Tablet has a typically superb exposé by Jamie Kirchick of the “pinkwashing” conference, held late in the spring semester at the CUNY Graduate Center. I had previously written about the concept; the “pinkwasher” theorists allege, without evidence, that Israel uses its generally positive record on gay rights to obscure its allegedly evil treatment of the Palestinians. Of course, if Israel had a poor gay rights record, these same “pinkwasher” theorists would be attacking the state as anti-gay.
Two items from the Kirchick piece that deserve special emphasis from an academic standpoint. First, the “pinkwashing” event, coordinated by College of Staten Island professor Sara Schulman, was billed as an academic conference–an event for professors, in theory, to gather and exchange ideas. Defenders of the academic status quo regularly claim that the professoriate must be a safe space for the full and free exchange of ideas to dismiss criticism from outsiders.
This commitment to intellectual diversity, of course, is usually honored only in the breach. But it’s relatively rare to see academics simply admit their closed-mindedness. Yet Schulman did exactly that.
Kirchick discovered that Schulman rejected proposals from former Meretz MK Anat Maor, former Kentucky state treasurer Jonathan Miller and attorney Frederick Hertz. Each of their papers clearly addressed the conference’s topic, and none could be considered pro-Israel. Yet Schulman rejected them all. Why? As she informed Miller, his proposal (a paper suggesting that Israel promoted gay rights for cynical reasons–to promote tourism–but not for national security purposes) was “contrary to the content of the conference.”
To the content. Schulman’s “conference” accepted or rejected papers not on their academic quality, or their relevance, but on whether the authors of the paper accepted her anti-Israel fanaticism.
In this respect, the “pinkwashing” affair was not an academic conference as the term is commonly understood. It was, instead, just a propaganda event. And while closed-mindedness and propagandizing are hardly uncommon in the contemporary academy, it’s very rare indeed to see a propagandist effectively admit her agenda, as Schulman did.
Kirchick’s piece also points out that Schulman has risen to the level of distinguished professor–even though her most advanced degree is a B.A. from Empire State College, which invites students “pursuing associate, bachelor’s and master’s degrees onsite at 35 locations in New York State and abroad, as well as online everywhere.” CUNY, which has relatively few endowed chairs, created the distinguished professor rank to single out “exceptional scholar[s] with an international reputation for scholarly and/or research excellence.” The position entails both a reduced teaching load and an annual salary increase of more than $25,000. The overwhelming majority of distinguished professors fit the requirements. And then there’s Sarah Schulman. Her unearned eminence provides only the latest reminder of how the contemporary academy financially rewards anti-Israel fanaticism.