NEH Summer Institute Followup

by Kieran Healy on April 21, 2010

The other week I wrote about a report that a philosopher accepted to an NEH Summer Institute overseas “been given 12 hours to ‘demonstrate’ that she has full-time childcare arrangements for her son for the month of July that ‘are to the [completely unspecified] satisfaction’ of the Institute directors; if she fails to meet this requirement, she has been told her accceptance in the program will be withdrawn.” At the time, it seemed clear that there was no way an NEH-funded operation should be doing this and that, while there was some slim possibility of an explanation that made the whole episode seem reasonable, the Institute director or directors were very much more likely to be completely out of line in making such a demand. Well, guess what?

The National Endowment for the Humanities has apologized to a grant recipient who was told by the director of an NEH-financed seminar in Europe that she had 12 hours to demonstrate that she had adequate child care arrangements in place for her son or she would lose her spot. … An NEH spokeswoman, via e-mail, said Tuesday that the investigation by the endowment determined that the report “was, unfortunately, true. NEH has accepted full responsibility and apologized to the professor involved. We believe we are in the process of resolving the issue to her satisfaction. We have assured her that she is welcome to attend the institute to which she applied and, at her request, we have also extended the deadline to make it possible for her to apply for another seminar if she so chooses.” The spokeswoman added: “Asking an applicant to provide information regarding child care was inappropriate and should have had no bearing on the selection process. Qualified applicants who tell the NEH that they will participate full time in our programs should be taken at their word. We erred and are determined that it will not happen again.”


Eugenics and Guilt By Association

by John Holbo on April 21, 2010

[UPDATE: One of the CAP authors, John Halpin, showed up in comments to complain – very reasonably – that I linked to the wrong part of their three part series, and failed to make clear it was part of a series. (I copied it from Goldberg, in composing the post! Why would I assume that anything he does is right?) Anyway, here is Halprin’s response to my post, with links. Halprin also argues that he and his co-author handled some of the stuff I wanted included in part 3. I admit that I had only read parts 1 & 2 before writing the post – I though part 3 was still forthcoming – but it doesn’t seem to me that the material from part 3 he quotes is quite forceful or extensive enough to do the job, even given that it must be done briefly.]

Jonah Goldberg links, approvingly, to a Damon Root post at Reason, complaining about a new Center For American Progress paper entitled “The Progressive Intellectual Tradition In America” (PDF). Root’s complaint is fair, but only up to a point. Here’s the fair bit: the CAP paper is a feel-good affair. Nothing about uglier aspects or excesses of American Progressivism: specifically, racism and sexism, hence eugenics. (And imperialism, but let’s just stick with eugenics for this post.) Of course the obvious objection to that is that there was nothing distinctively Progressive about racism and sexism. It’s just that we are talking about the late 19th/early 20th Centuries here. Still, if you combine eugenics – even if it’s only average for the era – with political philosophy and policy you sure can get bad results. There’s no reason whatsoever to paste this ugly history on every single contemporary formulation of progressive political philosophy. If Barack Obama is giving a stump speech, and he delivers some applause line about progressive ideals, there is no reason for him to pause and add a pedantic footnote about eugenics and how some Progressives, and some people some Progressives admired as scientific authorities, believed ugly stuff a hundred years ago. But if you are writing a history, the presumption is that you want people to learn from history, and some of the major lessons of the Progressive Era are cautionary ones, philosophically and in terms of policy. I doubt the authors of these papers would deny this, so including a ‘cautionary lessons’ subsection would have been a better scheme. (If I had to guess, they’re thinking tactically. ‘If we mention this stuff, being careful to get all the necessary nuance in, someone like Jonah Goldberg will find it and quote it, carving out the nuance, and it will sound like even CAP admits that Progressivism = Eugenics.’ Still, if you are damned if you do, damned if you don’t, you should do the right thing and be damned.)

Now we get to the unfair bit. Root and Goldberg seem to think that if you are advocating progressivism today – rather than writing history – there is some vital need to self-lacerate, early and often, over the whole eugenics-a-hundred-years-ago business. The Goldberg rule seems to be this: if some Progressive believed in eugenics – or if some really major, central figure of the Progressive movement admired someone who was a major proponent of eugenics – then Progressives have to “own up” to this. Goldberg (from the post linked above): [click to continue…]