All posts by Jonathan Marks

Jonathan Marks is a Professor of Politics at Ursinus College.

Don’t Kill the National Endowment for the Humanities

The National Endowment for the Humanities is again in the news as a possible casualty of the new administration’s effort to cut costs. Conservatives should fight for the agency.

Conservatives worry that humanities scholars have turned away from enduring questions to embrace political fads. But under Bruce Cole’s administration, from 2001 to 2009, the NEH established the Enduring Questions program. Consider this description of the program’s concerns: “enduring questions persist across historical eras, regions, and world cultures . . . . They transcend time and place but are also relevant to our lives today. Enduring questions have more than one plausible or compelling answer, allow for dialogue across generations, and inspire genuine intellectual pluralism.”

The program, inaugurated in 2008, lasted through this year and supported courses that brought such questions, and great texts that consider them, to the attention of students. I detail my own participation in the program here. What’s not to like?

In 2002, under Cole, the NEH launched the We the People initiative in direct response to a concern Cole shares with many conservatives, that Americans know too little about their history and the principles of the Founding. As Cole explains, The initiative “support[ed] scholarship on American history and culture . . . which help[ed] spread and deepen public understanding of founding principles and their ramifications.” The We the People initiative also helped “teachers improve their subject matter knowledge” and to “preserve archives.” The program lasted until 2012.

The NEH has inspired some extraordinary and valuable work, along with some silly stuff, across multiple administrations. There is no question that the NEH has, on average, moderated the excesses of the academic humanities. The Cole administration, in particular, shows that an NEH chairman moved by love of the humanities, not partisan zeal, can do great things.

Was Fordham Right to Ban a Pro-Palestinian Club?

Fordham University did what no other university administration has done to date. It rejected a student request, which had been accepted by the student government, giving official club status to Students for Justice in Palestine.

Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) has well over 100 chapters on U.S. campuses. SJP has led campus efforts, greatly intensified since the 2005 launch of the Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions (BDS) movement, to teach college students that Israel should be treated as a pariah state, on the order of apartheid-era South Africa.

Related: Does Free Speech Matter at UVA?

Chapters operate independently, but I know of none that does not support BDS, and I would, therefore, be nauseated if a chapter were to spring up on my own campus. I have written over fifty pieces that explain, among other things, how BDS disingenuously calls itself a nonviolent movement, even though it cheers on violence, too often crosses the line into overt anti-Semitism, and, most relevant to college campuses, effaces the line between activist propagandizing and scholarship within the academic wing of BDS. When Fordham Dean of Students Keith Eldredge says that the goals of SJP “run contrary to the mission and values of the University,” I’m with him.

So why do I oppose Fordham’s decision to reject SJP?

If the facts asserted by Fordham’s critics are true—Fordham has not quibbled with them–Fordham has lent credence to the largely delusional proposition that there is, as BDS proponents often assert, a “Palestine exception to free speech.” In fact, pro-Palestinian and anti-Israeli speakers are ubiquitous on college campuses, but if you were looking for a textbook case of a “Palestine exception,” Fordham has provided it and thereby hurt the fight against BDS.

The review process for forming the club dragged on for over a year while campus officials, among other things, consulted Jewish faculty members, ensured that the Jewish Student Organization had a chance to weigh in, and seriously entertained the possibility that, merely by conferring official club status on SJP, Fordham might run afoul of governor Andrew Cuomo’s executive order directing state agencies not to do business with BDS-supporting organizations.

Related: How Soft Censorship Works at College

Having denied SJP, Fordham then ran a series of posthoc justifications up the flagpole, at least some of which alarmed such advocates of free speech and academic freedom as FIRE, the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, and the National Coalition against Censorship. Fordham claimed that SJP was polarizing, that its “sole purpose was advocating political goals of a specific group,” that it directed itself “against a particular country” and, most plausibly, as I said, that SJP’s goals contradict the mission of the university.

Finally, and this new justification was the main emphasis of Fordham’s most recent statement, “Chapters [of SJP] have engaged in behavior,” such as disrupting speakers, “on other college campuses that would violate this University’s code of conduct.” Unfortunately, Fordham’s dilatory response to SJP’s request for club status, and the scattered rationalizations that followed Fordham’s decision raise the suspicion that Fordham engaged in viewpoint discrimination.

Fordham is a private university, and so it’s possible, though by no means guaranteed, that it can get away with viewpoint discrimination. But First Amendment jurisprudence would probably be on SJP’s side if Fordham were a public institution. In Rosenberger v. Rector and Visitors of UVA (1995), which concerned the denial of subsidies for publications that “primarily [promote] or [manifest] a particular belie[f] in or about a deity or an ultimate reality,” the Supreme Court ruled against the University of Virginia.

The “government may not regulate speech based on its substantive content or the message it conveys,” the Court explained, and “when the government targets not subject matter, but particular views, the violation of the First Amendment is all the more blatant.” In Healey v. James (1972), the Court ruled that Central Connecticut State College, facing a climate considerably more charged than the climate Fordham faces today, could not deny Student for a Democratic Society (SDS) club status merely because the national SDS organization had engaged in materially and substantively disruptive activities.

Related: Donald Downs on the Return of Campus Censorship

To repeat, Fordham is not an arm of the government, so its actions do not raise the kinds of First Amendment concerns that the actions of public universities raise. However, both of the cases I reference offer reasons for protecting speech especially zealously on our campuses. In Healey, the court says that “the college classroom, with its surrounding environs, is peculiarly the ‘marketplace of ideas.’” In Rosenberger, the Court says that the danger of chilling thought and expression is “especially real in the University setting, where the State acts against a background and tradition of thought and experiment that is at the center of our intellectual and philosophic tradition.”

That is, the Supreme Court has suggested on more than one occasion that colleges should be more, not less, concerned than other institutions with the rights protected by the First Amendment. It would be a shame if Fordham, which in its own mission and policy statements repeatedly, if not consistently, stresses its dedication to freedom of thought and speech, its tolerance of dissent, and its dedication to academic freedom, were to look at the Supreme Court’s staunch defense of freedom at our public universities and say: “we’re private and demand less!”

Related: Feminist Censored from Censorship Panel

Let me end by returning to Fordham’s best argument, that its very mission of supporting freedom of inquiry compels it to reject bodies like SJP, which in its dedication to academic boycotts and its seeming desire to turn universities into propaganda arms of BDS, contravenes that mission. Must a college and university, which surely considers its mission relevant to its hiring and programming decisions, confer club status, and thereby money and privileges, on a group that will make fulfilling that mission more difficult?

