David Hamilton Golland, Ph.D.
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Race, Politics, and Academia
(And—sometimes—Music.)


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10/22/21: What Is the University?
"The Board of Trustees is the university."

I confess, I've never heard quite that formulation. I've heard faculty referred to as employees; seen presidential investitures that resembled b'nai mitzvah; met a security guard who acted like the purpose of the university is to prevent criminal behavior; met students who treat college as boot camp for the communist party (albeit rarely).

But I never heard anyone--as my university's general counsel did yesterday at a Faculty Senate meeting--describe the university in quite this way. Typically, people with bureacratic, ahistorical, or otherwise ignorant interpretations of university life tend to keep such opinions to themselves.

Is the Board of Trustees the university? To answer that question takes but a simple thought experiment: can the university exist without it?

Of course it can. It did for hundreds of years. For that matter, it existed without an awful lot of university components many people today take for granted--student affairs, housing, auxiliary enterprise, development. Not that it should exist without those components. And in the current regulatory environment, many of those offices are not only helpful but necessary. But we would still be a university without them.

There are only two things a university must have: faculty and students.

Indeed, the last president of my university put it to the Board bluntly during a recent state budget crisis, in a moment which made me incredibly proud: "we would still be a university if we were just one professor teaching a handful of students under a tree."

The job of the university general counsel is to serve the legal needs of the university. The danger in thinking the Board is the university is that s/he will not serve the legal needs of the faculty and the students--let alone intangible ideas inherent to the university like academic freedom, or the questioning and discussion involved in research and learning.

The Board of Trustees, in our public institution, is directed by law to oversee the university on behalf of the taxpayer. But no, counselor, the Board of Trustees most certainly is not the university.

 


10/8/21: Voter Turnout
Continuing my recent theme of recounting some of my experiences running faculty elections, today I write about voter turnout. My university does not require faculty to vote, so encouraging people to cast ballots is important to election integrity. Too few voters and the winners cannot claim with any credibility that they truly represent the faculty. Also, in my experience there are always a number of people on any faculty who for whatever reason seek to undermine the process, or have grudges against particular colleagues or administrators, and these folks tend to be among the most vocal on campus. Since they almost always vote, the lower the turnout, the greater the danger that they will win races or otherwise cause havoc. To borrow a Nixonian phrase, the "silent majority" of the faculty is good and smart and competent and sane; they may not always have time to serve in leadership, but when as many of them vote as possible, there is a greater likelhood that faculty leadership will similarly be good and smart and competent and sane.

I've used a variety of methods to increase turnout. One is to work extra hard to convince people to run for Senate and committee seats. The more contested seats in any particular election, the more faculty will vote--not only because so many of them are running, but because of the reserved method we tend to favor for what one might call "campaigning"--that is, word of mouth. Each candidate for a contested seat is likely to ask a small circle of colleagues for their vote (often by simply telling them they're running; actually asking people for their support is considered gauche). And when faculty start filling out a ballot to vote for one colleague in one race, they tend to fill out the rest of the ballot too.

I've also gone door to door among faculty offices around campus--something not limited to election time--to chat with my colleagues, get to know them and their concerns. Reminding them to vote is always part of that conversation.

Finally, during the ballot process itself, I tread the fine line between sufficient email reminders to vote and over-burdening my colleagues' inboxes.

 


9/30/21: Academic Freedom as a Collective Right
The lead article from the current issue of the Journal of Academic Freedom bears reading by all folks interested in preserving, protecting, and defining academic freedom.
Against the Common Sense: Academic Freedom as a Collective Right
by Eva Cherniavsky

 


9/23/21: Integrity in Faculty Elections
The first principle in election integrity is that everyone eligible to seek nomination has ample opportunity to do so, and everyone eligible to vote has ample opportunity to do so. At my institution all tenure-line faculty have an email group that is fairly easy to reach, and HR and IT work in tandem to place newly-hired tenure-line faculty on that list. Contingent faculty and emeritus faculty have lists too. In that case, sending out a call for nominations (and subsequently sending out ballots) is fairly simple: enter the group into the bcc field and click send. Where access to e-blasts is restricted, one can procure a list of tenure-line (or contingent, or emeritus) faculty from the Office of the Provost.

In the paper era, we sent nomination forms to faculty mailboxes, and double-envelope ballots to their mailboxes too. Problems arose when temporary staff or student workers inadvertently put ballots in the wrong email boxes; every year we heard complaints from individual faculty that they had not received ballots. We moved over to electronic nominations and balloting rather late (2019). But even then we adopted a somewhat involved procedure because we do not trust online balloting systems that have been shown to sometimes allow anyone with an internet connection to vote, or anyone to vote multiple times.

We begin by creating and publicizing an election calendar, giving ample time for nominations and for balloting, as well as for officer meetings to check and count everything. We created fairly specific rules in our Senate for how long these period should last, and if your Senate's bylaws or Standing Rules don't have these rules, I recommend you add them.

