 11:56 pm

And as all of this relates to college education, I graduated from a College that was founded to train Native American missionaries. That was the fund raising pitch, anyway. But in general, why create a private college unless you have some idea of what you want to teach people? And what kind of idiot finds an expert, pays a lot of money for his expertise and then says, fuck what you think, gimmie a rock wall b/c it’s my money?

Either the credential has some value b/c the institution awarding it knows what and how to teach or else you are paying for nothing but the sheepskin itself.

I pay so I tell you what to teach me???? Just dumb.

82

Thornton Hall 09.05.14 at 12:05 am

And a public university should teach exactly what the tax payers decide they want through whatever executive bureaucracy gets set up to manage the place. If high tuition means 17 year olds decide what happens at a public university then that is yet another reason to go back to the days when college was free.

(Not just California, either. UMass was $250 a year in 1948).

83

Collin Street 09.05.14 at 12:24 am

you come up with some bullshit argument about tone or something

Which is why consistency of standards is important, it shows that you’re applying the rules you claim to apply.

And consistency can’t be reviewed internally, because that’s just “do I think what I think? (y/n)” and that’s not going to tell you anything useful.

But people hate oversight because it shows up their errors. It’s embarrassing. Exactly the errors that you get shown up by vary from person to person — me, I’m lazy[1] — but noone’s perfect and any useful oversight has to point you to exactly the parts of yourself that you hate. Inescapably horrible: no pain no gain, yes, but…

[1] More accurately, I’m very very good at procrastination. Triggering conditions are different [so response/management is different], end result [un/badly-managed] is pretty similar.

84

Thornton Hall 09.05.14 at 2:00 am

@AcademicLurker

http://www.census.gov/prod/2012pubs/p20-566.pdf

Another way to paraphrase the data would be that neither the rich nor the poor got BAs before WWII.

One thing that gets lost here as well is that you don’t have to be rich to be elite and that before the 1980s many were rich but not allowed into the elite. Professors have always taken most of their compensation in the form of status, not cash. The rich are frequently low class strivers who were desperate for the kind of status a university connection could bring. Carnegie and Rockefeller got as much as they gave.

85

Thornton Hall 09.05.14 at 2:01 am

And Vanderbilt and Stanford and Duke.

86

The Raven 09.05.14 at 2:37 am

“One of the least appreciated problems of economic inequality is that it tends to filter out ideas that are uncongenial to rich people, and to heavily overweight ideas that they like.”

Which pretty much explains why the planet is hurtling towards environmental disaster.

Thank you.

87

harry b 09.05.14 at 2:51 am

Since we’ve moved into the history of the university, it might be worth noting that tenure originated as a mechanism for firing people. Prior to the 30s, a job at an Ivy league school (and many other schools) was, immediately, a job for life. The Alan Sweezy case (Paul’s brother) at Harvard (they fired him, causing a massive hullabaloo) prompted the introduction of tenure as a mechanism for routinely getting rid of people after a specified amount of time. Personally, I don’t think tenure has anything to do with academic freedom (I’ll argue that elsewhere), and agree with T that associating AF closely with the idea that the faculty should make all the important hiring decisions brings AF into disrepute. I don’t think tenure is a great idea, and certainly academics should not have a right to a job for life (unless everybody does!): the point is that tenure was introduced as a move away from jobs for life (and, I believe, for most of its history it did have the function of reducing de facto job security relative to the real alternatives — not now, though, which is one reason it is under fire [maybe under fire is an exaggeration — perhaps “enduring mild criticism” is a better way of putting it]).

Full disclosure: I’m tenured at a state flagship.

88

Thornton Hall 09.05.14 at 5:58 am

@68 You have no idea how much beer pong I played as an undergraduate. No idea.

89

ZM 09.05.14 at 6:09 am

Thornton Hall,

“As for who was poor, etc. I have never ever met anyone who had ever alluded to being related to a rich person in the Depression. As far as the anecdotal evidence is concerned, poverty was universal. “

You are mistaken about this. Our ABC public tv broadcaster played a documentary on Australia recently – with an episode on the Great Depression. The poverty of the Great Depression was unevenly felt – there were images of poor people dressed in clothes not more than rags and going door to door begging for work or food. But some people were having a grand time buzzing about in early motor cars and going dancing and having all sorts of fun.

90

godoggo 09.05.14 at 6:15 am

Well I got Thornton’s point anyway.

91

Thornton Hall 09.05.14 at 6:19 am

@89 The context is lost over the oceans, I am afraid. In the States we have a joke: if everyone who says they were at Woodstock was actually at the concert, the crowd would have filled the entire state (or whatever).

My point is similar, everyone (white) tells the story of their noble grandfather who triumphed over poverty. If all the stories were true, then there were no rich people during the depression.

But… There *were* rich people during the Depression, therefore…

92

ZM 09.05.14 at 6:43 am

Oh, sorry, my misreading.

93

dax 09.05.14 at 8:02 am

“Universities like to think of themselves as removed from all of this. More and more, they are not.”

As others I’d take issue with “more and more.” American universities are of, by, and for the rich. This is a surprise? American society is of, by, and for the rich. While I sympathise with academics who would like to think they have agency, they are just cogs in the machine, and the machine is bigger than they.

94

Barry 09.05.14 at 2:06 pm

harry b: “Personally, I don’t think tenure has anything to do with academic freedom (I’ll argue that elsewhere), and agree with T that associating AF closely with the idea that the faculty should make all the important hiring decisions brings AF into disrepute. I don’t think tenure is a great idea, and certainly academics should not have a right to a job for life (unless everybody does!): the point is that tenure was introduced as a move away from jobs for life (and, I believe, for most of its history it did have the function of reducing de facto job security relative to the real alternatives — not now, though, which is one reason it is under fire [maybe under fire is an exaggeration — perhaps “enduring mild criticism” is a better way of putting it]).”

Considering the effect of tenure, your argument is strange.

95

TM 09.05.14 at 2:49 pm

What I find remarkable is not just that US Universities are run that way but that there is zero to negligible public debate about the arrangement – even within Academia. In fact this is the first time I have seen somebody even comment on the topic in a way suggesting that things might necessarily have to be organized this way. I once in a forum commented on the oddity that the state University is run by the governor’s lawyer and banker friends, excluding anybody with the slightest connection to higher education. I found that this isn’t talked about in polite company.

96

matt w 09.05.14 at 3:00 pm

@79: Yes, I think it is unfortunate when the university is financially dependent on people who think it’s their right to have a say in the hiring process.