I think that the answer is yes. Colleges and universities that choose to adopt the standards of academic freedom have adopted a version of the view that the unexamined life is not worth living, a view distinguished from other views by its built-in insistence on testing itself. A Socratic university does not fulfill its mission by funding the purchase of books by Plato but not by the anti-Socratic Nietzsche, or by providing meeting space for skeptics but not for believers. The Socratic university fulfills its mission, instead, by fostering a conversation in which all views, including the university’s own, are scrutinized. I have sympathy for students who are not very attached to the First Amendment.

After all, when they look around them, there is not that much evidence that the truth emerges from a marketplace of ideas. But I have less sympathy for universities, which have every opportunity to make a case for the satisfactions of a life guided by reason, yet seem to have so little confidence that students might come to agree that such a life has more appeal than consuming propaganda at a rally. I have no illusions, as a long-time teacher, that it is easy to educate students in this way, but to fail to do so is to fail in the most important respect. Fordham’s move against the SJP reflects not confidence in its mission, but a profound lack of confidence in it.

Should Colleges Coddle the Whiners?

Our recent campus upheavals, focusing at times on offensive speech, have provoked a worry: are colleges infantilizing their students? Last March, the journalist and cultural critic Judith Shulevitz raised this concern in a tour de force of an op-ed, in which she argued that protecting students from offensive speech, except in the most extreme cases, is a species of educational malpractice: “People ought to go to college to sharpen their wits and broaden their field of vision. Shield them from unfamiliar ideas, and they’ll never learn the discipline of seeing the world as other people see it. They’ll be unprepared for the social and intellectual headwinds that will hit them as soon as they step off the campuses whose climates they have so carefully controlled.”  This argument has since taken off.

It has taken off, in part, because it is a good argument. To take one of Shulevitz’s own examples, students invite the charge that they are infantilizing themselves when they construct a “safe space” that contains “cookies, coloring books, Play-doh, calming music, pillows, blankets, and a video of frolicking puppies,” particularly when this safe space is to protect them from being “bombarded by a lot of viewpoints that really go against my dearly and closely held beliefs.”

Related: MIZZOU WIPES OUT RESPECT AND EXCELLENCE

I don’t want to dissent from Shulevitz and others who have made related arguments, but I do think that the debate between those who wish to protect students from offensive speech and those who want to expose them to it is incomplete.

John Stuart Mill, one of the foremost champions of freedom of discussion had no illusions concerning its benefits. “I acknowledge,” he says in On Liberty, that the tendency of all opinions to become sectarian is not cured by the freest discussion but heightened and exacerbated thereby.” Mill thinks that free discussion will tend to heighten partisanship, as those whose dear and cherished beliefs are challenged by their intellectual and political enemies cling to those beliefs all the more fiercely. For Mill, this drawback is made right by the benefits that accrue to people who are observing the quarrel: “It is not on the impassioned partisan, it is on the calmer and more disinterested bystander, that this collision of opinions works its salutary effect.”

I think that Mill is right and that although the trade-off he describes is plausible in public discussions, it would be a peculiar model to follow in a college setting. Clearly our job is not only to, so to speak, toughen up our students, though that couldn’t hurt, but to educate our students to benefit, as Mill’s “calmer and more disinterested bystander” does, from the free exchange of ideas. That many of our students at present are not in a position to do so is no reflection on their childishness. Anyone who has paid a moment’s attention to “adult” political discourse will have noticed that getting angry, alleging bad faith, taking umbrage, and even demanding censorship, are standard. This is not new, though I don’t deny that our therapeutic response to it is somewhat new. As Hamilton says in Federalist #1 of “cases of great national discussion,” in which people’s interests and passions are deeply implicated, “a torrent of angry and malignant passions will be let loose.”

Related: TWO LAWMAKERS VOTE NO TOSAFE CAMPUS ACT

Insofar as such discussions work their way onto college campuses, there is no reason to think that simply throwing our students into so polluted a sea in the hopes of hardening them, will result in an education. For that reason, I think it is singularly unimaginative to try to resolve the problem of a too liberal academy by inviting, though of course people are welcome to invite whomever they want, conservative controversialists like Milo Yiannopoulos to our campuses. Instead, we need to think much more than we presently do about teaching our students how to benefit from the arguments they hear.

John Locke, in Some Thoughts on Education distinguishes between the “art and formality of disputing,” which tends to turn a student into “an insignificant wrangler, opinionated in discourse, and priding himself in contradicting others,” and the art of reasoning. I am not sure whether our present focus on “critical thinking,” even when it somehow gets through to our students, does enough to distinguish between wrangling and reasoning, or between philosophy and sophistry. But I am confident that a “Crossfire” approach to campus discussion is not going to help our students make such distinctions.

To throw our students into such an atmosphere and invite them to deliberate may avoid the danger of infantilizing them but it also demands more of our students than we demand of adults. Indeed, in some ways the university oscillates between treating students too much as adults and treating them too much as children.

In a Slate column, Eric Posner, a professor of law at the University of Chicago, inadvertently illustrates the problem. On the one hand, he argues that today’s students are like children and consequently need protection. In the midst of an exaggerated argument in favor of this proposition, he says at least one sensible thing, namely that professors know that students need an education, which is why classrooms are not typically free for alls, in which students go at each other, hammer and tongs. But then he says that colleges should give in to student demands for protection because “that’s what most students want.” So which is it? Are we supposed to treat students like children, in need of protection, or like adult sovereign consumers?

Related: ELIMINATING FREE THOUGHTS IN THE NAME OF FALSE SAFETY

The answer, as I suspect most teachers grasp, is that college-aged students are neither children, to be protected from scary ideas nor adults, who either, in Posner’s way of viewing things, should have what they want or, in Shulevitz’s (to judge from the op-ed alone), should be thrown into the water and told to swim. They are neither children nor adults, and what we owe them is an education.

The education I have in mind makes no sacrifices with respect to inquiry into the questions that divide us. Instead, it puts the aim of conversation inside and outside the classroom, at the center of education, and thereby demands that our approach to conversation be tailored to that aim. In Plato’s Republic, Socrates admonishes Thrasymachus, who cares only about whether he has won or lost the argument, in these terms: the argument is not about just any question but about how one should live.”

How do people who genuinely think they can make progress in important matters act in conversation? Among other things, they practice the courage that enables them to continue an inquiry in the face of threats to their cherished beliefs, and the moderation that enables them to hear others out and to look for what use can be made of their arguments, rather than for how their arguments can be dismissed. But what every educator who has reflected on his or her experience knows is that such virtues do not come naturally to people. All our attentiveness as teachers may barely be sufficient to cultivate them in our students.