Something to consider: when we used paper nominations forms and ballots we enlisted a staff member in the Office of the Provost to receive these, and we had a two-envelope system to keep the Senate officers who counted votes from knowing who was voting for whom. Seince we've moved to email, we designate an impartial "election comptroller" who gets sole access (through IT) to a special email account (facultyelections@...) and downloads all ballots as attachments before copying them into a shared drive that all Senate officers can access--so we can count them together. Needless to say, the election comptroller is someone who agrees to not seek electino to any seat in the current round, and is a respected faculty member known for absolute integrity. Because most of our seats carry two- or three-year staggered terms, it's fairly easy to find someone who is not seeking election in a particular year.

We have particular rules about who can nominate and who can be nominated for particular seats--on the Senate and on other committees--and so we convene the officers, after nominations are closed, to verify each nomination to ensure it is valid.

Once we have a list of verified nominees for each seat, we notify the folks running unopposed to inform them that they have been elected, inform any people who submitted invalid nominations that they are not nominated, and inform the remaining nominees that they are nominated to contested seats which will be decided by balloting. Our rules do not allow write-in candidates or "no" votes in single-candidate races, so we consider people running unopposed to be automatically elected, but your system may be different; follow your rules.

Next we generate the ballots. Our university is divided into colleges, and some seats on Senate and on other bodies are designated to represent a college, while other seats are designated "at large." When there are contested college seats, faculty in those colleges get ballots that include the contested college seats as well as the contested at-large seats (either on a single ballot or on two ballots); faculty in all other colleges get an "at large only" ballot. Since we don't have email groups for "College of x faculty," here we have to send the ballots out to every eligible voter in each college, based on a list of faculty we procure each year from the Provost's office. Since we have fewer than 200 tenure-line faculty in the university, this is tedious but not impossible. It minimizes the number of people who will submit the wrong ballot, because everyone gets exactly the ballot they're eligible to cast. We could also send out all versions of the ballot to all faculty members and instruct them to return only the ballot they are eligible to cast. This will decrease work at the front end (sending out the ballots) but increase work for the election comptroller, whose next job, when receiving a ballot in the faculty elections email inbox, is to ensure that the person sending the ballot is eligible to cast the ballot they have sent--and then download the attachment and copy it into the shared drive.

When the ballot deadline has passed and the election comptroller has copied all ballots (denuded of any material identifying the individual voter) to the shared drive, the Senate officers count the ballots and determine the winners. Then, of course, the nominees are informed of the outcomes.

Lastly, don't keep your process secret! Whatever rules you follow, be consistent and transparent.

 


9/18/21: On Running Faculty Elections
The integrity and popularity of the election are critical to the relationship between the faculty and the other shared governance stakeholders. Put another way, the faculty election is the method whereby the faculty ensure the legitimacy of their leadership, and the more legitimate the leadership, the more likely they and their actions will be respected by administrators and trustees.

(The other stakeholders have their own means of legitimacy. The administration is hired by the president, who is appointed by the Board of Trustees. The trustees are appointed by a process which differs from one institution to another; in my current institution they are appointed by the governor and confirmed by the state senate, but whatever the process, it confers legtimacy.)

"Integrity" in faculty elections means the degree to which the election is conducted as honestly as possible according to rules that are designed to ensure fairness and representation. "Popularity" in this sense refers to the degree to which qualified candidates contest available seats, and eligible voters cast ballots. When running faculty elections, one must strive to improve both integrity and popularity.

In my institution, the president of the faculty senate runs faculty elections. I spent the last four years in that role, during which I ran several annual and special elections. Over the course of the next few weeks and months--with occasional interruptions to write about more immediate matters--I will shed some light on the details of that process and offer reflections on the choices my colleagues and I made.

Perhaps these reflections will have value even beyond academia.

 


9/9/21: Remembering Jim Loewen
"Telling the truth about the past helps cause justice in the present. Achieving justice in the present helps us tell the truth about the past." --James Loewen

I met Jim and Susan Loewen at the 2019 OAH in Philadelphia. We had all signed up for the Chinatown Tour, led by a UPenn professor. We walked through what was left of Chinatown and learned about the rise and fall of an urban ethnic neighborhood, and then enjoyed a Dim Sum lunch. He told me that the best Chinese food he ever ate was in Mississippi. Through it all I was impressed by this soft-spoken, insightful historian with whom, I soon realized, I had much in common. I am grateful for that morning. His death on August 19 was too soon.

 


9/2/21: Reading Jack Hamilton around the Deaths of Litwack and Loewen
Reading Jack Hamilton's Just Around Midnight at the time of the deaths of Leon Litwack and Jim Loewen makes me think about how we can apply his groundbreaking thesis about the origins of rock 'n' roll history to the academy. Hamilton posits that white artists, like Eric Clapton, Mick Jagger, and Bob Dylan, were able to use so-called Black music, by then referred to as "rhythm & blues" or "soul," and infuse it into their own music for a wide audience. On the other hand, Black artists of the same era, like Aretha Franklin, were expected to not engage in musical experimentation (even though they did), and to perform solely for Black audiences. Hamilton points out that it is more racist, therefore, to think of white musicians as having taken or stolen Black music--imagined as static, native, even savage--then it actually is to take that music and develop it into something new. And he's right.

