Archive | Academia

Blogospheric Rubbernecking – 2014 Blackmail Edition

The Brian Leiter-Paul Campos feud continues into the New Year.  The latest: Campos is threatening to disclose “potentially very embarrassing personal information” about Leiter should the latter disclose the personal identity of “Dybbuk,” the pseudonym of a lawyer/”scamblogger” accused of harassing another law professor in blog posts and comments.  Could this constitute blackmail?  I’ll leave that to the crimlaw folks.


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CWRU President and Provost Reject Academic Boycott of Israel

In a statement e-mailed to faculty and other members of the university community, Case Western Reserve University President Barbara Snyder and Provost Bud Baeslack forcefully rejected calls for an academic boycott of Israel.  As they note, academic boycotts of this sort run contrary to principles of academic freedom and “seek to subvert one of higher education’s core values in service of other ends.”  I’ve reproduced their entire statement below the fold. [...]

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Northwestern Can’t Quit ASA Over Boycott Because it is Not a Member

Northwestern University recently condemned the American Studies Association boycott of Israel. Unlike some other schools that quit their institutional membership in the ASA over the boycott, Northwestern has not. Many of my Northwestern colleagues were about to start urging a similar withdrawal.

Then we learned from our administration that despite being listed as in institutional member by the ASA, the university has, after checking, concluded it has no such membership, does not plan to get one, and is unclear why the ASA would list us as institutional member.

Apparently, at least several other schools listed by the ASA as institutional members say they have no such relationship.

The ASA has been spending a great deal of energy on political activism far from its mission, but apparently cannot keep its books in order. The association has yet to explain how it has come to list as institutional members so many schools that know nothing about such a membership. The ASA’s membership rolls may get much shorter in the coming weeks even without any quitting.

How this confusion came to arise is unclear. ASA membership, like that of many academic organizations, comes with a subscription to their journal. Some have suggested that perhaps the ASA also counts as members any institution whose library happened to subscribe to the journal, ie tacking on membership to a subscription, rather than vice versa. This would not be fair on their part. A library may subscribe to all sorts of journals for academic research purposes (ie Pravda), without endorsing the organization that publishes it. That is the difference between subscription and membership.

I eagerly await the ASA’s explanation of the situation. [...]

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Northwestern University Rejects Israel Boycotts

I am proud to say Northwestern University has strongly rejected the American Studies Association and other proposed boycotts of Israel, and reaffirmed its ties to Israel institutions. The following statement was released Friday by Northwestern University President Morton Schapiro and Provost Dan Linzer (emphasis mine):

Recently the membership of the American Studies Association approved a resolution calling for a boycott of Israeli higher education institutions. Two other U.S. academic associations have also advocated that stance. While we support the right of academicians to voice their viewpoints, Northwestern University disagrees strongly with the boycott vote of the ASA. Northwestern also rejects the actions suggested in the resolution. In fact, we believe the ASA resolution directly contradicts the values of academic freedom and advancing scholarship for which Northwestern stands.

Northwestern University faculty and students should have the ability to pursue academic collaborations with their colleagues at institutions around the world, including Israel. Northwestern for years has had highly successful and valued joint degree programs and extensive partnerships with Israeli institutions and scholars. We intend to maintain and strengthen relationships such as these.

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American Studies Association Faces Consequences from its Boycott

I previously posted about the proposed boycott of Israeli institutions by the American Studies Association, which was approved by a vote of its membership over the weekend. The boycott is pretty lame; it’s supposed to be in solidarity with the international boycott movement advocated by Palestinian “civil society” organizations, which calls for a complete cultural and economic boycott of Israel. Instead, the ASA is only boycotting official Israeli institutions, and announced that it is inviting Israeli and Palestinian scholars to its next meeting–the exact sort of cultural exchange that opponents of the boycott typically advocate. (Hopefully, no self-respecting Israeli will show up).

Nevertheless, the boycott vote is intended to aid the cause of delegitimizing Israel, and raises the question of whether American universities should continue collaborating with the ASA–by the very logic of the boycott, any individual or organization that works with the “official” ASA, as opposed to individual American Studies scholars, is complicit in the ASA’s attempt to aid the BDS (boycott, divestment, sanctions) movement. The question is especially pressing for American universities that have formal ties to Israeli universities, as the ASA is implicitly boycotting the joint programs. Moreover, given that the boycott of Israel has nothing to do with American Studies, the association seems to have revealed itself to be a political, rather than solely academic, organization, which raises the issue of why university funds should be flowing to it.