You haven’t made a substantive argument on the merits here, only predictions of what will happen, but I didn’t make much of a substantive argument either, so let me expand. Should every stakeholder get a say in the grading process? It is, after all, very very important for the people involved; why do we give nearly total control of it to the faculty? (And it would not be at all difficult for the upper administration and trustees to exercise as much control over this as they do over tenure and hiring; they could hold a nominal batch vote over it every semester, except when a particular case comes up that someone has a special interest in, and then they could change it.)

Well, we recognize surely that a grading system under which the trustees get to sign off on the grades and where they actually intervened in the rare cases in which it makes a difference would be a bad system. It wouldn’t really be a grading system at all, in fact. If the son of a donor gets to have his grade raised when he kicks up a stink about it to the fundraisers, the university has abdicated its role as an evaluator of students’ academic work. (This has already happened, or always been the case, in admissions; that’s a problem too.)

Now let’s think of the tenure process. What’s wrong with a system where trustees play a real substantive role in the tenure process? Well, ideally the purpose of research in a university is to follow inquiry wherever it may lead and to allow ideas to be judged on their merits. The tenure process is supposed to be part of that; professors are judged for tenure on the merits of their work rather than on whether some vested interests don’t like it. (Ideally.) But your idea, where “stakeholders” get a voice in the process, would allow professors to be turned down for tenured positions or fired because some rich donor didn’t like the conclusion of their work. It doesn’t let ideas win out on their merits as experts judge them, but on whether the rich donors approve of them.

So in both case, once we let donors start throwing their weight around, they’re not getting what they’re ostensibly paying for. They aren’t getting a university that honestly evaluates students or that honestly evaluates ideas. If donors decide that universities need to be turned into think tanks where anyone who strays too far from the party line gets thrown out, that would be unfortunate indeed.

(By the way I don’t really think that faculty should have complete control of tenure; we don’t have complete control of grading either. In both cases there are ways for the central administration to intervene. But it needs to happen the right way and for the right reasons, according to established procedures. Having the chancellor decide to interfere on orders from the money people after an organized pressure campaign is obviously not it.)

In light of harry b’s 87, I don’t think that tenure is particularly essential to this argument. What’s essential is that academic decisions, whatever they are, need to be made by academic people for academic reasons. “Who pays the piper calls the tune,” which is what T is proposing, is completely inimical to academic freedom–and to the running of any decent organization funded by donations, pretty much. If the funders of the symphony orchestra demand to decide on auditions themselves, you won’t have a great orchestra either.

97

T 09.05.14 at 3:24 pm

@95
Feature, not bug. Just as there is civilian control of the military often from a president and a sec. of defense with no military experience, a university board provides civilian/citizen/taxpayer oversight. (A board chosen by the governor and approved by the legislature.) And, as with the pres. and sec. of defense, some boards are good and some of them suck. Isn’t that how representative democracy works?

On a completely different topic it seems that the tone Dr. Salaita’s tweets were not in reaction to the Gaza war — it’s his normal tone of discourse. Also, someone has tried to scrub the record. Wonder who? Note the article is from someone who is not his political friend. But he has found Salaita’s book reviews in Salaita’s own words. They read a lot like the tweets. Not saying they aren’t covered by academic freedom. But the idea that the Gaza war set him off doesn’t hold much water anymore. That’s pretty much who he is. http://www.washingtonpost.com/news/volokh-conspiracy/wp/2014/09/03/steven-salaita-more-than-just-an-obnoxious-tweeter/

98

J Thomas 09.05.14 at 3:40 pm

People think of wages as an exchange. You work so much, and you get so much money. But it isn’t.

Employees work because they expect to be rewarded, and employers pay for work done because they expect to see more excellent work done. It would be rational for employers to stiff employees for their last paycheck, except that it’s illegal. The point of paying people is to get them to come back and work again — if you don’t need them any more why do things to get them to come back?

When an employer wants employees to work hard and think hard about what they’re doing and maybe be creative to get excellent results, he holds out the possibility of bonuses and raises. The successful workers get bonuses not so much because that was the deal, more that it’s important to convince people that they actually have a chance to get them. When employees get the idea they will not be rewarded for their outstanding efforts then it’s time to fire them or put them to work doing drudgery that doesn’t need any sort of excellence.

Tenure is only an extreme version of this. Young people finish college and work on an advanced degree. Likely they get some sort of stipend that lets them live modestly for 4+ years while they put their souls into their work, and also assist in teaching and/or research. Then if they are research-oriented they get to do two or three low-paid post-doc gigs, working hard while they write grant applications in their spare time. Or if they get into a tenure-track position, they get to work very hard for low pay, typically for seven years. Then they either get tenure or they get kicked out.

Say there are three people in tenure-track positions and one of them makes it. That’s 21 years of very hard work in exchange for 1 lifetime sinecure. Not such a bad deal for the school. The tenure has almost paid for itself before it starts, and it’s also possible to get some work out of people after they get tenure too.

Part of the reason the tenure-track system has withered is that schools don’t care so much about the difference between the desperate work they get out of tenure-track faculty versus the laid-back results from adjunct faculty who are paid so little they hardly care whether they keep the job. (Or desperate ones who need their pittance to survive.)

Another part is that it’s likely that the number of students will drop in coming years, and it’s bad to have an overload of tenured faculty when admissions are down.

But underneath the arguments about fairness and academic freedom etc, it isn’t that different from a law firm that *might* invite a brilliant young employee to become a full partner. The point is to get a whole lot of high-quality work based on the possibility, and then you have to give somebody the award so the next batch will think it’s possible.

A whole lot like a lottery, except instead of buying lottery tickets workers instead put in years of low-pay hard work. For their hope.

And that’s part of the problem with the Salaita thing. Everybody who has tenure or is working for tenure gets the idea that even after they have made their sacrifices and won their lottery, it could all get taken away if the administration doesn’t like some of their tweets.

It subverts the system. Why work hard for seven years hoping for tenure, if you in fact don’t even get tenure out of it?

If a lottery winner gets enough money to be set for life, and then the lottery administration says “We’ve decided you’re not a good enough person to deserve this lottery so we’re keeping the money”, a whole lot of people will stop buying lottery tickets. Why buy a ticket if you don’t win even after you win?

99

Rich Puchalsky 09.05.14 at 3:41 pm

“On a completely different topic it seems that the tone Dr. Salaita’s tweets were not in reaction to the Gaza war — it’s his normal tone of discourse. “

I wonder what we’d find out about you, “T”, if you were brave enough to use your real name? I can pretty much guarantee that you would be fired from any job you hold if you had an energetic, ideologically motivated group of people looking over your history of writing things on the Internet and citing a sentence here or there.

So much of the tone scolding implicitly depends on pseudonymity holding up. So much of it is, itself, pseudonymous. What’s going to happen the first time the NSA is convinced to informally break all the pseudonyms on somebody?