In thinking about this thesis in the context of the deaths of Litwack and Loewen, I cannot help but think that we have a similar problem in the academy. White scholars have always been allowed to discuss civil rights and race issues, and in recent decades, with the increasing integration of the academy, Black scholars have been allowed to do so as well. The problem is that we tend to expect Black scholars to work on race-related issues, often in Black Studies or Ethnic Studies deartments. Having these scholarly homes is a good thing and has been helpful. But scholars of color have usually not been allowed to freely engage in pretty much any other scholarship. Whatever their field, whatever their specialty, Black scholars have been expected to engage in scholarship where they talk about the impact of their field on race or the impact of race on their field.

Just as we should expect artists like Beyonce and Chance the Rapper and the late Aretha Franklin to not only experiment with and pioneer new ideas in music and not simply be relegated to a soul, R&B or rap, so too should the academy be willing to accept and encourage scholars of color who experiment in whatever areas of scholarship they choose, just like white scholars.

Put another way, Loewen and Litwack were white, Jewish, successful scholars of African-American history. We will have achieved equality in the academy when we can read New York Times obituaries about prominent Black historians who were successful scholars of, say, Jewish history, or Latinx historians who are successful scholars of Polish history.

 


8/20/21: Afghanistan's Jerry Ford
In 1975 the United States, under the leadership of President Gerald Ford, withdrew its troops from Vietnam, ending its long involvement in the war there. Within days the North Vietnamese Army and the Vietcong insurgents conquered South Vietnam, leading to an incomplete helicopter evacuation from the roof of the American embassy in Saigon. That was an unjust, unwinnable, unnecessary war.

Now here we are again. Whatever the justification for the initial invasion of Afghanistan by the United States--that the Taliban had allowed Al Quada to use its territory as a base from which to launch the attacks of September 11, 2001--the American presence in the country has long outlived its usefulness. America has been fighting a twenty year war to keep the Taliban from retaking control. As with Vietnam, this was unwinnable. As with Vietnam, our continuing military involvement there has contributed to domestic strife and internal political danger.

We cannot be all things to all people. Obviously we need to do a better job protecting those who have helped us. And we need to bolster our regional partners and encourage them to serve as a safe harbor for Afghans who would otherwise be persecuted for all the things that the Taliban finds worthy of persecution.

But in the end, someone had to be Afghanistan's Jerry Ford. Thank goodness President Biden had the political courage to do it.

 


7/1/21: Solution to Protecting Academic Freedom Is Not More Bureaucracy
This week I had a letter published in The Chronicle of Higher Education:

To the Editor:

I agree that recent attacks on academic freedom are a serious concern, but we don’t need another administrative office to protect this core tenet of American higher ed (“How to Truly Protect Academic Freedom," The Chronicle Review, June 16).

The solution lies in revitalizing that weary but tried-and-true institution, the faculty senate. At my university, we’ve simultaneously professionalized this body and used it to cultivate and educate future faculty leaders and administrators in theories of academic freedom and shared governance. One recent initiative is an annual “Senate Common Read;" another is our Orwellian-sounding but nevertheless important “Policy on Policies.”

Strong faculty senates can better support AAUP initiatives that will improve academic freedom, like pay equity and universal tenure, than any at-will bureaucracy.

David Hamilton Golland
Professor of History and Coordinator of Humanities
President, Faculty Senate
Governors State University
University Park, Ill.

 


6/24/21: Juneteenth Speech, by Richard M. Golland
This week I'm turning this space over to my brother, who--in my humble opinion--knocked it out of the ballpark in a speech he was asked to give in honor of Juneteenth at the Fifth Grade promotion ceremony at his job as a teacher in Washington, D.C.

"Good morning. Yesterday afternoon I was given the great honor of speaking to you today about Juneteenth, on the first federally recognized Juneteenth holiday. I’m looking at the speech I wrote last night and I keep thinking it’s not good enough. Not because I didn’t have enough time to write it well. Because I feel as if this occasion deserves something better than even my best.

"On the eve of our 5th grade’s promotion, the fifth grade team was asked to advise, in a very short time, as to whether we should go on with promotion or postpone it. There was a great deal of pressure to “get right” a decision that could never be “right” for everybody. We considered many factors and I grew, within minutes, to think that there could be no better way to commemorate this historic occasion than by coming together and educating our children. After all, the greatest, perhaps the only lasting benefit of reconstruction was the establishment of schools and a system of education for freed slaves. Why not honor Juneteenth by providing students with education about history? I still believe that but…

"I have since been reminded of the reason why this needs to be a holiday. Opinions are like hearts – everybody has one. For every person who agrees with my advice to celebrate Juneteenth as a community, there will be at least five other people who wish to celebrate it in another way – in a more personal way. That’s why Juneteenth needed to be a holiday – so that everybody could choose their own way to commemorate the end of slavery. By advising our administration to ask students to come to school on a holiday, I helped to deny each and every one of you the choice of how you would celebrate this historic occasion. For that I sincerely apologize.

"That being said, I still have the speech I prepared, imperfect as it is for this occasion, and the first Juneteenth deserves more than just my apology. So I’ll begin.