The AAUP Takes a Sharp Left Turn

Along with many others, I received an email last week from Rudy Fichtenbaum, president of the American Association of University Professors. Because the AAUP is best known for defending academic freedom, valued by both liberals and conservatives, and because it represents the academic profession as a whole, it has cultivated a reputation for nonpartisanship.

Fichtenbaum was in touch about the AAUP’s Centennial Declaration, which, far from being a throwaway, constitutes a “charter of values that should define the colleges and universities of the twenty-first century.” It is also the most nakedly partisan document to emerge from the AAUP in recent memory.

According to the Declaration, higher education faces one and only one enemy, “corporations or business interests,” which, the document implies, seek to “dictate teaching or research agendas.” The Declaration goes on to observe that “Research is not just about enhancing the profit margins of corporations.”

All is in tune with Fichtenbaum’s address to the AAUP’s 2015 meeting, which sets higher education’s woes at the feet of a nebulous “corporate agenda” that “seeks to destroy the ability of higher education to serve the common good,” or of “forces that seek to privatize higher education and use it to promote their own narrow interests.” Fichtenbaum insists that we must place this corporate conspiracy against higher education in the context of a broader “neoliberal attack on working people,” which includes “the rule of markets, cutting taxes on the wealthy, reducing public expenditures that support working and middle class families, mass incarceration of African American males, deregulation, privatization, and the elimination of public goods.” The goal of the AAUP in the next century is to become “part of a social justice movement.”

It is therefore not surprising that two days after I received the Fichtenbaum email, I received another from Gwendolyn Bradley, a senior program officer at AAUP, with a call for proposals to present at AAUP’s 2016 conference. They are inviting “reflection on racial, social, and labor justice in higher education.”

No one who has been paying attention to higher education over the past decade will think that concerns about the “corporatization” of higher education are the exclusive province of the left. Devotees of liberal education, whether they are on the right or the left, are concerned that colleges and universities preserve alternatives to, rather than merely serve and ape, the present order, and corporate capitalism is certainly one prominent aspect of that order. But to home in on and declare oneself the enemy of “neoliberalism,” and shady “corporate interests” is to set the AAUP squarely to the left of the present day Democratic party. It is also to dramatically oversimplify the problems that higher education faces. And it is to forfeit whatever reputation for nonpartisanship the AAUP may once have had.

A Gloomy Poll of College Officers

Inside Higher Ed has released its survey of College and University Officers. The news is largely not good for those who long for an early  return to health for colleges and universities..

The headline is that eighteen percent of those surveyed agree that “My institution is unlikely to shut down in the near term, but may have to in the coming decades.” In itself, that may not be big news. Inside Higher Ed hasn’t asked the same question before, so we don’t know how this year compares to prior ones. And “may have to” is a permissive standard. Even so, the following number startling.

At private institutions that offer only bachelor degrees, 38% of business officers surveyed said their institutions, though safe in the near term, may have to shut down in the coming decades. The number is startling in part because the present difficulties of our colleges and universities have something to do with the recent economic crisis and something to do with a decline in the number of high school graduates in many parts of the country. Neither trend is permanent.

But many college and university financial officers, who are certainly in a position to know, evidently think that the challenges to their own institutions are here to stay. More broadly, 56% think that media descriptions of a financial “crisis” in higher education are accurate. How often do people who know a business think that media reports about it are accurate?

Equally troubling, Jane Wellman, who is no alarmist, and whose work with the Delta Cost Project is very highly regarded, thinks that colleges and universities are by and large flailing. Wellman, now with the College Futures Foundation says, “all of the signals are that this is a sector that is in trouble. Yet the kind of things that would better position institutions for the long haul probably aren’t happening.”

Indeed, the survey indicates that the primary strategy colleges and universities are following is to try to increase enrollment. That’s understandable, since increasing enrollment and revenue is necessary for some institutions even to run in place, let alone improve. But in a field in which prospective students who are willing and able to pay are increasingly scarce, only so many colleges and universities can win at that game.

An Anti-Semitism Controversy at Stanford

Molly Horwitz, a junior at Stanford University, is running for a spot in Stanford’s student senate. In the course of her campaign, Horwitz, a Latina and a Jew, sought the endorsement of Stanford’s Students of Color Coalition (SOCC) and was granted an interview. During the interview, Horwitz claims, she was asked this question: “Given your strong Jewish identity, how would you vote on divestment?” Although the senate has already passed a resolution urging Stanford to divest from companies alleged to profit from the oppression of Palestinians, divestment remains a live issue at Stanford.

The SOCC has denied Horwitz’s charge. Their denial acknowledges that the charge is serious: “Religious discrimination . . . starkly violates the values on which the Students of Color Coalition is based. Were these allegations true, they would not only merit a public apology but also constitute a betrayal of both the communities SOCC represents and the ideas the coalition members promise to uphold.”

Yet “several students” according to the New York Times piece linked above, “said they did not see it as problematic to connect a stance on divestment with Judaism.”

I don’t know if Horwitz’s story is true, but she explains very well what is “problematic” here. If “SOCC had wanted to know how I felt about divestment, they could have asked that.” What “made me so distressed was not that SOCC had asked me about divestment, but that they had thought my Jewishness might make me a poor Senator.” Would the Stanford students who don’t grasp Horwitz’s distress have trouble grasping why an African-American judicial candidate might object if a Senator were to ask her: “Given your African-American identity, how would you rule on affirmative action cases?”

Horwitz’s story reminds us of the case of Rachel Beyda, a UCLA undergraduate and candidate for the student government’s Judicial Board. This February, the student council refused to confirm her appointment because some members thought that her membership in campus Jewish organizations might constitute a conflict of interest were a case involving divestment to come before the board. They relented only after a faculty adviser insisted that the council couldn’t reject Beyda merely because she was affiliated with Jewish organizations.

The Beyda case followed last year’s attempt by pro-divestment students at UCLA to convince student government candidates to pledge not to travel to Israel on trips sponsored by “pro-Israel” organizations like the Anti-Defamation League. They also charged two senators who had voted against divestment with violating the “ethical code on conflicts of interest” because they “had gone to Israel on sponsored trips.” These actions drew sharp criticism from UCLA’s Chancellor Gene Block.