100

William Timberman 09.05.14 at 3:47 pm

The arguments about tenure, and about who’s a stakeholder and who isn’t in hiring decisions haven’t been resolved here, and probably couldn’t be, given the complex history of the university as a cultural artifact. With respect to U.S. public universities, if the faculty, considered as a whole, wanted a greater influence in the governance of its institutions, the evidence suggests that early on in the post-war period it was there for the taking, donors notwithstanding.

It’s much too late now to puzzle over how it came to be that the rich have decided to wield the power conceded to them, and it may well be too early to mount a counterattack with any hope of support outside the campus. Make no mistake, though. This is about power, not about rules — a danse apache, not a minuet. You snooze, you lose.

101

Lynne 09.05.14 at 3:53 pm

Maybe sometimes universities are highly responsive to ordinary people, too. On Corey’s blog he reports that both Phyllis Wise and one of the trustees have expressed some regrets about “how it was handled”. The trustee claims not to know how things will go at the board meeting, but I am encouraged to think that here the trustees might be responding to the public pressure—indeed, the trustee alludes to the consequences of the firing. Anyway, it was nice to read today as yesterday I laboriously sent 16 e-mails one by one by one, and just look what happened!

102

AcademicLurker 09.05.14 at 3:56 pm

matt w & J Thomas:

I suspect that arguing based on outcomes in this thread is a waste of time. For the authoritarian, “reinforce the hierarchy” takes precedence over all other considerations. What matters here is that there be a public display of the fact that a rich donor can crush a mere faculty member regardless of what the established procedures are. If that leads to a lesser quality university, that’s a fair price to pay in the eyes of someone who craves hierarchy above all else.

103

Ronan(rf) 09.05.14 at 4:00 pm

@97 – I’d be interested if someone actually critqued his work strongly, which it seems could be done, and attacked his appointment from that perspective (rather than all this silliness looking at his twitter account and goodreads reviews, which is pretty juvenile)

104

Ronan(rf) 09.05.14 at 4:03 pm

Also, I didn’t ever really read the volokh Conspiracy with any consistency, but wasn’t the consensus around there in favour of torture during the WOT ?

105

Harold 09.05.14 at 4:16 pm

97 – The governor and his banker friends may be more interested in building football stadiums and other concrete buildings or — in the worst case — in administrative jobs for their political and financial cronies — than in assuring affordable tuition, student safety, a responsible curriculum and decent working conditions for academic workers. Recently, if I recall, friends of the governor of Virginia tried to oust the university president because she wouldn’t close down academic departments in favor of business ones (I am simplifying horribly, because I don’t remember the details). This is not a new problem, unfortunately, but has existed from the beginning of the state university system, as witness the conflict in 1916 between the Regents of the University of Texas and UT President Vinson and Governor Edward (“Pa”) Ferguson (and his later wife, “Ma” Ferguson, who was elected in her husband’s stead after his impeachment for financial irregularities). https://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/online/articles/ffe05

Early in his second term [Governor Ferguson] became involved in a serious quarrel with the University of Texas. The controversy grew out of the refusal of the board of regents to remove certain faculty members whom the governor found objectionable. When Ferguson found that he could not have his way, he vetoed practically the entire appropriation for the university.

106

Joshua W. Burton 09.05.14 at 4:34 pm

Rich Puchalsky @99: So much of the tone scolding implicitly depends on pseudonymity holding up. So much of it is, itself, pseudonymous.

Oh, dear. On the one hand, I entirely agree with the point of principle: treating anonymoids as if they were actual people inevitably leads to a general lowering of the tone of discourse. On the other hand, what a feeble defense of Salaita this is — attacking the reporter, when the reviews are (or were, before 6079 Smith W clocked in) verifiable with a click?

So . . . a general offer. “T”, or any letter, Unicode symbol or string who is so inclined, has unrestricted license to cite any independently verifiable fact in my name, subject to my ability to verify it and repudiate if I can’t. If the name that Google and the TSA know me by is insufficient, I’m known in better places as יהושע בן מתיתיהו ומרים (Joshua son of Matthew and Miriam if the back end isn’t Unicode clean), and I’ll stake that reputation as well on the existence of citations that exist. I’ve been online since 1982; there should be plenty of mud to dig up if Mr. Puchalsky thinks he can throw it without losing ground.

107

T 09.05.14 at 4:51 pm

@96
When the statutes governing the board — statutes passed by the legislature and signed by the governor — says the Board should review each students grades, I’ll start listening to the analogy. As of now, not so much.

As for the tenured faculty, they have incredible amounts of power — they have a job for life, they can say whatever the hell they want, and they have no mandatory retirement age. If Salaita was in fact tenured at U of I, no one on this thread or any other I’ve seen thinks his job would be in jeopardy. His lack of tenure (or that his tenure was in dispute) created the situation in the first place. A cynical person could argue that the vast majority of the ruckus was generated by tenured faculty who saw the lateral loophole as a huge threat to lifetime employment and that the AF issue was secondary at best. (I definitely do not place our hosts in this group.) I can’t recall the tenured professoriate making this much noise when anyone else was denied tenure.

The rarity of board intervention also speaks to the faculties hiring power. But no intervention? That’s the attitude that gets funding cut. Give me your money and fuck off isn’t likely to win friends.

108

T 09.05.14 at 5:09 pm

@105

I think your examples kinda prove my point. In the case of UVA, a very conservative Board member hooked up w/Hoover Institute types and some hedge fund alum tried a coup on UVA President Sullivan. It was other alum, parents of students who were footing the bill, and eventually the faculty that stopped the coup. In the case of Texas, the board stood up to the governor to protect the faculty. In the Salaita case, the board, alums and the student senate were not supportive.

And let’s not even get into the politics of faculty hiring. Do you think it was a coincidence that Robert Warrior’s former graduate student got the offer at U of I? Are you in the market for a bridge to buy?

109

Barry 09.05.14 at 5:22 pm

Ronan(rf) 09.05.14 at 4:03 pm
“Also, I didn’t ever really read the volokh Conspiracy with any consistency, but wasn’t the consensus around there in favour of torture during the WOT ?”

One of the clear reasons why ‘civility’ and ‘won’t some students feel uncomfortable’ are flat-out lies is things like this. In addition, IIRC, Alan Dershowitz came out for mass murder of civilians during the last Israel-Lebanon war, and for torture after 9/11 (and it wouldn’t be people suspiciously close to the Israeli government who’d be tortured). We will never hear about him being disinvited from speaking, because he’d never be disinvited.

John Yoo has conspired to torture and murder prisoners, and is not only still a professor, but also a member of the California bar.

110

T 09.05.14 at 5:33 pm

Barry
Tenure. Salaita would be home free if he had tenure. Personally, I wish there was a more active Board regarding Mr. Yoo. Don’t you?