"Juneteenth commemorates… well, I will quote from Juneteenth.com. Quote: Juneteenth is the oldest nationally celebrated commemoration of the ending of slavery in the United States. From its Galveston, Texas origin in 1865, the observance of June 19th as the African American Emancipation Day has spread across the United States and beyond. Endquote. On June 19, 1865, slaves in Galveston, Texas were informed by General Gordon Granger that they were free, thanks to the Emancipation Proclamation of 1863. Yes, it wasn’t the 13th amendment. Please, please remember the difference between the Emancipation Proclamation and the 13th Amendment. We spent several weeks this year discussing that topic.

"When we were discussing The Emancipation Proclamation in class, many of you wondered how Lincoln could actually free slaves in the Confederate States, if the Confederacy was in charge there. Juneteenth is a perfect example of this. It was incredibly difficult, it cost hundreds of thousands of lives, and it took a lot of time, but with the authority of the President, Union Troops were able to free slaves in Galveston, and all across the South. We found in subsequent units and lessons that all struggles in our country’s history, to attain basic rights and equality have been and continue to be not just difficult… they cost lives, time, grief, sorrow, and pain.

"But today is also a day of celebration. Let’s take a moment to recognize what it means that Juneteenth is now a Federal Holiday. I can only convey a small portion of what it may mean by comparing it to Martin Luther King Day. In 1986, thanks to the tireless efforts of Coretta Scott King, 17 states observed Martin Luther King, Jr. Day. More states later followed suit. I would venture to say that, prior to the establishment of a holiday to commemorate Dr. King, a large percentage of the U.S. population, let alone the world, would only vaguely know who he was. When King was alive, a great many people did not like him or what he was doing. After 1986, more and more people raised him up as a great example, a Nobel prize laureate, a model for our children. MLK day raised awareness, increased understanding, and today, unlike in the 1980s and before, our children learn about the struggles that he and many others went through in the pursuit of equality, of basic human decency.

"Juneteenth will do the same thing and is about the ending of slavery in America. It is a time to celebrate, and look forward to, true freedom but it is also a time to recognize that our country is capable of doing terrible and immense wrong. It is a time to think about the sacrifices that were made to bring about the end of slavery and the modern sacrifices, by people like Opal Lee, to bring about federal recognition of this holiday.

"Earlier this week, as a culmination of the Civil Rights unit, fifth graders watched the movie, “Selma.” Later, they began to watch the movie, “42.” The former movie provides a brutal depiction of the fight for voting rights and the resistance to that cause, culminating in the march from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama. The latter depicts the horrible trials endured by Jackie Robinson when he entered what was previously Major League Baseball for Caucasians only. For each movie, I ask students, every year, one simple question: “how did this movie affect your understanding of the Civil Rights Movement?” Invariably, the students are quiet. They are still processing the all-too-real images of unconscionable brutality against peaceful protesters or the face of a young boy hurling horrible insults at a talented athlete just for the color of his skin. Slowly, one or two students will volunteer to speak and say something like, “I knew before that it was tough, but I never knew how brutal,” or, “I don’t think I could have marched across the Pettis Bridge.”

"Their responses highlight the need for Juneteenth. Too often, too many people are able to say, “yeah it was tough but it’s over now.” And yes, many people will enjoy a day off with little thought to what it is for. But Juneteenth give students, gives people a moment to reflect on what was needed in the past and what is still needed for true equality in the future. Schools will teach it; students will think about it. Movies will highlight the true story of slavery in a way that creates empathy, rather than simply states the facts and numbers.

"You may not know what it feels like to be part of a marginalized group in our society. You don’t have to. Part of growing up, part of becoming a middle schooler, is understanding that even though you can’t FEEL another person’s perspective, you can recognize, and respect it. You can go beyond yourself to try to understand and validate others.

"So, in line with the message I try to convey with Civil Rights movies, I will ask you all: will this promotion, held on this day, affect your understanding of the struggle for freedom and equality? Will you look back with pride, to note that you were promoted on such a historic occasion? Will you have this discussion with your children and grandchildren? Will you speak of the intense struggle that was required to reach this point? What will you do to further the struggle for equality?

"We begin promotion by noting that our students learned to greet each other in multiple languages this year. Today, they will greet you in those languages, to begin our promotion ceremony."

 


6/3/21: Natural Holocaust; Patent Nazis
At millions dead worldwide, with numbers especially increasing in the developing world, Covid-19 is a natural holocaust. Those who restrict vaccine distribution, act to prevent the waiving of patent protection, slow the spread of vaccine knowledge, or otherwise hinder the rapid deployment of the lifesaving vaccine are little different from those who aided, abetted, or profited from the Nazi Holocaust.

Patent protections are designed to encourage innovation except during an emergency. This is an emergency. Just as the vaccine is free to Americans, it should be free and widely available to everyone globally, equitably, and without profiteering.

To suggest that we can't develop future vaccines rapidly if we don't let people profit from the current vaccine is to suggest that every scientist that worked on it did so only for the profit motive. Most scientists I know aren't in science to get rich; they're in science for the public good. Let's not spoil their good work by placing a toll barrier at the clinic door.