The already troubling effort to delegitimize supporters of Israel at UCLA transformed, in the Beyda case, into a suspicion and rejection of Jewish students. Whether Horwitz’s Stanford story turns out to be true or not, campus leaders need to be mindful that what happened at UCLA can happen almost anywhere.

U of Houston Pays Over $155,000 for Actor to Speak at Commencement

The University of Houston, a public university, is proud to have snagged actor Matthew McConaughey as its 2015 commencement speaker. The University says that McConaughey has “the kind of star power that adds muscle to the University of Houston’s bold reputation campaign “Welcome to the Powerhouse.””

I understand that colleges and universities are fighting for funds and students, and describing what we used to call advertising as a “bold reputation campaign” is not the worst offense against good taste and our language that I have seen. But I was dazed and confused
when I learned how much UH is paying to hear McConaughey: $135,000, not including over $20,000 for the booking agency, and McConaughey’s travel expenses.

It has taken a month Continue reading U of Houston Pays Over $155,000 for Actor to Speak at Commencement

The Controversy Over Hillel at Swarthmore

Hillel is an unrivaled center of Jewish life on college campuses. Swarthmore College students decided this week to give up the Hillel name, and thereby break from the organization, because they thought it absolutely critical that its chapter host speakers and cooperate with organizations that denigrate Zionism and wish to expel Israel from the family of nations.

At issue are Hillel’s Standards of Partnership which, among other things, obligate Hillel affiliates not to partner with organizations or sponsor speakers who “deny the right of Israel to exist as a Jewish and democratic state with secure and recognized borders,” “demonize” Israel, or call for “boycott of, divestment from, or sanctions against” Israel.

Hillel developed these standards in the context of the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement on college campuses. BDS calls for an economic, cultural, and academic boycott of Israel until it ends its “occupation and colonization of all Arab lands.” As I’ve noted here, the call is studiously vague, in order to keep in the BDS coalition both those who wish to destroy Israel and those who merely think Israel should withdraw from the West Bank and East Jerusalem. Since 2005, the BDS movement has Continue reading The Controversy Over Hillel at Swarthmore

Are Liberals Stifling Intellectual Diversity on Campus?

Earlier this year, Jonathan Chait, a liberal, caused a stir when he argued that “political correctness,” a “system of left-wing ideological repression” has made a comeback among students and intellectuals after a long lull. Among his cases in point was Omar Mahmoud, a University of Michigan student who was fired from the student newspaper, and whose apartment was vandalized, over a column he wrote mocking campus identity politics. Chait’s article had its champions, but it was also criticized for relying on a few anecdotes to spin a “wild fantasy” about the chilling of speech on campus. Last Tuesday, under the sponsorship of Intelligence Squared, panelists debated the resolution “Liberals are Stifling Intellectual Diversity on Campus.”

Affirming the resolution were Greg Lukianoff, President of the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE), and Kirsten Powers, a columnist, Fox News contributor, and author of the forthcoming The Silencing: How the Left is Killing Free Speech. Opposing the resolution were Angus Johnston, a historian of student activism at the City University of New York, and Jeremy Mayer, a political scientist at George Mason University and co-author of Closed Minds? Politics and Ideology in American Universities. The debate is worth watching.

Lukianoff and Powers won handily. When polled before the debate, the audience favored the resolution, 31% to 21%. By the end of the debate many of the undecideds, and some of those who had started out in opposition, had come to favor the resolution; the final tally was 59% to 32%.

The opposition was not without powerful arguments, in particular that restrictions on speech on campus have much to do with hyper-cautious administrators, who seek to protect students from the danger of having their views vigorously challenged. Continue reading Are Liberals Stifling Intellectual Diversity on Campus?

A Troubling Report on Campus Anti-Semitism

I recently reported on a clear incident of discrimination against a Jewish UCLA student for her ties to Jewish organizations on campus. Readers who follow this issue will be familiar with other recent cases in which the allegedly progressive movement to boycott Israel has flirted with anti-Semitism.

Until now, though, we haven’t had much data on anti-Semitism on American college campuses. This week, Barry A. Kosmin and Ariela Keysar, both professors at Trinity College, attempted to fill that gap with a new report. Their headline finding: in the academic year 2013-14, 54% of Jewish students surveyed “reported having been subject to or witnessing anti-Semitism on their campuses”. The survey covered a period prior to this summer’s Gaza offensive.

Here are some of the survey’s other findings. First, being an Israel critic does not shield you from anti-Semitism. Almost half of the respondents who identified themselves as members of J Street—a group that takes critical stances on Israeli policies—reported directly experiencing or witnessing anti-Semitism on campus. Moreover, students’ experiences of anti-Semitism did not vary by their level of Jewish affiliation. Students involved with the Orthodox Chabad group were no more likely to report anti-Semitism than students involved with the non-denominational Hillel group or students involved with Jewish fraternities.

Second, the incidents most often involve interpersonal, as opposed to institutional discrimination. However, the researchers also argue that “anti-Semitism appears to go under the radar” and is “largely ignored by the official cognitive system,” in spite of administrators’ invocations of diversity and inclusiveness.  Third, in spite of Great Britain’s reputation for anti-Semitism and the United States’ reputation for tolerance, American students reported anti-Semitism at the same rate as British students had in 2011. Fourth, women (59%) are more likely to report anti-Semitism than men (51%).

These troubling results, as the authors note, reinforces a 2013 Pew Research Center study in which young Jews reported being called offensive names at higher rates than older Jews. This is a shocking finding given the widespread notion that young people are less prejudiced than older people.

One caveat, which the authors make themselves, is necessary. For a variety of reasons, the survey sample “cannot claim to be a fully representative national sample,” and its response rate, at 10-12%, was relatively low. On the other hand, the authors argues that the students surveyed “seem to mirror the overall national sample” reached in the 2013 National College Student survey.  Admittedly, it seems unlikely that a group, 40% of which reported having “visited a Holocaust memorial museum in the past year,” is representative of the Jewish campus population. However, as the researchers themselves concede, the “climate surveys” used to demonstrate bias against other groups on campus are often bedeviled by small sample sizes and concerns about selection bias. To dismiss this survey’s findings on that basis would deny one of the respondents’ poignant and reasonable demand: “to know that our University stands by us.”

What’s Going on at Swarthmore?