111

Harold 09.05.14 at 5:40 pm

T — In the Texas example, the board won a victory, it is true, but a few years later Ferguson was back, ruling through his wife, who fired the board and replaced them with people more congenial to herself and her husband.

The current state of the universities (perhaps excluding the U of Texas, I don’t kow), IMO, particularly the iniquitous treatment of part-time and non-tenured faculty, and the makeup of certain economics departments, shows that faculty power is indeed limited and the concrete and real estate industries, often in conjunction with arms manufactures such as the Olin corporation, Wall Street, and the security state, have more influence than is healthy on today’s campuses.

As far as tenure, faculty cannot say or do anything they want. They can be fired for cause and non-tenured faculty, who are the majority of employees, have no protection at all.

Personally, however, I believe that mandatory retirement laws are fair, especially when jobs for younger people are scarce. My late FIL thought so, too, and that is why he voluntarily chose to retire at the age of 70, though still of sound mind and in good health.

112

T 09.05.14 at 5:58 pm

Harold @111
It’s pretty difficult to get canned once tenure is granted. Those instances are very rare indeed. Not so for the non-tenured. You’ll note that most of the support from Salaita came from the tenured crowd.

As I’ve noted earlier, I think one of the old norms that was broken by tenured faculty was honesty with graduate students and applicants. Humanities departments in particular have recruited graduate students into programs where there is little or no chance for future academic employment. Tenured faculty gain in higher prestige (always better to to in a PhD granting program) and lower workload by having grad students around. Maybe they should tell folks before they enter what is turning into a nine year commitment that they have a 10% chance of getting a tenure-track position.

113

Rich Puchalsky 09.05.14 at 6:06 pm

“On the other hand, what a feeble defense of Salaita this is — attacking the reporter, when the reviews are (or were, before 6079 Smith W clocked in) verifiable with a click?”

I’m not surprised at all that you don’t get it. Of course the reviews are “verifiable”: Saliata would not have left them under his name if he hadn’t meant them to be associated with his name. But it takes a special kind of person to look at a collection of Amazon book reviews and say that these are evidence one way or another of someone’s academic qualifications.

As for digging up dirt on you personally, I’m not “an energetic, ideologically motivated group of people”, so I don’t see why I should do it just to prove it can be done. I would expect that as a tone scolder you’d put your more offensive writing under a pseudonym anyways, and I — unlike people in authority in the U.S. — don’t have the resources to track down which pseudonyms you use, and for that matter which porn site you frequent. But if those are the standards that become generally used, then all that will happen.

114

MPAVictoria 09.05.14 at 6:25 pm

“treating anonymoids as if they were actual people inevitably leads to a general lowering of the tone of discourse”

Those of us without power and with something to lose choose not to let our full identities be know. I don’t think that makes our comments less valuable.

115

Joshua W. Burton 09.05.14 at 6:27 pm

Rich Puchalsky @113: I would expect that as a tone scolder you’d put your more offensive writing under a pseudonym anyways, and I — unlike people in authority in the U.S. — don’t have the resources to track down which pseudonyms you use, and for that matter which porn site you frequent.

One of the nice fringe benefits of having a real name is being able to respond to the insult direct by cutting vulgar people dead, on the record. Good day to you, Mr. Puchalsky.

116

Corey Robin 09.05.14 at 6:38 pm

T: “You’ll note that most of the support from Salaita came from the tenured crowd.”

Proof please? The largest number of signatories on any one boycott statement (aside from the general one) is one organized entirely by and for graduate students. I know on several of the other statements — because their organizers told me — that the majority of signatures came from assistant professors.

So please provide me with actual evidence for your claim.

117

Joshua W. Burton 09.05.14 at 6:45 pm

MPAVictoria @114: Those of us without power and with something to lose choose not to let our full identities be know. I don’t think that makes our comments less valuable.

Indeed, and I view the unfair debility you labor under as both proper and unfortunate; I seem to recall that I expanded on this point in a thread about pseudonymity here, a few years ago. My quaint view on the subject is that something like chivalry is called for: named people have a moral obligation to lend their public voices to the rightful service of the anonymous and voiceless, and to the pseudonymous who are still earning a voice. If we fail to do this creditably, let the guillotines fall and the red flags wave, and I will wear the name of Citoyen with good humor. Meanwhile, when I see the right, I will defend even a lowly single consonant with the full force of my verifiable humanity.

118

bianca steele 09.05.14 at 8:10 pm

@106

A quick look at Google shows nothing that proves you’re a real person. Even if it did show “you” were a real person, it shows nothing that proves you are the person with that name. In fact, your vehemence about the subject, like your unwillingness to consider limitations on “sounds like a real name” as a criterion for being civil to people, suggests you’re not.

119

Joshua W. Burton 09.05.14 at 9:52 pm

A quick look at Google shows nothing that proves you’re a real person.

Odd — I turn up this, this and this, all on page 1. The phone number in the last one is correct if you still doubt and care, but please don’t call us until after the sabbath.

120

bianca steele 09.05.14 at 11:17 pm

Odd–high-energy physics sites don’t show up on my page 1. What a surprise. So at best your argument is that if you use a name that sounds real, I should treat you better than someone who only uses their first name, because maybe your name will show up in a search engine, and maybe I’ll find that all the things you said about yourself are things I can find on the search engine. I’m really supposed to believe you take that seriously. I congratulate CT on finally getting a live one.

121

J Thomas 09.06.14 at 1:24 am

You can call his phone number at (XXX) XXX-XXXX

If the person who answers claims to be the Josh Burton who posts on Crooked Timber, then at the very least it’s an elaborate ID scheme and not just a name chosen at random. If you find a job that this Josh Burton works at, and try to get him fired, you are probably trying to get the right person fired. It’s possible that it’s an elaborate scheme where somebody pretends to be their enemy hoping to use random people on the internet to get the enemy fired, but most likely not.

122

LFC 09.06.14 at 2:13 am

J Thomas
I find your comment @121 to be kind of absurd. Having read his comments here for some time and having also done a brief Google search out of curiosity (which proved a little bit more informative than bianca steele’s search apparently did), I have no doubt *at all* that Joshua W. Burton is who he says and that there is no “scheme” here of the sort you speculate about.

I also find this whole discussion of pseudonymity etc. to be quite unproductive. People have all kinds of reasons for using, or not using as the case may be, their full names on blog comment threads and/or elsewhere, and I think whether someone uses initials (or one initial), a pseudonym, a first name, or a full name should make, generally speaking, no difference in how their comments are viewed.

123

Rich Puchalsky 09.06.14 at 2:35 am

“I think whether someone uses initials (or one initial), a pseudonym, a first name, or a full name should make, generally speaking, no difference in how their comments are viewed.”