 


5/27/21: A New Deal for Higher Education
I support the New Deal for Higher Education.

"We call on the federal government to:

>Offer direct investment directed mostly at public institutions but also for non-elite not-for-profit private institutions.
>Tie federal investment to reducing debt and making college affordable and equitable by:
  • Lowering tuition or eliminating costs for undergraduate and graduate students
  • Expanding federal student grants for postsecondary education
  • Eliminating existing student debt
    >Tie federal investment to supporting instruction and research, benefiting students, researchers, and faculty.
    >Tie federal investment to living wages and benefits for all university workers, including adjunct professors and campus support staff, and to a commitment by colleges to stop the endless rounds of layoffs."

  •  


    5/20/21: Defend History and Language Provision at Aston University
    I signed the following petition:

    "Aston University has announced sweeping plans to close a whole host of programmes and services which will hugely impact language and humanities provision at the institution. This includes closing the Department of History, Languages and Translation and the Languages for All programme.

    "The plans mean that 24 staff are at risk of redundancy and would have far reaching implications for these important disciplines at the university and more widely across the higher education sector.

    "Please sign our petition to save these subjects and defend the jobs of hardworking, committed staff currently facing redundancy."

     


    5/14/21: "What Value Life?" Revisited
    Twelve years ago, in my second post on this blog ("What Value Life?," 01/14/09), I decried the renewed war in Gaza and the continuing occupation which privileges some lives over others. Tragically, here we are again. As of yesterday, rockets launched from Gaza had killed seven Israeli civilians and one soldier; the disproportionate Israeli response had killed 119 people, including 31 children (Declan Walsh, "Israel Ground Forces Shell Gaza as Fighting Intensifies," The New York Times, May 13, 2021).

    Rather than rehash it all, I simply recommend readers consider this guest essay published in yesterday's Times:

    Peter Beinart, "Palestinian Refugees Deserve to Return Home. Jews Should Understand," The New York Times, May 12, 2021

    "Why has the impending eviction of six Palestinian families in East Jerusalem drawn Israelis and Palestinians into a conflict that appears to be spiraling toward yet another war? Because of a word that in the American Jewish community remains largely taboo: the Nakba.

    "The Nakba, or 'catastrophe' in Arabic, need not refer only to the more than 700,000 Palestinians who were expelled or fled in terror during Israel’s founding. It can also evoke the many expulsions that have occurred since: the about 300,000 Palestinians whom Israel displaced when it conquered the West Bank and Gaza Strip in 1967; the roughly 250,000 Palestinians who could not return to the West Bank and Gaza after Israel revoked their residency rights between 1967 and 1994; the hundreds of Palestinians whose homes Israel demolished in 2020 alone. The East Jerusalem evictions are so combustible because they continue a pattern of expulsion that is as old as Israel itself.

    "Among Palestinians, Nakba is a household word. But for Jews — even many liberal Jews in Israel, America and around the world — the Nakba is hard to discuss because it is inextricably bound up with Israel’s creation. Without the mass expulsion of Palestinians in 1948, Zionist leaders would have had neither the land nor the large Jewish majority necessary to create a viable Jewish state. As I discuss at greater length in an essay for Jewish Currents from which this guest essay is adapted, acknowledging and beginning to remedy that expulsion — by allowing Palestinian refugees to return — requires imagining a different kind of country, where Palestinians are considered equal citizens, not a demographic threat.

    "To avoid this reckoning, the Israeli government and its American Jewish allies insist that Palestinian refugees abandon hope of returning to their homeland. This demand is drenched in irony, because no people in human history have clung as stubbornly to the dream of return as have Jews. Establishment Jewish leaders denounce the fact that Palestinians pass down their identity as refugees to their children and grandchildren. But Jews have passed down our identity as refugees for 2,000 years. In our holidays and liturgy we continually mourn our expulsion and express our yearning for return. 'After being forcibly exiled from their land,' proclaims Israel’s Declaration of Independence, 'the people kept faith with it throughout their Dispersion.' If keeping faith that exile can be overcome is sacred to Jews, how can we condemn Palestinians for doing the same thing?

    "In addition to telling Palestinians they cannot go home because they have been away too long, Jewish leaders argue that return is impractical. But this too is deeply ironic because, as a refugee rights advocate, Lubnah Shomali, has pointed out, 'If any state is an expert in receiving masses and masses of people and settling them in a very small territory, it’s Israel.' At the height of the Soviet exodus in the early 1990s, Israel took in about 500,000 immigrants. If millions of diaspora Jews began moving to Israel tomorrow, Jewish leaders would not say taking them in was logistically impossible. They would help Israel to do what it has done before: build large amounts of housing fast.