Swarthmore is again in the news over campus speech. Just yesterday, Hussein Aboubakr, an Egyptian political refugee who’s written about anti-Semitism among Egyptian Muslims, spoke at an event sponsored by Swarthmore’s pro-Israel groups. According to Swarthmore’s Students for Israel, some of the students who attended the event came only to scoff: “As [Aboubakr] tearfully recalled painful experiences in a military prison of being assaulted and cursed at, our peers prepared to yell at him and say that he “can’t f***ing say that.” A student interviewed by the Swarthmore Phoenix admitted to interjecting at the end of Aboubakr’s talk. Aboubakr, she said, argued that “Arabs constitute a failed culture that has no place in the modern world” and that they “are taught from the moment they’re born that their sole purpose in life is to kill Jews.”

Swarthmore’s students seem allergic to opposing opinions. In May 2013, Danielle Charette, a founder of Swarthmore’s Conservative Society wrote about how at an open meeting of Swarthmore’s Board of Managers, called to solicit opinions on fossil fuel divestment, protesters seized control and “delivered speeches that condemned the ‘liberal script’ in the name of “radical, emancipatory change.” The liberal script is, of course, dialogue, which in the view of the protesters and their supporters would have been futile in the face of “hegemonic power structures.”Ms. Charette stood up and “reminded the protesters that other members of the college were there to hear various perspectives.” Then, “students began to shout and clap in unison, drowning” her out. The professors in the room uttered not a peep.

In February 2014, moreover, Continue reading What’s Going on at Swarthmore?

Harassment by Lawsuit in Salaita Case

KC Johnson and Adam Kissel have written insightfully about the case of Steven Salaita for MTC. Briefly, this August the University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign withdrew its offer to Salaita of a tenured position in American Indian Studies. The offer was withdrawn after Chancellor Phyllis Wise and the Board of Trustees became aware of a series of comments Salaita had made about Israel on Twitter, perhaps the most striking of which concerned the kidnapping of three Jewish teenagers in June. It soon came to be known that they had been murdered, and at the time Salaita tweeted his comment, they were already feared to be dead: “You may be too refined to say it, but I’m not: I wish all the fucking West Bank settlers would go missing.”

As Kissel and Johnson write, U of I’s actions in the case have generated heated controversy, and honorable disagreement, about academic freedom, and, more distastefully, an embrace of Salaita, who has been treated as a rock star on North American campuses ever since. Now, inevitably, Salaita has filed a lawsuit, which I have written about here. Though the suit was expected, one element of it was unexpected: Salaita is suing unspecified donors to U of I who, according to the complaint, caused the trustees and the chancellor to end U of I’s relationship with Salaita.

That’s funny. Salaita’s lawyers want to hold the donors liable for “tortious interference with contractual and business relations.” Simply, Salaita either had a contract or, if his offer letter Continue reading Harassment by Lawsuit in Salaita Case

Steven Pinker on the Boycott Israel Dispute at Harvard

Steven Pinker, an experimental psychologist and prominent public intellectual, has written an important letter concerning the latest controversy over Israel at Harvard University, where he is based. Such controversies are notuncommon there.

First, some background. SodaStream, an Israeli company that makes a popular home carbonation system, has been an object of the boycott, divestment, sanctions (BDS) movement against Israel because it operates a factory on the West Bank and may therefore be said to profit from “the occupation.”  Defenders of the company argue that the factory is located in “a suburb of Jerusalem that Palestinian Authority leaders acknowledge will remain part of Israel in any negotiated resolution of the conflict,” and that SodaStream pays “high wages and provides excellent working conditions” for Palestinians who, for the most part, have opposed the boycott. Full disclosure: I think the boycott is ridiculous, especially now that SodaStream has already announced its plans to close down the factory.

In a move that surprised almost everyone, Continue reading Steven Pinker on the Boycott Israel Dispute at Harvard

Student Workers Vote to Support the Israel Boycott

The UC Student-Workers Union represents “over 13,000 student-workers across the University of California system.” They are affiliated with the United Auto Workers. The union exists to bargain with the University of California concerning “salary, benefits, workload, grievance procedures, fair hiring processes and other issues.” On Wednesday, the union announced that its members had voted, 1411 to 749 to “join the global movement for Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions” against Israel. In accordance with this resolution, the union will call on the University of California and the United Auto Workers to divest from Israeli state institutions and from companies complicit “in severe and ongoing rights human rights violations as part of the Israeli oppression of the Palestinian people.” They are the first union in the United States to vote to support BDS.

Others have explained why the BDS movement is not merely a call for solidarity with Palestinians or to end the occupation but a call for the end of Israel as a Jewish state. If you don’t believe them, just listen to boycott activist, Lara Kiswani, who explained on a panel organized by UC Student Workers that BDS is “resisting colonialism in Palestine, and colonialism entails all of occupied Palestine from Haifa to Jerusalem to Ramallah.” Or “Bringing down Israel will really benefit everyone in the world and everyone in society, particularly workers.”

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Anti-Israel Activist to Students: What’s to Discuss?

In his fine essay in The Case Against Academic Boycotts of Israel, Russell Berman of Stanford University, says this of the boycott Israel movement in academe: “a hatred of knowledge and of reasoned argument pervades its prose.” I thought that characterization over the top until I read this account of a panel on Palestine at Conflict Kitchen, a Pittsburgh restaurant that “serves only cuisine from countries with which the United States in in conflict.” Conflict Kitchen is directed by John Rubin, a professor of art at Carnegie Mellon University, and Dawn Weleski, an artist and former student of Rubin’s. The panel, which also included a former West Bank resident, was co-sponsored by the University of Pittsburgh’s Honors College.

At the panel, Ken Boas, a part-time English instructor at the University of Pittsburgh, came out against debates and discussions of the Israel-Palestinian conflict. When an audience member proposed that Boas’s comments, equating Israel with apartheid South Africa and calling for an academic boycott, were one sided, Boas pleaded: “why do we continually have to have balance and get into debates and have discussions?”

Rubin justifies the one-sidedness of Conflict Kitchen’s treatment of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict by claiming to air a point of view that is rarely aired.  Conflict Kitchen exists to “reveal a voice that isn’t given a forum” or, as Weleski says “to have a conversation that’s not already here.” That is why Rubin has ignored “pushback from members of the local Jewish community that aren’t in support of us presenting those types of viewpoints.” There are “plenty of other [forums]” for the Israeli side of the story.

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Can Games Save Higher Education?

In Minds on Fire: How Role Immersion Games Transform Colleges, Mark C. Carnes makes the case that they might. Students at Pace University have become so engrossed in a game called Henry VIII and the Reformation Parliament that class spills into the dorms: “students endlessly debated, gossiped, and strategized Tudor religion and politics.” At Dordt College, students playing Rousseau, Burke, and Revolution in France 1791, ask to begin class half an hour early so that they can complete the game. Every student attends the four early morning sessions. As one of them explains, “We read more . . .than we had at any time before in the class…It had become more than a class to us at that point. ”

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Goucher to Applicants: No High School Transcript, No Problem!

