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Jan 19, 2006 11:13 am

More Noted Things

Eugene Volokh addresses the UCLA Profs controversy. The largest numbers of professors specifically targeted by Brother Andrew Jones and his Bruin Alumni Association are in the Law School and the history department. The historians specifically cited: Eric Avila, Ellen DuBois, James Gelvin, Juan Gomez-Quinones, Russell Jacoby, Vinay Lal, and Gabriel Piterburg. I know the work of only two of them, Ellen DuBois and Russell Jacoby, and they are excellent.

Jones clearly patterns his efforts on those of David Horowitz, though there's no longer any official connection between them. According to the Chronicle of Higher Education (subscriber only),

Mr. Horowitz said that while he objects to professors' injecting their politics into their teaching, Mr. Jones's approach of"baiting people" is wrong. Furthermore, he said, Mr. Jones used to work for him but he had to fire the UCLA activist after receiving complaints that Mr. Jones pressured students to file false reports about leftists. Mr. Horowitz accused Mr. Jones of stealing his donor list and has contacted his lawyer.

Jones should have known better than mess with the sources of David's money and he ought to pay heed to Volokh's more considered reactions.

Robert Samuelson,"America by the Numbers," Washington Post, 18 January, looks at some fascinating data in the newest edition of Historical Statistics of the United States (5 vols., Cambridge University Press, $825). One of the items he cites is the historical record of presidential vetoes. Successfully defending 626 of 635 and 179 of 181 vetoes, Samuelson points out, Franklin D. Roosevelt and Dwight D. Eisenhower are the modern masters of the veto authority. What is remarkable about George Bush's presidency is that, five years into it, there's been no veto of any congressional act. You have to go back to James Garfield, says Samuelson, for a veto-less presidency. [ed.: And, er, Garfield was shot four months and died eight months after his inauguration.]

These data suggest that we've witnessed a dramatic change in the relations between the President and Congress. They're not explained by Congress being controlled by members of Bush's party. FDR's Democrats had overwhelming majorities in both the Senate and the House, but the New Deal congresses were much more willing to send up legislation the President didn't favor than the recent congresses has been. The other factor is President Bush's broad-ranging use of"signing statements." They have limited precedent in the Reagan and Clinton presidencies, but, according to one tally, George Bush has issued 500 of them in five years. In some cases, they've said, in effect,"I'm signing this bill and, when appropriate, I'll abide by it." Andrew Sullivan's"We Don't Need a New King George," Time, 15 January, explores the troubling implications for the republic.

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Timothy James Burke - 1/19/2006

I think that puts it about right, Leo. KC, if you're serious about building an academy that embraces pluralism and professionalism, you have got to show yourself to be firmly committed to those values yourself. When you teeter so obviously and obsessively on the edge of being unfair, and can barely bestir yourself to say a bad word about what is clearly a bad-faith effort of the worst kind before you go back to hammering on your usual targets, you don't exemplify the new kind of academic community you claim to want to usher into being. It makes you look more like what you want is the mirror image of what you criticize. This is really one of those instances where you've got to pause and take a fresh look at the situation, where fairness demands a bit more generosity and support of fellow professionals.

Leo Edward Casey - 1/19/2006

Sorry -- That should have read "actual conduct in the classroom" not "actual conduct in the discourse."

Leo Edward Casey - 1/19/2006

If one did not know better, one might think from K. C. Johnson that the 'dirty thirty' was a form of intellectual public discourse, engaging the ideas of university based scholars from outside academia. And what more could a scholar hope for, than that his or her ideas were taken seriously enough to promote a broader discussion.

But such an image can not survive even the most cursory look at the 'dirty thirty' web page -- this is a political hit list, just as Joe McCarthy's list of the secret communists was a hit list. And the alleged crimes, far more often than not, have nothing to do with actual conduct in the discourse, but with 'thought crimes' of one sort or another.

K.C. Johnson does a serious disservice to his own arguments of politically motivated use of academic decision making, inlcuding his own case, when he dismisses such an obvious political witchhunt. It makes one think that he is more concerned with the politics of the person under attack, than with the importance of academic integrity and independence.