    "When most Jews imagine Palestinian refugees’ return, they probably don’t envision it looking like Israel’s absorption of Soviet Jews. More likely, they predict Palestinians expelling Jews from their homes. But the tragic reality is that not many Jews live in former Palestinian homes, since it is believed that only a few thousand remain intact. Ms. Shomali estimates that more than 70 percent of Palestinian villages that were destroyed in 1948 remain vacant. And the Palestinian activists and scholars who envision return generally argue that large-scale eviction is neither necessary, nor desirable. Asked in 2000 about Jews living in formerly Palestinian homes, the famed Palestinian literary critic Edward Said declared that he was 'averse to the notion of people leaving their homes' and that 'some humane and moderate solution should be found where the claims of the present and the claims of the past are addressed.'

    "None of this means refugee return would be simple or uncontested. Efforts at historical justice rarely are. But there is a reason the writer Ta-Nehisi Coates ends his famous essay on reparations for segregation and slavery with the subprime mortgage crisis that forced many Black Americans into foreclosure in the first decade of the 21st century. The crimes of the past, when left unaddressed, do not remain in the past. That’s also the lesson of the evictions that have set Israel-Palestine aflame. More than seven decades ago, Palestinians were expelled to create a Jewish state. Now they are being expelled to make Jerusalem a Jewish city. By refusing to face the Nakba of 1948, the Israeli government and its American Jewish allies ensure that the Nakba continues.

    "Perhaps American Jewish leaders fear that facing the crimes committed at Israel’s birth will leave Jews vulnerable. Once the Nakba taboo is lifted, Palestinians will feel emboldened to seek revenge. But more often than not, honestly confronting the past has the opposite effect.

    "After George Bisharat, a Palestinian-American law professor, wrote about the house in Jerusalem that his grandfather had built and been robbed of, a former Israeli soldier who had lived in it contacted him unexpectedly. 'I am sorry, I was blind. What we did was wrong, but I participated in it and I cannot deny it,' the former soldier said when they met, and then added, “I owe your family three months’ rent.” Mr. Bisharat later wrote that he was inspired to match the Israeli’s humanity.

    "'Just that response, writ large, is what awaits Israel if it could bring itself to apologize to the Palestinians,' he wrote. In that moment he saw 'an untapped reservoir of Palestinian magnanimity and good will that could transform the relations between the two peoples.'

    "There is a Hebrew word for the behavior of that former soldier: 'teshuvah.' It is generally translated as 'repentance.' Ironically enough, however, its literal definition is 'return.' In Jewish tradition, return need not be physical; it can also be ethical and spiritual. That means the return of Palestinian refugees — far from necessitating Jewish exile — could be a kind of return for us as well, a return to traditions of memory and justice that the Nakba has evicted from organized Jewish life.

    "'The occupier and myself — both of us suffer from exile,' the Palestinian poet Mahmoud Darwish once declared. 'He is an exile in me and I am the victim of his exile.' The longer Jews deny the Nakba, the deeper our moral exile becomes. By facing it squarely and beginning a process of repair, both Jews and Palestinians, in different ways, can start to come home."

     


    5/7/21: What We Do for Students
    After my last report to the Governors State University Board of Trustees I was asked to talk about what faculty do for students. My colleagues greeted this request first with laughter, then with tears. Because everything we do is for the students. Let’s begin with one thing that we do every time we get a paycheck. It is no exaggeration to say that every single member of the tenured faculty, and many of the untenured faculty as well, could be earning at least twice their salaries if they had gone into a sector other than education. That’s tens of millions of dollars in lifetime earnings and generational wealth that we have sacrificed because we believe in the importance of higher education for our students and for our society. I don't say this to brag, but merely to note how much we sacrifice to serve the public good by advancing knowledge in general, and by helping empower our students, specifically—many of whom will be the leaders of tomorrow. But that's theoretical money. In addition to the emergency relief fund set up by our union to help students during the pandemic, the faculty senate student scholarship fund has recently been fully endowed. That means that thanks to the fundraising efforts of senate leadership, and thanks to the donations of faculty and other stakeholders, two GSU students a year will each receive a $500 scholarship—in perpetuity.

    Of course, most of what we do for students has nothing to do with lucre. All the training I described in my last report is for one purpose: to obtain the expertise to teach and guide our students to attain the knowledge and skills that will enable them to not just land their next job but establish and navigate their way through a lifetime of questioning, learning, and civic engagement. All the scholarship we continue to do as we work towards tenure and beyond is for the same purpose: it makes us better teachers. We work straight through the summer, regardless of our contract. We work on scholarship, yes, but we also engage in preparation for the semester ahead. For each class we offer, we spend considerable time and effort to develop a syllabus, review and select textbooks and other materials, write and prepare lectures and discussions, create and/or curate instructional videos, create and improve written assignments and exams, and many other activities. We also study new teaching techniques for a cutting-edge classroom experience. We attend workshops with fellow academics around the country and share innovative class assignments. We read books and articles in our fields so that homework we assign represents the very latest in academic scholarship. Do we work holidays and weekends? Yes indeed. Once the candles are lit and my children are enjoying their presents, I spend every night of Hanukkah reading so I can better serve our students. And what do we do during the semester? We spend countless hours working with students who are struggling in their classes; we advise students on their academic and career choices; we supervise their internships; we shape the curriculum through our committees and as program coordinators; we participate in accreditation reviews to ensure their degrees remain competitive; we advise student clubs and organizations; we have the tough conversations with students who make mistakes like plagiarism, and we celebrate with our students when they overcome obstacles and succeed. Long after we’re retired, we still serve our students, for instance with letters of recommendation. And all of this does not even begin to address what we have done for our students during the pandemic. Perhaps a better question might be what do faculty NOT do for students?