Goucher College is lowering its application standards even further. Having dispensed with the SAT requirement in 2007, it’s now making transcripts optional, too. Students can now apply to Goucher by sending in two assignments from high school, at least one of them graded, and a video, of no more than two minutes, explaining how the applicant will fit in at Goucher. As Goucher’s new promotional video, touting its “totally unique way of applying to college,” says, “We want to know how you want to change the world.” The jury is still out on this approach, but so far it sounds misguided.

The debate over going test-optional pitted those who thought that colleges were simply trying to increase their applicant pool, and hence their selectivity and U.S. News rankings, and those who thought that colleges were reaching out to a population of applicants who could not afford an SAT or ACT coach but had otherwise performed well in high school. Those who favored the test-optional approach had at least this going for them: there was some reason to believe that standardized tests did not add much to high school GPA in predicting college success. A Bates College study, for example, found no significant differences in graduation rate or GPA between those who submitted scores and those who did not. A more recent study of “123,000 students at 33 institutions” had similar results. Whatever you make of such studies, at least those who favor SAT-optional can claim that they are concerned not only with drawing in applicants but also with drawing in applicants who are likely to graduate, rather than applicants who will rack up debt and fail to graduate.

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Anti-Israel Campus Activists Could Learn Something from George Bush

In a speech delivered to a joint session of Congress fewer than two weeks after September 11th, the much maligned President Bush repeatedly distinguished between the radical Muslims who had attacked us and Muslims in general. Toward the end of the speech, he reminded Americans not to single out Arabs or Muslims for the actions of a fringe: “We’re in a fight for our principles, and our first responsibility is to live by them. No one should be singled out for unfair treatment or unkind words because of their ethnic background or religious faith.”

I was reminded of this statement as I read an account of an attack on a Jewish student at Temple yesterday. Almost everything about this incident is in dispute, and we’ll have to wait and see what an investigation reveals. What is not in dispute is this: in front of a table run by Students for Justice in Palestine, during an argument about Israel, one “pro-Palestinian” student, hit another, Jewish “pro-Israel” student.

In response to this incident, Students for Justice in Palestine has denied “right wing” charges of antisemitism and insisted that their “opposition to all forms of structural racism” includes antisemitism. Although Vassar College’s SJP clearly crossed the line into antisemitism last year, I see no reason not to believe that the vast majority of SJP student members reject antisemitism sincerely and vigorously. I just wish this acknowledgement were not always uttered from a defensive crouch, coupled with the charge, or at least the implication, that antisemitism is largely the invention of a hysterical or calculating pro-Israel right wing.

As Holocaust scholar Deborah Lipstadt reminded us yesterday, antisemitism is on the rise in Europe and was on the rise before the most recent Gaza conflict. In Germany, we actually have demonstrators chanting “Hamas! Hamas! Jews to the gas!” Lipsdadt says that “instead of explaining away these actions, cultural, religious and academic leaders in all the countries where these events have occurred should be shaken to the core, not just about the safety of their Jewish neighbors, but about the future of the seemingly liberal, enlightened societies they belong to.”

In making its denunciation of antisemitism an afterthought in a statement directly responding to accusations of antisemitism, the SJP students merely follow the lead of movement leaders whose college days are long behind them. So, although large numbers of Jews have considered leaving Europe, and although there is no question that synagogues have been targeted by anti-Israel forces, anti-Zionist outlets like Mondoweiss have concentrated almost entirely on looking for holes in whatever stories of antisemitism they can question. Another strategy is to concede the existence of antisemitism but blame it on Israel’s defenders. As Steven Salaita, the professor who may have lost his University of Illinois job offer over the stridency of his anti-Israel comments tweeted:  “by eagerly conflating Jewishness and Israel, Zionists are partly responsible when people say antisemitic shit in response to Israeli terror.”

William Jacobson, whose story on the Temple incident I have linked to, predicts that anti-Israel sentiment on campus will be much more intense this year and that some of it will lead to violence. And although being anti-Israel is analytically distinct from being anti-Jewish, experience tells us that anti-Israel activism will sometimes cross the line into antisemitism. It would be nice, and might even help, if leaders of the anti-Israel movement on our campuses were to take the lead in conceding the threats of violence and antisemitism and get out in front of those threats, rather than mentioning antisemitism only when they are in damage control mode. It is time they learned a lesson from President Bush.

Anti-Liberalism at Vassar: Will the Professors Please Stand Up?

Last month, the Vassar chapter of Students for Justice in Palestine posted a Nazi propaganda poster on its Tumblr site. The poster depicted, among other things, a big nosed man carrying a moneybag. The SJP had previously posted material from an anti-Semitic magazine, using the classic “fifth columnist” trope to describe Israel’s American defenders.

At that time, a Vassar alum and “proud left winger,” writing anonymously for the Daily Kos, claimed that this incident was no anomaly. He recalled “a non-white friend, who dated a Jewish woman during college, being ridiculed for it by some of the minoritized students who are behind [the anti-Israel] campaign.” That was “on top of the anti-Semitic comments [he] occasionally heard uttered during classroom discussions.” He concluded that “Jewish-phobia is rampant” at Vassar.”

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Don’t Let Anti-Israel Boycotters Play the Victim

Representative Alan Grayson, a Democrat from Florida’s 9th District has introduced H.R. 4776, “to prohibit an institution of higher education that participates in a boycott of the Israeli government, economy, or academia from receiving funds from the U.S. federal government.” The text of the bill is not yet available, but it is not
too early to say that Grayson’s is a well-intentioned but bad idea.

Grayson’s is the latest in a series of state and federal bills to limit anti-Israel activity on our college campuses. The first of these bills were introduced in the wake of last December’s decision by the American Studies Association to boycott Israeli universities. The ASA followed the smaller Association for Asian American Studies in lending its scholarly credentials to a boycott movement whose explicit purpose is to turn Israel into a pariah state. Grayson’s bill also comes in the context of moves this year, at the level of student government, to persuade colleges and universities to divest from companies alleged to support Israel’s activities in the West Bank.

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Higher Ed Innovation Experts or Wishful Thinkers?

Not all experts think expertly. Consider Clayton M. Christensen, a professor of business administration at Harvard Business School. Christensen, as his web site informs us, “is the architect of and the world’s foremost authority on disruptive innovation.” Last year, he predicted that hundreds of colleges and universities would go bankrupt within the next ten years.