Legal Insurrection’s William Jacobson is organizing a campaign to lobby the universities that are institutional sponsors of the ASA to drop their memberships. So far Brandeis University and Penn State Harrisburg have announced they are doing so, pretty impressive given that the boycott was only announced two days ago. Look for more universities to follow, substantial resignations from the rank and file, and more. But don’t worry, [...]

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George Mason Law School Freezes Tuition

Here’s the press release:

Visitors Freeze George Mason Law Tuition

Fairfax, VA – December 11, 2013: The Board of Visitors of George Mason University voted today at its quarterly meeting to freeze the tuition of the law school for the upcoming year, for current and incoming students, and it declared its intention not to increase law tuition through 2016-17.

The Dean of the law school, Dan Polsby, stated, “One thing we understand is law and economics. Law school tuition went up more than fifty percent in the past seven years. This isn’t a business plan that can be sustained. The Board’s move recognizes that demand for legal education is changing, and that we must change with it. Our applicants can now apply to a top-tier law school with confidence that they will be able to manage the cost of their education.”

George Mason remains the least expensive top-tier law school in the dynamic Washington, D.C., legal market. With this move, Mason reaffirms its commitment to providing the highest value legal education at a reasonable price.

The Board’s tuition freeze is consistent with Mason’s commitment to affordability. Last year, seventy-three percent of Mason’s first-year law students received scholarships toward reducing their tuition.

Dean Polsby noted that “students choose Mason for three reasons: location, quality of education, and price. The location and quality they could always count on. Now they’ll be able to count on price as well.

[DB adds: GMUSL has traditionally been the “low-price, high-value” alternative in the DC legal market, and this and other moves signal a commitment by key players to preserve the law school’s identity as such.] [...]

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BDS Opponent Claire Potter Suffers Social Media Harassment for Her Views

then changes her mind on the American Studies Association boycott resolution, perhaps for other reasons. But the entire situation is worth reviewing, given that BDS supporters are constantly claiming that pro-Israel forces are the ones doing the harassing, vilification, etc. Via Legal Insurrection, here are a couple of quotes from Potter about the reaction to her initial pro-academic freedom (but hardly pro-Israel) stand against the ASA resolution: “There were massive numbers of people, including a lot of people I know, just writing these nasty things on my blog about what a horrible person I was,” and “You may have received something on Facebook today, as well as on Twitter, floating the accusation that my opposition to the academic boycott of Israel being considered by the National Council of #2013ASA is a sham. This opposition is, the messages claims, only an excuse for me to continue an unhealthy and longstanding obsession with a prominent member of the American Studies Association.”

Keep this in mind next time your hear someone bloviating about how “brave” one has to be to be hostile to Israel in the American academy, and how pressure from pro-Israel forces makes an open debate impossible. Remember, the harassment of Potter came even though she essentially agreed with the BDSers on substance, but only disagreed with the tactic of boycotting academics. [...]

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Taranto on a Kangaroo Court at Auburn University

If you missed this great column by James Taranto in the Wall Street Journal, here’s your chance to read it.

I had my own run-in with university kangaroo justice, fortunately much less serious than what Taranto describes. Just before I was going to graduate college, a friend with whom I had a falling out chose to escalate a minor personal dispute (involving, trust me, nothing remotely approaching illegal conduct) into a complaint with the university judicial process. I was told that no lawyer could be present, that there were no precedents that could be relied upon, and that my fate rested in the hands of the random students who sat on the judicial committee.

I pointed out to the associate dean in charge that the rules allowed him to dismiss the charges on the equivalent of summary judgment. He acknowledged that he could. I added that the charges were absurd, that even the strictest, most literal interpretation of the rules wouldn’t cover the alleged conduct. He agreed. I continued that nevertheless, the standards of behavior in the school manual were so broad and vague, and the discretion given to the student board so broad, and the lack of any governing rules of interpretation so glaring, that they could still “convict” me, really for any reason or no reason–they wouldn’t even have to issue an opinion. He nodded. I therefore asked him to exercise his authority to dismiss the charges. He refused, stating that he’d rather let the process play itself out, at which point he might or might not choose to intervene. Oh, and meanwhile I wouldn’t be allowed to graduate until the “case” was resolved.

Well, I didn’t want to deal with this nonsense, but I was at a loss as to how to proceed. Finally, an idea [...]

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The American Studies Association and the Pending, Watered Down, Israel Boycott

I wrote this for the Manhattan Institute’s excellent Minding the Campus site, and figured I’d repost it here.

From the bowels of academia comes news that the National Council of the American Studies Association has voted in favor of boycotting Israeli institutions. The boycott resolution goes to the full membership for an up or down vote.