     


    4/29/21: Open Letter Re: GSU Provost Search
    Dear President Green—

    The search for a university provost requires the full involvement of its faculty. It should be conducted in the open during the academic year to ensure that all stakeholders have opportunities for participation. Therefore, we request that you conduct the search for our university’s next provost during the regular academic year of 2021-2022.

    We understand that because Dr. Cada will be retiring on September 30, 2021, this schedule may require a brief appointment of an interim provost. We believe that this would be preferable to a search during summer 2021.

    Respectfully,

    David Hamilton Golland, PhD
    Faculty Senate President, 2017-21

    Barbara Winicki, PhD
    Faculty Senate President, 2015-17

    Rashidah Jaami’ Muhammad, PhD
    Faculty Senate President, 2011-15

    Bcc: Faculty, Staff, Administration, Trustees

     


    4/23/21: GUILTY.
    My governor, J.B. Pritzker, put it better than I could:

    "No courtroom can ever replace a life, but it can and should deliver justice. Today, the jury in Derek Chauvin’s murder trial honored that truth.

    "My heart goes out to the family of George Floyd, who deserve to have him alive today. I’m also thinking of all our Black communities and other communities of color who see their children or their parents or themselves in George Floyd, and Daunte Wright, and Adam Toledo, and Breonna Taylor, and Laquan McDonald.

    "This verdict marks an important milestone on the journey to justice, but the fullest measure of progress is how we deliver accountability, safety and meaningful change.

    "In Illinois, we are addressing law enforcement reform, criminal justice reform, economic opportunity, educational equity and health care.

    "We can and must make progress every day until we have a state and a nation and a justice system that truly serve everyone. And as long as there’s more work to be done, that’s what we’ll do."

     


    4/13/21: Statement from Duke University Press journal editors and editorial board members concerning the DUP Workers Union
    I support the editors of LABOR: Studies in Working-Class History (and other journals published by Duke University Press) in the following statement:

    "As the editors of academic journals, we are proud to collaborate with the outstanding professional staff at Duke University Press. Whether working with copy-editors, graphic designers, production coordinators, or publicists, it is a privilege to interact with exceptionally talented workers in a variety of different fields and it is extremely gratifying to be able to present the work of our contributors in such a meticulous fashion with a world class university press.

    "We fully support the right of DUP staff to democratically organize in the formation of a union and collectively bargain a contract with their employer. As a valued partner we sincerely hope that DUP will choose the path of a high-road employer and respect the rights of its staff to make decisions concerning union representation free from coercion, obstruction, or managerial interference. Furthermore, we would strongly encourage DUP to voluntarily recognize the DUP Workers Union and its employees' stated intentions without demanding a NLRB election."

     


    4/5/21: Strike Support: Historians' Letter to Columbia Provost Ira Katznelson
    I signed the following public letter:

    Dear Provost Katznelson,

    We write you as fellow historians. Your scholarship in working-class history has been of profound importance and has affirmed the right of every working person to bargain collectively. We call upon you to honor that commitment and lead the Columbia administration in good-faith bargaining with its graduate students and other student workers. We also urge you to immediately cease the punitive withholding of stipends; not only is this a classic union-busting tactic but it is morally reprehensible, given how difficult it is for these workers to live in New York city. Finally, like any other workers, they have a right to a policy outlining freedom from discrimination and harassment, which we hope you will implement immediately.

    As historians who value both scholarship and activism, we feel that the university should provide a model for equitable labor relations and demonstrate respect for the rights of all its workers. This is the standard to which we will hold Columbia—and you. We also fear that if Columbia succeeds in breaking GWC-UAW Local 2110 it will be a signal to other universities and will only increase the precarity of this large sector of academic workers, further undermining the academy overall.