One can’t rule it out, but Christensen’s reasoning does not inspire confidence. In a recent column, Christensen and Michelle R. Weiss,
a senior research fellow at the Clayton Christensen Institute for Disruptive Innovation, responded to skepticism about Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) by making this surprising declaration: “
In 2013, we witnessed aggressive discounting strategies as well as schools experimenting with lowering net — not sticker — prices in an effort to recruit students. . . . MOOCs have managed to generate price competition previously unheard of among traditional campuses.”

The declaration is surprising because there is no evidence that MOOCs–as opposed to a weak economy and a decline in the number of high school graduates–are driving price competition. Christensen’s argument seems less a hardheaded admission that universities need to adapt to change than a devout wish that MOOCs are changing
everything.

In the devout wishing business, Christensen is a piker compared to Rich Karlgaard, the publisher of Forbes magazine who, as he tells us himself, “lectures up to 50 to 60 times a year on the innovation economy. His piece urges us to imagine the higher education sector as a stock market and decide whom to bet on. As our tough talking investment adviser, he tells us to “make no mistake: The expensive liberal arts colleges in America are going down-fast and hard.” Their “brands have become laughingstocks.”

He has in mind Haverford and Smith, both of which have been in the news this spring for successful, politicized, student campaigns against
commencement speakers. In part because of the harm their politics have done to their brands, “return on a four-year $250,000 investment in such colleges will be poor in future years.”

Karlgaard, who presumably feels compelled to offer evidence for predictions he makes about his own business, offers none at all for this one about higher education. Agreed, Haverford and Smith should be embarrassed by the episodes in question. But when this commencement season is forgotten, Haverford College will still have an enviable 93.3% graduation rate, a modest median student loan debt of $15,000, and a high but not astronomical annual net cost of $20,623 per year.  With an endowment of about $434 million, and a small student body, Haverford will still be able to provide its students with opportunities less well  endowed colleges cannot provide. While Payscale’s value rankings are not dispositive, Haverford is ranked 28th in a pool of 1486 schools because Payscale calculates from cost and salary data that Haverford provides an excellent return on investment.

Perhaps parents will stop sending their children there, or employers will stop hiring Haverford graduates, because this year’s  commencement speaker withdrew under pressure. But I doubt it.

Smith College’s numbers are not as impressive as Haverford’s, but its one and a half billion (!) dollar endowment should shield it from major upheavals.

Compare Ashford University, a for-profit that Karlgaard vouches for because it “has a Forbes M.B.A. program.” Ashford’s annual net price is about $2500 less than Haverford’s. It has a poor graduation rate, 16.3% of its students default on their loans, and it recently was forced to settle with Iowa’s attorney general, who accused Ashford of multiple violations of the state’s Consumer Fraud Act, for $7.25 million. How is its brand doing? In preferring places like Ashford to places like Haverford, Karlsgaard is less a hardheaded business analyst than a wishful thinker.

Academics are sometimes accused of hoping that higher
education’s problems will just go away. Whatever there may be to that accusation, Christensen and Karlsgaard are doing little more than hoping themselves.      

More Sloppy Higher-Ed Journalism

Anyone who hasn’t been living under a rock for the past several years knows that things are harder for college graduates than they once were. Higher education writing that exaggerates this point with the help of misleading factoids consequently leaves readers less informed than they were before. Writers are especially to be blamed when the statistics upon which they rely have long been known to be misleading.

Consider this widely circulated opinion piece from Australia’s The Age. In an effort to demonstrate that paying “tens of thousands of dollars” to attend a good university “increasingly . . . defies economic good sense,” Paul McGeough unearths this statistic: “an Associated Press analysis of date (sic) for 2011 found that 53.6 per cent of graduates under the age of 25 were unemployed or in menial jobs that did not require their degree.”

When the Associated Press put out this shocking statistic, it was very widely circulated. It even played a small part in Mitt Romney’s presidential campaign. Responsible journalists largely took it to be true.

But there is no excuse for using the number today. Jordan Weissman, Nathaniel Beck, and others showed it to be misleading a year ago.

The Associated Press neglected to mention that it counted as unemployed students who had returned to school. By its reckoning, a graduate who is attending Harvard Law is as unemployed as a graduate conducting a job search out of Mom and Dad’s basement.

Moreover, McGeough mischaracterizes the Associated Press story, which nowhere argues that students who are employed in jobs that do not require a bachelor’s degree are doing “menial labor.” As Weissmann points out, the Bureau of Labor Statistics considers a 2 year degree sufficient for a registered nurse. But registered nursing is hardly menial labor and median pay is $64,570 per year. Anthony Carnevale adds that “over 50 percent of nurses already have a four-year or graduate degree and . . . those nurses have more responsibilities and higher earnings than nurses with associate degrees once they get on the job.” A bachelor’s degree continues to earn a substantial wage premium, even in jobs that do not technically require such a degree.

My point is not to deny that college graduates are doing worse than they used to do. They are doing worse, though when McGeough tells us that the unemployment rate of young college graduates in the U.S. is 8.8% he should mention that the rate for young high school graduates is, by the same way of reckoning, 29.9%. Nor is my point that analysts who insist that college is not for everybody are wrong, though I think they overemphasize that common sense claim.

My point is that if you’re going to argue that it defies economic good sense to pay tens of thousands of dollars to attend a good college, thereby discouraging people from attending, you had better not rely on a three year old statistic whose accuracy has been convincingly and repeatedly denied. That’s irresponsible.

In College Fundraising, the Rich Get Richer

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College fundraising was up 9 percent last year, says the Council for Aid to Education, but there’s a worrisome statistic: 17 percent of the $34 billion raised went to ten already wealthy institutions. The poorest of the ten is NYU, which already has an endowment of about $3 billion, 28th richest among American colleges and universities.

Inequality among colleges and universities seems to be increasing. Commentators on the leftright, and center now question whether massive endowments like Harvard’s, a staggering $30 billion plus, serve higher education well. Felix Salmon and others consider Harvard “a hedge fund with an educational institution attached, the educational institution more than paying for itself in the tax exemption it confers upon the entire endowment.” Some, like Salmon, have called for revoking higher education’s tax exemptions; others have called for taxing the wealthiest endowments; and still others have called on the best endowed colleges and universities to spend more on improving higher education nationally. While they wait to see if any of that will happen, donors should consider whether flinging more dollars at the mountains of cash on which their favorite grantees sit will do much good.