Salaita is being viewed quite differently because he used his full name rather than a pseudonym. The people who are tone scolding him agree that he should be looked at differently because he didn’t use a pseudonym.

124

J Thomas 09.06.14 at 3:34 am

#122 LFC

I find your comment @121 to be kind of absurd.

You are welcome to.

The situation is absurd.

Public figures very often have multiple speech-writers who decide what they will say. Saddam went further, and let it be publicly known that he often sent around body doubles to deliver the speeches. Increasingly a public figure is a packaged product that needn’t be all that dependent on any individual human being.

And internet trolls? Some of them are committees. If you can write with the proper style and the proper tone and slant, and you have the right connections, you can be on the team.

It doesn’t take much to build a fake online background. Who’s going to check? Mostly, you’re you if you answer email sent to the email address you provided.

A snailmail address? A phone number? Easy, but there is somebody to find. Voice prints, fingerprints on letters, etc. Taking it to extremes, it would be hard to fake a dissertation at a prestigious university, but there are lots of people who get dissertations and then drift away to do something unrelated. Choose the name, look for their online habits, you can find one who is unlikely to notice if you use his name. Can and will the university find him if random bloggers ask them to?

A manufactured troll could work for a small business and the business itself can be fake. So long as government doesn’t ask questions, who would check?

He can have a job in a large business provided the right member of HR is on the team. They don’t have to make actual paychecks and tax records.

It takes some skills, and people who have too much of the opposite skills can catch them. But it is not at all implausible that a group who wanted to create a fake persona could fool a bunch of bloggers for decades. Provided the FBI etc did not get interested.

Why would they bother? I don’t know. I don’t know why they would bother to be trolls in the first place.

It’s an absurd world. And all the men and women merely players: They have their exits and their entrances; And one man in his time plays many parts.

125

js. 09.06.14 at 6:28 am

I think whether someone uses initials (or one initial), a pseudonym, a first name, or a full name should make, generally speaking, no difference in how their comments are viewed.

The “should” is totally right. But part of what’s quite excellent about bianca steele’s responses to Joshua W. Burton’s posts in this thread is that JWB was really quite explicitly insisting* that he deserves an extra dose of respect because he uses a google-able name. And that is ridiculous.

*Private to Joshua W. Burton: If I may humbly ask, please try not to turn the entire weight of your immense wit and sophistication (not to mention wisdom and insight!) on me all at once. A lowly being like me might just die, like, instantly!

126

novakant 09.06.14 at 7:31 am

#109

That might be the case for Volokh, but I fail to see how it applies to everybody else criticising Salaita – for all I care you can fire Too and Dershowitz tomorrow. And I don’t even have a strong opinion on Salaita’s dehiring, I just think that many of those defending his behaviour go to extraordinary lengths and seem to be unable to recognize differing viewpoints as valid. This is partly understandable since reasoned argument and political campaigning seldom go together well, but it makes the resulting discussion not very fruitful.

127

Barry 09.06.14 at 12:56 pm

Novakant, my point was that such people don’t face the same pressure. ‘Civility’ is very much a one-way street.

128

J Thomas 09.06.14 at 1:22 pm

#126 Novakant

That might be the case for Volokh, but I fail to see how it applies to everybody else criticising Salaita – for all I care you can fire Too and Dershowitz tomorrow. And I don’t even have a strong opinion on Salaita’s dehiring, I just think that many of those defending his behaviour go to extraordinary lengths and seem to be unable to recognize differing viewpoints as valid.

I tend to agree with that.

On the one hand we have the general argument about academic freedom. That’s mixed in with what’s basicly a union/management dispute. People who aren’t in the union are often not that interested. Sure, academics are special and deserve special privileges, but are they *that* special? If we’re going to treat them special then we shouldn’t ever see them acting like normal human beings, right? And shouldn’t we get academic freedom for everybody? It would be easy to pass a rule about it for government employees, but it’s already hard to fire government employees for cause but easy to fire them for redundancy and it’s easy to decide the job is redundant.

Then there’s the specific case.

http://www.nea.org/home/33067.htm

Tenure is simply a right to due process; it means that a college or university cannot fire a tenured professor without presenting evidence that the professor is incompetent or behaves unprofessionally or that an academic department needs to be closed or the school is in serious financial difficulty. Nationally, about 2 percent of tenured faculty are dismissed in a typical year.

Two percent per year! And nobody argues about most of them.

But this is a special case. He lost his tenure because he opposes Israel. Zionists say it’s because he was uncivil, as if they would not have minded him opposing Israel if he was more polite. That’s because they don’t want to admit that they oppose him because he opposes Israel.

Nobody says those tweets are worth a firing except for some zionists.

People who are concerned that the Zionist lobby is too strong naturally tend to support Salaita, along with people who care about tenure. And people who pay attention, who think tweets during the latest atrocities in Gaza aren’t worth firing. He obviously did not get any hint of due process, but it was a special case where it could be argued that because he was transferring from one university to another he did not have tenure anywhere. Needless to say this alarms people with tenure who might want to transfer someday.

It’s entirely a judgement call. Are those tweets worth firing for? Of course people disagree. Even people who think that *some* tweets would be worth firing for are likely to disagree about these. (And it can go the other way, Zionists who have a long history of struggling for academic freedom can decide that *these* tweets are worth firing for.)

Although it’s entirely a judgement call and not objective, we can’t expect people to just agree to disagree when an innocent man’s career is being destroyed.

Now zionists are saying his research is inadequate. They scrutinize his research looking for things that are not fully scientific. But there are plenty of women’s studies faculty whose research is emphatically worse, and they don’t go after them. They oppose him because he opposes Israel.

129

Rich Puchalsky 09.06.14 at 1:55 pm

“‘Civility’ is very much a one-way street.”

Civility is only ever deployed as a weapon. If Salaita had made his tweets pseudonymously, no one would seriously say that this was an inherently morally flawed act that demonstrates his unfitness to teach. He’s just supposed to have shown insufficient hypocrisy. The defenders of civility are the worst members of the public sphere, because they’re always trying to get people punished for speech.

130

bianca steele 09.06.14 at 2:13 pm

I can replicate LFC’s results, but just barely, even using all the information JWB’s dropped about himself in the past couple of months, and even using multiple search engines and turning on anonymous browsing. There are dozens of Joshua Burton’s in the US. Some of them probably even have overlapping opinions. If you’re going to go to the trouble of stalking them and finding out as much information online about them as you can, are you then going to confront them and ask them whether they’re the one you found?

My point isn’t that JWB might be trolling us, though, but that even if he isn’t, “I can find this one man in the white pages, therefore I believe the chances are about 100% that a fullname person is not a troll and a funny-named person is,” is not good reasoning.

