A few years ago, I did a piece for Inside Higher Ed examining how defenders of the academic status quo responded to outside criticism. I argued that all too often the responses effectively proved the critics’ case about the one-sided perspectives that too often dominate the contemporary academy.
The pattern has again manifested itself after widespread outrage greeted
Some “right-wing” blogs certainly criticized the selection of the Bayoumi book. But the first prominent criticism of the choice came from Jewish Week. The most eloquent questioning of the college’s decision came from the Daily News. Is Bayoumi seriously suggesting that the Daily News and Jewish Week are “right-wing”? And while Prof. Bayoumi doubtless would consider Minding the Campus “right-wing,” I wonder how he believes I obtained myriad quotes from a book that I “clearly hadn’t read.” Demonizing his critics, of course, allows Bayoumi to avoid responding to their substantive criticisms—which he has, to date, declined to do.
One of Bayoumi’s English Department colleagues, Karl Steel, opted for the ad hominem attack route common to defenders of the academic status quo. Steel, a graduate of Evergreen State College and a self-described expert in “critical animal theory,” asserted that my “accusations of know-nothingism against Bayoumi and the rest of us look a bit silly given that you’ve provided no evidence that you have any idea what goes on in our department or in our courses.”
This comment, to put it mildly, was a non-sequitur: my posts made no mention of English Dept. courses, nor did they accuse anyone of “know-nothingism.” That a tenure-track English professor lacks either basic reading comprehension skills or the ability to formulate a basic argument raises some questions about exactly what the committee that hired Prof. Steel desired in a new faculty member.
Then there’s John Wilson, author of the anti-Horowitz blog “collegefreedom.org” and a passionate defender of the academic status quo. Wilson blasted my posts for claiming “that there was no surveillance of Arab Americans in the 1990s”; for accusing Bayoumi “of being an anti-Israeli ‘extremist’ because Bayoumi declares, ‘the core issue remains the rights of the Palestinian people to self-determination'”; for having “dare[d] to oppose the very concept” of Palestinian self-determination; and for offering a “call for censorship.”
Powerful charges indeed. The only problems? My posts, which
Another English Department professor, Paul Moses, defended his colleague by faulting me for “committing the same errors here that you honed in on in your critique of the news coverage of the
Yet his comment brought to light an item previously ignored in the public commentary on the Bayoumi affair—that the 40-member English Department had voted unanimously to support the decision to have Bayoumi’s book be the one and only book that all incoming students must read. Unanimously. What does it say about the range of opinions in the BC English Department—which, as I noted, is hardly atypical of English departments nationally in the pedagogical interests of the professors it hires or the ideological range among its faculty—that not even one of its members dissented from choosing as the one and only book that all incoming BC students must read a book that wildly claimed that between 1987 and 2001, the U.S. government approach toward “Arab Americans” were “more often used to limit the speech of Arab Americans in order to cement U.S. policy toward the Israeli-Palestinian conflict”?
The only positive element of the college response came from the upper administration, chiefly college president Karen Gould. (Gould and college provost William Tramontano have been a breath of fresh air following the discredited regime that they replaced.) The Bayoumi book’s selection placed Gould in an impossible situation, since bowing to the outside and internal (if non-English Department) criticism—however meritorious that criticism might be—would have generated an uprising from the clear majority of the faculty that side with Bayoumi. Gould, therefore, appropriately went out of her way to distance herself from the anti-Israel extremism in Bayoumi’s other work, and signaled that the college viewed the inflammatory (and poorly sourced) statements of the book’s concluding section as out of bounds for the mandatory reading assignment. Realistically, she could have done little more—though, of course, the many scarcely credible assertions in the book’s afterword form the intellectual spine for its overall arguments.
Overall, though, I fear that Bayoumi’s defenders did little to help their cause in their public comments.