The National Council’s vote has been hailed as a huge victory for the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement. It’s not. As originally proposed, the boycott was to apply to individual Israeli scholars, who, for example, wished to participate in the ASA’s annual conference, if they received Israeli government or university funding. Since few Israeli scholars would have the means to travel to the U.S. without funding from their university, that would have been a meaningful means of exclusion.

Instead, the final resolution is limited to a refusal to by “the ASA in its official capacities to enter into formal collaborations with Israeli academic institutions, or with scholars who are expressly serving as representatives or ambassadors of those institutions.” So there is no call for a boycott by the membership acting as individuals, and no exclusion even by the ASA of normal cooperation with Israeli scholars.

Pretty Thin Gruel

Compared to the BDS movement’s official call for a “comprehensive and consistent” boycott of anyone affiliated with an Israeli academic or cultural institution, this is pretty thin gruel, unlikely to affect almost anyone. Even then, to get the resolution through the executive committee advocates had to agree to a membership-wide vote.

So the good news is that even in the far-left reaches of American academia, in an organization proud to name one of its awards in honor of ex-Black Panther and ex-Soviet stooge Angela Davis (two-time vice-presidential candidate for the Soviet-controlled Communist Party USA), [...]

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Lisa Duggan, NYU and Curtis Marez, UC San Diego: Deserve to be Boycotted?

Duggan is the president-elect of the American Studies Association and Marez is the president. According to this Inside Higher Ed piece, they both support a pending motion to have the ASA endorse a boycott of Israeli universities. If the IHE piece is correct, I think they should be treated by all academics (and others) of good will and sound mind the way they would treat Israelis–no lecture invites, no publications, no nothing. In short, boycott the boycotters. And that goes for anyone else who votes for the boycott. [UPDATE: Cathy Young has a fine column on the hypocrisy of the boycotters. Duggan is one of the “queer theorists,” who, as Young notes, in some bizarre logical inversion have focused their wrath on the Middle East’s most gay-friendly country, by far.]

UPDATE: Perusing the ASA’s website, I see that they have a prize named after Angela Davis–yes, that Angela Davis, Gus Hall’s two-time running mate on the Communist Party ticket in 1980 and 1984 (so much for the ASA’s commitment to academic freedom (the purported rationale for the boycott), not exactly something Communists are known for). When did “mainstream” academia become such a circus? [...]

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Arthur Schlesinger and the Kennedy Assassination

The events of November 1963 and their aftermath are described in Chapter 9 of my undergraduate thesis The Highbrow in American Politics: Arthur M. Schlesinger Jr. and the Role of the Intellectual in Politics.

In brief: Schlesinger, John Kenneth Galbraith, and most of the rest of the White House immediately leaped to the conclusion that “the radical right” was the perpetrator. In the days following the assassination, the Kennedy White House staff split between those who were willing to work for Lyndon Johnson, and those who wanted to find a way to replace him as the the 1964 Democratic nominee with Hubert Humphrey or Robert Kennedy.

Johnson convinced Schlesinger, like almost all of the Kennedy staff, to stay on. But Johnson never gave Schlesinger any assignments, and Schlesinger resigned in early 1964. Schlesinger went to work on a biography of John F. Kennedy (A Thousand Days), and to campaigning on behalf of Robert Kennedy’s successful carpet-bagging run for a New York U.S. Senate seat.

Some observations from half a century later: liberals often had difficulty recognizing their ideological allies. Schlesinger et al. didn’t think Johnson was a liberal, although he turned out to be a much more aggressively liberal President than Kennedy had been. New York liberals, such as Americans for Democratic Action, and Jewish voters, didn’t think Robert Kennedy was a liberal, although as a Senator he (like the Democratic party) became much more liberal than John F. Kennedy had been.

The LBJ-RFK feud had much more to do with personality than with policy. The best study of this is Jeff Shesol’s excellent book Mutual Contempt: Lyndon Johnson, Robert Kennedy, and the Feud that Defined a Decade. Shesol finds plenty of blame on both sides, but ultimately it was RFK who obdurately refused LBJ’s overtures. [...]

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Expanded the Range of Respectable Opinion in Constitutional Discourse

As Ilya noted yesterday, all the authors wrote postscripts for the book, some long, some short. Here’s my short one, focusing on the importance of blogs like the VC to expanding the range of “respectable opinion” in constitutional discourse:

In 2011, a law professor at Yale, defending Obamacare from constitutional challenge, claimed that only one “constitutional scholar that I know at a top 20 law school” thinks that Obamacare is “constitutionally problematic.” A year later, just before oral argument in NFIB, the same professor stated that only one law professor at a top ten law school agreed that the Obamacare was unconstitutional. The professor’s math was almost certainly somewhat off, but he was right that the overwhelming majority of constitutional law scholars at elite law schools thought that the constitutional challenge to Obamacare was not just wrong, but obviously so.