Suppose I started using a full name here, and my initials just happened to be “LC,” or my name just happened to be “Meredith” or “Belle.” Would your first thought be that that was my name, or that I was trolling those people?

In fact, there are hundreds of people in the US with my real name (at least–there seems to be a max results of 100 for each search). If “John Smith” started posting here, would you assume he was a real person?

If half the commenters would react to my choice of name one way, and half would react a different way, whose opinion should I care about? What if the proportions were different?

If JWB is who he says he is, he’s been around long enough to know all that, and he should know that the fact that his online presentation gets respect is tied up with the fact that others’ perfectly presentable ones don’t, for various reasons.

131

LFC 09.06.14 at 2:49 pm

js.:
JWB was really quite explicitly insisting that he deserves an extra dose of respect because he uses a google-able name. And that is ridiculous.

I agree (as I think my previous comment indicates).

132

LFC 09.06.14 at 3:05 pm

R. Puchalsky:
If Salaita had made his tweets pseudonymously, no one would seriously say that this was an inherently morally flawed act that demonstrates his unfitness to teach.

I don’t understand this line of reasoning (or in the previous Puchalsky comments on this issue). My impression is that those who think Salaita’s tweets show his unfitness to teach are reacting primarily to the content of the tweets, not the fact that he tweeted under his real name. If he had tweeted the same things under a pseudonym and people had then discovered that the pseudonym was Salaita’s, those objecting and finding him unfit to teach would presumably have exactly the same objections they have now. To repeat, I believe it is the content of the tweets, not the name under which they were delivered, that the objectors find objectionable. If the real-name tweets allegedly indicate his bias etc. as a teacher, pseudonymous tweets would do so as well. (He doesn’t appear in the classroom as a pseudonym, after all.)

133

LFC 09.06.14 at 3:07 pm

P.s. I don’t agree with the objectors, I’m just stating what I understand to be the basis for their objection.

134

Anarcissie 09.06.14 at 3:23 pm

A message under a pseudonym is somewhat different than one under one’s ‘real’ name. In the latter case, one is invoking one persona, one’s personnage, one’s public image, which may change or emphasize the meaning of the message, since the author is saying not only ‘this is what I think’ but ‘this is who I am.’ Even on Twitter, which seems designed to attract triviality and random dumb hostility.

However, given the relative mildness of Salaita’s remarks in an Internet context, I think there must be more going on than the Twitter stuff.

135

Rich Puchalsky 09.06.14 at 6:21 pm

“If he had tweeted the same things under a pseudonym and people had then discovered that the pseudonym was Salaita’s, those objecting and finding him unfit to teach would presumably have exactly the same objections they have now.”

I disagree. The sentence above is written under the assumption that Salaita’s detractors are honest, which they are not. People who are actually civil don’t go around telling everyone how civil they are and how comparatively uncivil other people are. What they object to is precisely the public conjunction of Salaita’s identity with his views. If he’d pre-silenced himself to the extent of choosing a pseudonym and having his remarks join the great mass of random tweets that no one pays any attention to, they would have been satisfied with that.

With one exception. Since the point is to destroy Salaita, not to defend civility or a non-hostile classroom or whatever else, if his pseudonym had been discovered after people had already raised a scandal for some other reason then the fact that he’d used a pseudonym would itself become a reason to fire him. The defenders of civility who currently defend pseudonymity would reverse themselves.

136

Joshua W. Burton 09.07.14 at 2:17 am

Private to js. @125. Thanks for some kind words, but I do hope I never take myself that seriously. My actual belief is a bit subtler, and my analogy between “named person” in blogspace and “gentleman” in some more-or-less mythical past (probably the Rev. Endicott Peabody channeling the Duke of Wellington) is precise and narrowly limited. A gentleman takes it as a point of honor not to claim an extra dose of respect, or an extra anything not due to every citizen. He is held to an extra dose of accountability (“much has been given, much is expected”), and lives his life always knowing that “a halo need slip only a few inches to become a noose.”

I believe that people who speak under constraint of an indelible name (and who, by the way, shut up when that burden is too heavy, leading to modest paper trails) create self-policed safe spaces that are highly desirable as to tone. I believe they often improve the tone of others, by their example. I’ve believed that since relatively early Usenet days, and am comfortable with owning every word of my last thirty-odd years of nonsense, which is good because DejaGoogle kept an amazing amount of it. I recognize, pace MPAVictoria @114, that all privilege, including privilege never asserted but held as a private conceit, is exclusionary, and that inclusiveness is also a precious value in free discourse. I don’t have a full answer to this antinomy, but I think her (?) goal here is generally a higher one than mine, further inclining me to keep my conceits to myself.

So . . . almost the only thing that would actually provoke me to assert a privilege of non-anonymity is seeing someone else unfairly abused for not having it. The scrub who was bullying “T” @97, not for what he said but for being anonymous, deserved to be spanked by someone with a name who could make the same (objective, unrefuted) point. The chance to do so was personally gratifying, and having the scrub write his own ticket by doubling down on me was even better.

Whatever the larger merits of his case, I do admire Dr. Salaita for taking a similar view to mine of reputation capital: for better or worse, he has a name.

137

Joshua W. Burton 09.07.14 at 2:25 am

Oh, yes, and I think what’s-his-name @121 is a stinker for making my phone number machine searchable, after I went to some effort to phrase my response in a way that offered it for authentication (through some commercial link that will probably go stale in weeks or months) without spelling it out on a site that may be up for decades. I’m starting to think he doesn’t like me, if you want to know the truth.

138

MPAVictoria 09.07.14 at 3:38 am

“I think what’s-his-name @121 is a stinker for making my phone number machine searchable”

I completely agree with you on that. I am sure that if you emailed management they would take it down.

” I don’t have a full answer to this antinomy, but I think her (?) goal here is generally a higher one than mine, further inclining me to keep my conceits to myself.”

Thank you? I think?

139

Rich Puchalsky 09.07.14 at 3:44 am

Never has anyone kept his conceits to himself at such length.

But of course he still doesn’t get it. T’s comments weren’t bad merely because T was pseudonymous. He was using pseudonymity specifically to scold Salaita’s “normal tone of discourse”, something he thinks that he could find out from Amazon book reviews only because Salaita was brave enough to write under his own name. (And if you don’t think Salaita was risking trouble in order to do so… well, see any number of threads here.)

140

Mike Schilling 09.07.14 at 4:30 am

121 is unconscionable. Someone with the power to to do should obfuscate the phone number immediately and consider banning J Thomas for some reasonable period of time.

141

Mike Schilling 09.07.14 at 4:33 am

The sentence above is written under the assumption that Salaita’s detractors are honest, which they are not.