Timothy James Burke - 1/19/2006

You are obviously not to be deterred from pursuing the white whale, KC.

Strip away all the admittedly overwrought talk of McCarthyism, and what's the story here? The reason for the discussion? It's not the UCLA professoriate, it's a crude, simple-minded, grubby little compendium of untruth and exaggeration. Volokh says as much, as does Bainbridge. You acknowledge this in passing as well, but then basically proceed onwards as if the real story here is some deep dark secret that UCLA faculty are hiding.

It's been pointed out to you before that the syllabi of the UCLA Department of History are online already. That, contra your habitual characterization of the department as a hive of far-left polemicists, most of the syllabi on offer are sober, middle-of-the-road, orthodox offerings. To be honest, if you're not terribly interested in the exaggerations and red herrings galore offered by Jones' catalog, it may be because to recognize them as such would call some of your own exaggerated view of UCLA into question.

The safest response from most of the UCLA faculty would be to simply ignore Jones: he doesn't really the dignity of a serious engagement. But here you deny them even that response: they are in your eyes guilty until proven innocent, needing to transcribe and tape and record every pedagogical moment in order to prove that Jones has no case. Failure to overreact, in your view, is evidence of some sort of guilt. Yes, of course there are faculty there who are exhibiting their own kind of defensive parochialism in response, and that's worth at least a comment or two. But it's fascinating to me the way you more or less endorse Jones indirectly, with just enough of a gesture towards Volokh's distaste to cover yourself: all he is, apparently, is another opportunity for you to busily work over the same ground again.

Robert KC Johnson - 1/19/2006

I find it hard to ibject to anything in Volokh's post--professors, engaged in the public exchange of ideas and employed by the state, have an entitlement to keep what they say secret from the public? As with other such instances (the poll of the Duke faculty, for instance), the reaction from the faculty is the most revealing aspect of the episode. A good part of the reasoning in the UCLAprofs site is unconvincing. But as far as I can tell, there's nothing untrue said about any of these professors. The site contains links to what they said and did. To argue, as some at UCLA have done, that this represents "McCarthyism" is absurd.

The reaction of a confident faculty would have been to say that they welcome the outside attention; that they believe they can easily defend their views to the outside world; and that they will take the opportunity to disseminate their views more broadly by arranging for full transparency in their classes while consistent with academic integrity. I noticed that none of the UCLA faculty seemed to move in this direction.

Leo Edward Casey - 1/19/2006

I find Volokh's argument rather unconvincing.

On NPR this morning, Stephan Thernstrom announced his resignation from Jones' board in a rather public way, describing this latest campaign as a sort of intellectual vigilantism.

Ralph mentions Jacoby and DuBois as excellent scholars in history. [Jacoby earned his way into the list, if you read their own description, by having publicly debated Horowitz.] I would also include Carole Pateman, in my own field of political philosophy. She was the pioneer of feminist work in the field, and has a long, quite distinguished list of publications. Having read her work and seen her presentations, it is rather hard to imagine her as anything but the fairest and most scrupulous of educators.

But isn't this how McCarthyite tactics work, smearing everyone within reach?

Wouldn't the most effective answer be demands from every professor on the campus to know why their name was not included, and to demand that it be added? What would they do with a petition of 100s of faculty signatures to that effect?

Chris Bray - 1/19/2006

Also, this is what I posted in a comment at Prof. Bainbridge's site:

I don't think the behaviors represented by Andrew Jones and UCLA Profs are that new. New medium, sure, but old behaviors.

A history professor at UCLA once told those of us in one of her graduate seminars about being a student at UW-Wisconsin in the late-60s or early-70s, and having students stand up in a class on the first day of the semester to interrogate their professor about his political views. They were unsatisfied with his answers, which were apparently insufficiently radical, and they stormed out of his class, having pronounced him to be "just another fucking liberal."