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The Wrong Way to Argue About Higher-Ed

Earlier this week, the great classicist Victor Davis Hanson made a few familiar complaints about American higher education: Colleges cost too much, depend too much on low-paid adjunct professors, employ too many administrators, and engage in political advocacy, rather than liberal education. However, he added some over-the-top rhetoric. Colleges, in his estimation, have “gone rogue and become virtual outlaw institutions.” This language is misguided.

Let’s begin by admitting that Hanson’s worries, though familiar, are also proper. Let’s also admit that colleges and universities, in their quest for tuition revenue, sometimes compromise themselves by, for example, admitting students who are likely to land in debt without ever obtaining a degree. But it takes more than that to justify Hanson’s radical charge that colleges and universities have “gone rogue.”

In order to arrive at his conclusion, Hanson, I am sorry to say, takes polemics to the very edge of propagandizing. So he trots out, as if representative, the “recent graduate in anthropology with a $100,000 loan.”  He uses this example to bolster the conclusion that “few graduates have the ability to pay back the principal” on their debt, so that students can expect to be enslaved to student loan usurers for life. But as Meta Brown of the New York Federal Reserve has documented, 39.9% of student loan borrowers have less than $10,000 in debt. 3.7% have $100,000 or more, and I doubt anthropology majors represent a big part of that sample. Median student loan debt in 2012 stood at $12,800 (though the mean was considerably higher). The New York Fed is hardly an apologist for higher education, and the reports its researchers publish express great concern, even alarm, about student loan debt and its potential effects on the economy. Unfortunately, Hanson discredits that legitimate concern by distorting the truth about student loan debt and attributing the complex problem to higher education outlaws.

In a similar vein, Hanson calls out tenured full professors for having the “best sinecure in America.” Not satisfied to claim that full professors make a good wage for doing very little, he adds that the “associate or full professor [enjoys] a lifelong right of selection of his classes.” I don’t know whether that is true or not at Harvard and Yale, but it certainly isn’t true at any of the several colleges and universities where I’ve worked. It is unfortunate, but not atypical, that populist critics of higher education do not seem to notice that richly endowed private colleges and public universities, with their climbing walls and lazy rivers make up a small proportion of a diverse higher education sector.

Hanson has presumably given up on reforming higher education from within, since he cannot possibly hope to help conservative or moderate allies within academia by depicting them as complicit with an outlaw enterprise. Perhaps with some justification, he has determined that “root and branch” reform is unlikely to come from those whose livelihoods are bound up with the present system. Still, even in the debate that takes place outside of academia, conservatives should not be content to attribute higher education’s woes, whose causes are complex, to cartoon villains. It’s possible, in what passes for higher education policy debate, that these conservatives will be taken seriously, but they won’t deserve to be.

Redwashing, Pinkwashing, and Hogwash in Beirut

Thanks to the American Studies Association’s recent vote for an academic boycott of Israel, the field of American Studies has been under a microscope. Prior to the boycott resolution, perhaps no one would have noticed the conference on “Transnational American Studies,” sponsored by the Center for American Studies and Research at the American University of Beirut. It is taking place as I write.

I cannot hope to surpass Jeffrey Goldberg’s send-up of the conference. Let me limit myself to putting it in context.

Transnational American Studies is founded on a sensible observation: In order to understand American culture and history in its complexity, it may be helpful to consider how the United States is seen from the outside, how its culture and history has been shaped by those of other nations, and what it has aspired to do, and actually done, on the world stage. Globalization may be a buzzword, but it is reasonable to suppose that the study of American culture and history, or for that matter the study of any national culture and history, must have an international dimension.

 

Of course, students of American language and literature had not simply neglected that dimension before American Studies scholars “discovered” it in the 1980s. This recent transnational move in American Studies was directed against what American Studies scholars took to be a chauvinistic, whitewashed, view of American history.  As John Carlos Rowe, a supporter of the ASA boycott who has written extensively about the field of American Studies, explains here, the push for transnationalism was influenced by “ethnic studies, feminist, Native American, and gay/queer scholars,” who insisted upon “the historical reality of slavery and racism, Chinese Exclusion, Japanese Internment, genocide against native peoples, economic and political marginalization of Chicano/as and Latino/as, exclusion of women from full civil and political rights, persecution of lesbians and gays, and the religious persecution of Catholics and Mormons and Muslims.” Because of this focus on American crimes, the internationalization of American Studies came to be closely connected to anti-colonialism. The same internationalism that could potentially assist us in understanding American culture and history has been wielded as a weapon to strike at imperial America and Israel, its “settler-colonial” ally.

All this is on display at the conference, which has been called to honor Edward Said, known in part for championing the Palestinian cause. Said’s stance can be discerned from his view of the 1993 Oslo accords, signed by Yitzhak Rabin and Yasser Arafat, and endorsed by President Clinton. Said bitterly called Arafat and the Palestinian Authority “willing collaborators with the (Israeli) military occupation, a sort of Vichy government for Palestinians.” He is the patron scholarly saint of those who reject a two state solution. But since making Said the guiding spirit of the conference was insufficient to indicate where the organizers stood, they selected Berkeley’s Judith Butler, who seems to show up everywhere a voice for boycotting Israel is needed, as their keynote speaker.

Admittedly, at the American University of Beirut, at a conference on transnational American Studies, it would be strange not to discuss the role of the United States in the Middle East. But there can be no excuse for the first panel entitled “Pinkwashing and Transnational Alliance: Challenging Settler Colonialism in Palestine/Israel, the United States, and Canada.” Pinkwashing, in case any MTC reader is fortunate enough never to have encountered the term, refers especially to the idea that mentioning Israel’s respect for gay rights is a tool to hide Israel’s oppression of Palestinians. All six members of the panel have endorsed the United States Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel. One is on its advisory board and another in its “Organizing Collective.” It is hard to see how pinkwashing is relevant to even the transnational study of American culture and history, but it is easy to see how the panel will go.

There are two other panels on Israel or the Palestinians, “Redwashing: Israeli Claims to Indigeneity and the Political Role of Native Americans,” and the “Palestine Question in the U.S.” The seven members of these two panels, without exception, are on record in favor of the Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions movement. Redwashing is, you guessed it, the use of Native Americans to hide Israel’s crimes.

There are many in the American Studies field who have opposed the ASA boycott of Israel, including champions of transnational American Studies, like Shelley Fishkin, former president of the ASA.  But, as the conference in Beirut suggests, those who hope to save the international dimension of American Studies from takeover by the BDS movement have their work cut out for them.