Indeed. They are, after all, Zionsts, and thus the Other. Not that the Other, I mean we’re not bigots or anything, but, you know, another the Other.

142

js. 09.07.14 at 5:45 am

Thanks for some kind words

Classy!

A gentleman takes it as a point of honor not to claim an extra dose of respect, or an extra anything not due to every citizen.

Your concept of gentility differs from mine.

I believe that people who speak under constraint of an indelible name (and who, by the way, shut up when that burden is too heavy, leading to modest paper trails) create self-policed safe spaces that are highly desirable as to tone. I believe they often improve the tone of others, by their example.

Two perhaps seemingly contradictory responses: (1) I don’t give one solitary motherfucking shit about tone; (2) I find your tone repulsive.

I think that about covers it, don’t you?

143

Harold 09.07.14 at 6:25 am

Mr. Burton, are you implying that the authors of the Federalist Papers were not gentlemen? Sir Walter Scott not a gentleman? “Boz” (Charles Dickens) not a gentleman? Mark Twain not a gentleman? Or on the female side, George Elliot, George Sand, and the Brontes? Please. The practice of including a byline is a twentieth century phenomenon, in fact.

A person should be judged by what they say and do, not by who they are.

I’m Nobody! Who are you?
Are you – Nobody – too?
Then there’s a pair of us!
Don’t tell! they’d advertise – you know!

How dreary – to be – Somebody!
How public – like a Frog –
To tell one’s name – the livelong June –
To an admiring Bog!

144

Joshua W. Burton 09.07.14 at 6:46 am

Mr. Burton, are you implying. . . ?

No. I was making an analogy (between two situations, in different centuries, one of which involves names), but now I’m just letting my forehead fall repeatedly against the keyboard, and having spellcheck take it from there.

145

Joshua W. Burton 09.07.14 at 7:29 am

@117: I seem to recall that I expanded on this point in a thread about pseudonymity here, a few years ago.

Found it. As I hoped, I was talking about deploying stuffy convention to defend real victims there as well — in that case, against libel by the nameless, rather than bullying of the nameless. None of it matters, until someone puts out an I.

146

J Thomas 09.07.14 at 10:52 am

Oh, yes, and I think what’s-his-name @121 is a stinker for making my phone number machine searchable

I apologize. I did not notice how much anonymity you wanted.

I’m starting to think he doesn’t like me, if you want to know the truth.

I don’t understand you. I get ideas what you’re doing, and then each time you seem to be more complicated than that.

147

J Thomas 09.07.14 at 11:05 am

#141 Mike Schilling

“The sentence above is written under the assumption that Salaita’s detractors are honest, which they are not.”

Indeed. They are, after all, Zionsts, and thus the Other.

My observation is that some zionists believe they are acting for Israel, a nation which has been at war longer than many grandparents. They believe that Israel is under permanent existential threat, that any big failure could see every Israeli exterminated.

I find their behavior perfectly understandable and excusable under the circumstances. You can’t expect people at war to be completely honest and straightforward with their enemies or with neutrals. In a desperate fight for survival, no strategem is too despicable to attempt.

Not all zionists see it this way. But enough do to create a reputation for the whole class.

148

Henry 09.07.14 at 11:58 am

The phone number has been deleted. Please note, more generally, that using these comment threads in a way that may be perceived as trying to punish another commenter, even if you find him or her annoying, is liable to be treated seriously by the Management. Since the commenter had previously indirectly linked to his own phone number, I’m treating this as an ambiguous case. Please also note that civility is not just a topic of conversation, but something we try to maintain on this blog. The basic tone of argument – from several commenters with various stances – leaves a lot to be desired. While I obviously shall not be retaliating in ways that affect people’s livelihoods, I will close this thread, or alternatively disemvowel and use temporary or long term individual bans as needs be. You are all guests here. Guests are under an obligation to behave well if they want to stay at the party.

149

J Thomas 09.07.14 at 12:26 pm

Thank you, Henry.

150

bianca steele 09.07.14 at 2:39 pm

I think it’s a bad idea to post other people’s personal information without their permission, and for the hosts to take that down if they see it.

That said, I feel entitled to point out that the guy posted the link to his own phone number in an attempt to make me look stupid for not being able to find his phone number in a standard search engine.

151

Mike Schilling 09.07.14 at 2:44 pm

Not all zionists see it this way. But enough do to create a reputation for the whole class.

There’s a word for that kind of reasoning, and it isn’t a pretty one.

152

Joshua W. Burton 09.07.14 at 2:57 pm

bianca steele @150: in an attempt to make me look stupid

Not a bit — apologies!

153

Rich Puchalsky 09.07.14 at 3:00 pm

Without regard to personal cases — except that of Cary Nelson, who is something of a public figure with regard to this — my contention about Salaita’s detractors is empirically provable. They just don’t, as a group, evidence a deep concern about rude language and potentially hostile classroom environments in general, in cases not connected to this one. For instance, Cary Nelson defended Ward Churchill against being dismissed for the “little Eichmanns” comment and similar. None of them has to my knowledge proposed some kind of general effort to look at professor’s tweets and monitor them for signs that those professors are potentially making a hostile classroom environment for someone. (Thankfully.)

Instead, this has all the characteristics of a classic Internet mini-scandal, in which a group seizes on a case that is regarded as making an example. If Salaita is fired, then people will have been put on notice that they had better not publicly criticize Israel. They can do so under a pseudonym, but such criticism will not be academically respectable, and therefore more or less harmless. People therefore have every motive to go on a hunt for imagined dirt, as the Volokh person did with Salaita’s book reviews, because the deterrent effect operates to some extent even if Salaita doesn’t suffer official consequences.

The civility fetish works predictably as part of this. It is “civil” to not swear or sound angry while you go through someone’s Amazon book reviews, and to seriously try to make a case that someone is a bad academic for this reason. “Civility” means nasty, craven scandalmongering and gossip campaigns.

154

Joshua W. Burton 09.07.14 at 3:13 pm

Not a bit — apologies!

And mortified to be misunderstood that way. Please call me, bianca, if I need to say more offline to make it right.

155

bianca steele 09.07.14 at 3:58 pm

JB:

All’s fair, right? I meant to point out that since your assertion was that the page came up on page 1 of your search results, others might have been justified in concluding that no action any of us took could affect whether it was on an indexable page. But as J said, you’re quite complex, and must have meant something deeper than that (I won’t suggest it was just talk). You’re very kind to suggest I call you on the phone (I won’t even suggest, either, that it occurs to me that by “phone” you might mean “lymph node,” even), but it isn’t necessary.

This is OT and I don’t think it has to be continued. I’m happy to call it quits.

156

J Thomas 09.07.14 at 4:16 pm

#151 Mike Schilling

“Not all zionists see it this way. But enough do to create a reputation for the whole class.”