The blog is to campus Republicans what the mimeograph machine and the teach-in was to campus radicals. Andrew Jones is just another loudmouthed ideologue, with a new type of billboard. He's mau-mauing The Man. Which, you know, zzzzzzzzzzz.

If you know the professors he's tagging as "radical," by the way, some of the choices are laugh-out-loud funny.

Chris Bray - 1/19/2006

Saw Prof. Volokh's posts, and Prof. Bainbridge's, and thought both had smart things to say. If Andrew Jones has "a certain degree of influence over public affairs," which is obviously his intent, then others are "entitled to criticize" him.

If Andrew thinks my criticism is unsound, then his duty is to continue.

Sherman Jay Dorn - 1/19/2006

I may have been premature in that judgment -- Samuelson says libraries should be able to purchase online access. I hope that means unlimited access by members of university communities. That doesn't address the needs of independent scholars or just-plain citizens interested in it, but it will broaden access beyond what just paper would have done.

Sherman Jay Dorn - 1/19/2006

About the latest historical statistics volume, I wrote last year, "The editors are well-meaning researchers who started the project with a model of big social-science history that would have worked well in the 1980s because there were no other options then. But there are now, and deadtree statistical compilations that you and I can never have at home or in our office are truly dinosaurs."

Christopher Newman - 1/19/2006

Chris, Eugene Volokh actually answers the question you posed to me in your original post on the UCLA Profs issue. I found his answer characteristically level-headed:

"My colleagues and I are public servants. We have a certain degree of influence over public affairs, both through our public commentary and through our teaching. Others disagree with us, and think we're doing a public disservice rather than a public service. They're entitled to criticize us, and to monitor our public performance of our duties to see whether that performance is, in their view, lacking. I try to imagine what I would think if someone from the Left set up a site to criticize Prof. Bainbridge, me, and my (rather few) conservative colleagues, and to solicit concrete evidence of our supposed misdeeds; I would like to think that I would recognize that this was their right, both legally and ethically.

Now it's true that this may have a 'chilling effect' in the sense of deterring some people from saying controversial things, in class or outside it. But all criticism has such an effect; much criticism is intended to have such an effect. It's even good when criticism has such a deterrent effect, for instance when it deters us from saying foolish or unsound things. If you criticize my posts, my articles, or my lectures, and I recognize that your criticism is apt — that my lectures were too partisan, or that my arguments were unsound — then I may well change what I say. That's criticism performing its proper function.

And if I think your criticism is unsound, my duty is to remain undeterred. It's not always an easy duty to fulfill. But look: Most of my colleagues have tenure. Even our untenured colleagues have the protection of being reviewed by their peers, and peers who are generally unlikely to much sympathize with what the site says. We're in a much better position than other public servants, who routinely have to deal with criticism. If we're not robust enough to resist unsound criticisms — if we're deterred from saying certain things even when we think they should be said — what's the point of all the employment protections we have?

If people are criticizing us unfairly, we should fault them for that. (Stephen Bainbridge does so, for instance.) But labeling this (as one professor quoted here did) 'a reactionary form of McCarthyism' strikes me as no more sound or effective than the pejoratives that sometimes uses itself. As Prof. Bainbridge points out, 'If you can't tell the difference between the abuse of position by a United States Senator backed by the coercive power of the state and the exercise of free speech by a bunch of disgruntled alumni, well....'"

Ralph E. Luker - 1/19/2006

Yes, I agree. I recall having signed one of those petitions, myself.

Chris Bray - 1/19/2006

The other thing young Andrew does is that he has compiled a list of petitions he deems "radical," and posts that list on the UCLA Profs site. So a professor who has signed one petition Andrew doesn't like is now a "radical." This little maneuver inflates the list pretty significantly, and adds a bunch of people who are not radical. At all. Remotely. So it's offensive thought policing, but also wrong and sloppy. If you can imagine a thought police activity being sloppy, right?

And then there's the choice of "radical" petitions. Signing a petition urging the president to avoid going to war with Iraq? Radical. So apparently Pat Buchanan is now a leftist. And so on.

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