But there is a reason for this. The faculties at elite law schools are able to define what was “mainstream” in constitutional law simply by who they hire to join them. And Yale, to take just one example, has not hired a conservative or libertarian professor to teach constitutional law in my lifetime. According to an informed source at the law school, this is not a coincidence, as some of Yale’s constitutional law professors make it their business to block any right-of-center candidates. One can therefore interpret the professor’s claim a bit differently than he intended, to wit: I, and people who think like me, find the federalism-based arguments used to challenge Obamacare to be absurd; I and people who think like me get to choose who become our faculty colleagues; we don’t hire people whose ideas we find absurd; therefore, almost all of our colleagues at elite law schools find the challenge to Obamacare to be absurd. Put [...]

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Speaking of the Scalia Interview… Three Originalists on the Harvard Faculty?


I don’t know how much progress I’ve made on originalism. That’s to be seen. I do think originalism is more respectable than it was. But there’s still only two justices up here who are thoroughgoing originalists. I do think things are better than they were. For example, I truly thought I’d never see an originalist on the faculty of Harvard Law School. You know, everybody copies Harvard—that’s the big ship. There are now three originalists on the faculty, and I think I heard that they’ve just hired, or are considering hiring, a fourth. I mean, that’s amazing to me. Elena Kagan did that, and the reason she did it is that you want to have on your faculty representatives of all responsible points of view. What it means is that at least originalism is now regarded as a respectable approach to constitutional interpretation. And it really wasn’t twenty years ago, it was not even worth talking about in serious academic circles.

I think Scalia is referring to Jack Goldsmith, John Manning, and Adrian Vermeule, all of whom are right-of-center politically, and none of whom, to my knowledge, is known as an originalist. I checked with a colleague who follows the originalism literature far more closely than I do, and he also didn’t think that any of the three are identified as originalists.

Nor, in fact, does the hiring of these three professors even say much about the progress of conservatism at in the legal academy in general (as opposed to Harvard specifically). As I wrote back in 2010:

[“D]uring Kagan’s deanship Harvard hired several conservative scholars, but it’s not exactly like she engaged in strenuous efforts to find provocative conservatives and libertarians whom the academy was overlooking. Instead, she hired Adrian Vermuele from Chicago, Jack Goldsmith from Chicago, and

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Off-GPA-Balance-Sheet: Splitting the Higher Education Tension Between Education and Credential Through Online Education

The New York Times has a useful article today on MOOCs – Massive Open Online Courses.  Reporter Alan Finder points out that online education has been around in one form or another for a decade. What’s different today is the rise of the MOOCs; the article walks through the three leading MOOC providers – EdX, Coursera, and Udacity – and describes how each works and the important differences between them.  One day, I’m pretty sure, online education in various forms – through MOOCs, or in combination with traditional classrooms, or other ways yet to emerge – will be a genuine alternative for both educational content and higher education credential.  For many reasons, however, that day is still a ways off.  So I’m interested in asking what the value of online education is today – its value for an undergraduate currently in school, not waiting for institutional changes in higher education itself, at the level of the whole system.

If an undergraduate doesn’t plan on going on to further graduate or professional education – for which GPA matters – then one might be able to take classes for their practical, real world educational value, even if one’s GPA suffers (because, after all, a reason to take these courses in a terminal degree program is that one is relatively, somewhat less worried about the signal, but instead seeks the content, which means deliberately choosing courses where one has little background knowledge, at least by comparison to other students who, looking to protect GPA, only take classes for which they are already well-prepared).  GPA matters in the real world more than one might think, especially in the early years of competing in the real world, especially for liberal arts majors looking for work in a tough environment:  GPA matters because one is competing [...]

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How’s George Mason Law School Doing?

I’ve received some concerned email from friends, after the Washington Post published an article about how D.C.-area law schools are struggling to get students. In particular the article stated that our class size has shrunk from 303 in 2010 to 151 today, suggesting that we have lost half of our tuition revenue.

The article is factually correct, but misleading. The 303 students who matriculated a few years back were an anomaly, caused by a much-higher than expected “yield” of admitted students for unknown reasons. Our typical entering class size before the recent plunge in law school applicants was more like 210 students. Going down to 150 students obviously hurts (a lot!), but I understand that the university has taken some steps to cushion the blow (only fair, given that the university had previously been using the law school as a cash cow after imposing massive tuition increases on us).

Anyway, I want to reassure GMUSL’s friends (and, for that matter, potential applicants), that we have not in fact decreased our standard class size by 50%, and are not in the sort of crisis mode that such a drop would imply. [...]

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