There’s a word for that kind of reasoning, and it isn’t a pretty one.

The word is “generalizing”.

So on this blog there are occasional comments about what conservatives are like, and the psychological syndrome that makes people be politically conservative.

Similarly, conservatives generalize about liberals, various people generalize about PETA members, people generalize about NRA members and gun owners, etc etc etc.

What makes it work is that the generalizations are born out by experience. While there may be many millions of responsible gun owners who do not fit the stereotypes, when a gun owner identifies himself as a gun owner and talks about his opinions, 95+% of the time he is a gun nut who matches everybody’s expectations of him.

There may be millions of libertarians that you would be glad to have as a next-door neighbor. But the ones that call themselves libertarians online usually act like — libertarians.

And zionists online tend to do whatever they can to make Israel look good, or at least fudge the evidence, They lie, they quote MEMRI, etc etc. I can’t blame them. In their position I would do the same.

I want to believe I’m on the side of the good guys. That in the long run, being a good guy is the path of survival. So I don’t like secrets. If the good guys I support are secretly acting like bad guys because they think that’s what works, I want to know. I want to look at their evidence that it’s necessary and see whether I’m convinced. If I disagree I want to persuade them to stop being bad guys. And if that fails, I will stop supporting them.

But what if I was in a war against intensely evil bad guys, and I had an alliance with some moderately bad guys. And our survival all depended on winning the war. You can’t have a big public argument about military tactics during a war, when the enemy can listen in. When it affects how neutrals respond to both sides. If there are evil people on your side you can’t just stop supporting them, when losing the war means people who are even more evil take over.

You don’t have to be evil to lie for Israel. You only have to be at war. Israel has been at war longer than most people have been alive. Longer than many grandparents have been alive.

157

Joshua W. Burton 09.07.14 at 4:37 pm

They lie, they quote MEMRI

Make up your mind.

158

J Thomas 09.08.14 at 3:05 pm

I can’t blame the MEMRI guys. They’re at war. Of course they do whatever they can to make their enemies look bad.

Anybody who believes them, it’s their own fault. Decide about somebody from what their enemies say about them? That isn’t “fool me twice”. That’s fool me once, shame on me.

But there’s an important problem from this stuff, namely blowback. It takes a special sort of double-think to spread the propaganda without believing it yourself. The natural way for things to go is the people who’re spreading it believe it more than anybody else does. And when those people have a say in tactics and even strategy, their false beliefs start to warp the reality. The false beliefs can’t be ignored when making choices, and so important choices get distorted by them. That can hurt you more than the propaganda helps.

But I’m just a kibitzer when it’s a question of how to run somebody else’s war. It’s none of my business except as it affects my own nation, and of course I want to see it ended with good results for everybody.

159

Rich Puchalsky 09.08.14 at 3:19 pm

J Thomas, if you set up the conditions so that you’re in eternal war, then you bear the responsibility for acting as if you’re in eternal war.

And I wasn’t generalizing about Zionists — there are plenty of Zionists who recognize, either for reasons of principle or of political efficacy, that it’s better not to try to get an academic de-hired over Tweets. I was generalizing about Salaita’s detractors. Both as a group and in terms of prominent individuals, they tend to come down on the other side of academic freedom disputes. Therefore, they don’t really think that rudeness as such means that Saliata should be dehired. If I have to repeat the obvious: this is about criticism of Israel.

160

J Thomas 09.08.14 at 10:53 pm

J Thomas, if you set up the conditions so that you’re in eternal war, then you bear the responsibility for acting as if you’re in eternal war.

That’s true, but the decision-making on that can be pretty diffuse. It looked like Rabin made a serious attempt to make peace, and he was assassinated by a lone gunman, and there has been no serious attempt ever again. Peace activists suffer discrimination of various sorts, and may get beaten up on the sidewalk by unknown assailants. Peace demonstrations get attacked by war demonstrations and then the police are likely to take the war side. I think if I was facing all that and I could get out, I might likely leave and lose most of my chance to make a difference. But I still would not want my country destroyed, even though I felt their policies were wrong-headed.

I was impressed with JWB’s friends who were working for peace in Israel, and then one line he wrote gave me the impression that what they were doing was, they found palestinians who were safe to talk to, and they talked to them to tell them to accept whatever terms Israel wanted to dish out. A “peace” movement that would be utterly safe from Israeli opposition. I wasn’t sure whether that was right, and I saw that without a lot of honesty it would be hard to find out.

When people get into war mode it’s very hard to get them out. You can say it’s their own responsibility, but once their minds are locked and loaded, they are victims themselves.

And I wasn’t generalizing about Zionists[….]

No, I was, and Mike Schilling was on the verge of trying to smear me for it.

I was generalizing about Salaita’s detractors. [….] If I have to repeat the obvious: this is about criticism of Israel.

Yes. Not all zionists are going after Salaita, but pretty much all who go after Salaita are zionists, and doing it primarily because they’re zionists.

161

Meredith 09.09.14 at 5:36 am

JThomas, “Israel has been at war longer than most people have been alive. Longer than many grandparents have been alive.” I can’t believe I am daring to enter here. (I am not a grandparent yet, thanks to my delaying children, but the modern state of Israel is only about my age. Yet I am still old enough, 63, to have known Holocaust survivors and many other Jews tired of Judaism’s being reduced to the Holocaust and the modern state of Israel.) Just to say, “Israel” (like “Next year, in Jersualem!) is a very large idea. A very wonderful, inspiring, moving, enlarging idea, that might just take us all (including Muslims) nearer to g-, and thereby to one another. So long as we don’t confuse Israel with a specific geographic place (or people, the last added by me as a Christian gentile).

162

J Thomas 09.09.14 at 11:09 am

I am still old enough, 63, to have known Holocaust survivors and many other Jews tired of Judaism’s being reduced to the Holocaust and the modern state of Israel.

Would you prefer I say “the state of Israel”? It’s only a little more typing.

Just to say, “Israel” (like “Next year, in Jersualem!) is a very large idea. A very wonderful, inspiring, moving, enlarging idea, that might just take us all (including Muslims) nearer to g-, and thereby to one another. So long as we don’t confuse Israel with a specific geographic place (or people, the last added by me as a Christian gentile).

And yet that has nothing to do with the permanent war that is central to the existence and meaning of the modern state of Israel.

163

T 09.09.14 at 9:07 pm

@116

Looked at a random sample of about 50 US faculty names from the main petition. Mostly associate and full profs. Significant majority from the humanities although some from social sciences. You’re free to google the rest.
It will interesting to see what the junior faculty do. They certainly don’t want to irritate the departmental folks that will vote on their tenure. It’s not like there is a shortage of PhDs in the humanities.

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