    Sincerely,

  • Alexander Aviña, Associate Professor of History, Arizona State Universities
  • Marc Becker, Professor of History, Truman State University
  • Joel Beinin, Donald J. McLachlan Professor of History and Professor of Middle East History Emeritus, Stanford University
  • Horace G. Campbell, Professor of African American Studies and Political Science, Maxwell School of Citizenship, Syracuse University
  • Kellie Carter Jackson, Knafel Assistant Professor of the Humanities, Department of Africana Studies, Wellesley College
  • Annette Chapman-Adisho, Professor of History, Salem State University
  • Aviva Chomsky, Professor of History, Salem State University
  • Joshua B. Freeman, Professor of History Emeritus, Queens College and the Graduate Center, City University of New York
  • Van Gosse, Professor of History, Franklin & Marshall College
  • Marc Goulding, Associate Professor, Department of History and Geography, University of Central Oklahoma
  • Anup Grewal, Assistant Professor, Department of Historical and Cultural Studies, University of Toronto
  • Peter Kuznick, Professor of History, American University
  • Alex Lichtenstein, Professor of History, Indiana University
  • Zachary Lockman, Professor of Middle Eastern and Islamic Studies and of History, New York University
  • Patrick Manning, Andrew W. Mellon Professor of World History Emeritus, University of Pittsburgh; Past President, American Historical Association
  • Teresa Meade, Florence B. Sherwood Professor of History and Culture Emerita, Union College
  • Wilbur R. Miller, Professor of History Emeritus, Stony Brook University (SUNY)
  • Marissa J. Moorman, Professor of History, Indiana University
  • Kevin P. Murphy, Professor of History, University of Minnesota
  • Molly Nolan, Professor of History Emerita, New York University
  • Annelise Orleck, Professor of History, Dartmouth College
  • Naomi Paik, Associate Professor of History, University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign
  • Margaret MacDonald Power, Professor of History, Illinois Institute of Technology
  • Ellen Schrecker, Professor of History Emerita, Yeshiva University
  • Mark Selden, Professor of Sociology and History Emeritus, State University of New York at Binghamton
  • Alan Singer, Director, Secondary Education Social Studies, Hofstra University
  • Andor Skotnes, Professor of History and Society Emeritus, Russell Sage College
  • Daniel Walkowitz, Professor of History Emeritus, New York University
  • Barbara Weinstein, Professor of History, New York University; Past President, American Historical Association
  • Jon Wiener, Professor of History Emeritus, University of California Irvine
  • Lawrence S. Wittner, Professor of History Emeritus, State University of New York at Albany
  • Kevin A. Young, Associate Professor of History, University of Massachusetts Amherst

    Add your name and affiliation here.

  •  


    4/2/21: On Liddy
    News this week of the death of G. Gordon Liddy, "mastermind behind watergate burglary." We try not to speak ill of the dead, but some of his beliefs still need to be addressed. According to his NYT obit, he said "When the prince approaches his lieutenant, the proper response of the lieutenant to the prince is Fiat voluntas tua" ("Thy will be done”). This is the sort of dangerous medieval thinking that leads directly to attacks on the United States Congress. What traitor Liddy forgot, if he ever realy knew, was that in a republic the people are sovereign; we have no prince.

    Liddy also apparently saw journalist Jack Anderson "as a national security risk." Wrong--and dangerous--again. Anderson served the true sovereign under the First Amendment to the Constitution. Unlike Liddy, who violated the Constitution, Anderson was a true patriot.

     


    3/25/21: A Civil Rights Historian Reflects on the Presidential Transition
    Virtual Invited Talk at the Park Forest Public Library. Click HERE to watch.

     


    3/19/21: Vincent Chin & Emmett Till/Atlanta & Minneapolis
    Our society treats anti-Asian hate and violence differently than anti-Black hate and violence. Possibly it's because we consider plantation slavery the nation's "original sin" (and rightly so) and yet too often pay short shrift to the slaves who built the railroad. Possibly it's the so-called "model minority" myth; and unlike previous "model minorities" (e.g. Jews, Irish), Asian-Americans have a harder time adopting "whiteness."

    But we should remember Vincent Chin alongside Emmett Till and we should fight to prevent the next Atlanta just as much as we protested what happened last year in Minneapolis.

     


    3/11/21: #CuomoToo
    So it looks like "America's Governor," "Mr. Covid," has been making passes at younger--in some cases significantly younger--women working in state government. For those of us who have followed Andrew Cuomo's rise over the past four decades, and have noted his occasional bullying and tone-deaf decisions, there are no surprises here. He may have been the originator of his father's 1977 election slogan "vote for Cuomo, not the homo," which Cynthia Nixon delightfully reversed when she ran against him for governor in 2018. (Neither slogan worked, incidentally; Mario lost to Ed Koch and Nixon lost to Andrew.)

    At a minimum, the governor seems to have failed to learn the lessons of #MeToo 2017. If Al Franken could be forced to resign from the Senate, then Cuomo--with far more enemies within his own party--didn't stand a chance. He shouldn't get a pass because he's an effective governor and a Democrat--especially since his effectiveness around Covid seems to have been overstated, mainly by himself.

    Should we sympathize with Cuomo? Is this a hard time to be a powerful white man? Actually, no. It's never been a hard time to be a powerful white man in our society, and it still isn't. But it is becoming more difficult for powerful white men who use their power to get sex. And rightly so.

    Here's a simple recipe: when you interact with anyone who might be affected by your professional decisions, no propositioning, no uninvited flirting, no uninvited physical touching. And even when it's invited, ask yourself about the power imbalance. If it's too much, don't do it.

    Cuomo can be attracted to whomever he wants, but he should not treat any state employee--or the employee of any state contractor--as a sex object. Same for every professor with every student. And for tenured professors with untenured professors and job applicants. You get the idea.

    It's not that I'm unsympathetic to Cuomo. He must be a very lonely person. My generation and his have more difficulty with dating apps, and every social event he attends is part of his job. But his power comes with a responsibility. If he wants to date young women, and he wants to meet them the old fashioned way, he probably shouldn't be governor.

    But then again, why does he want to date significantly younger women in the first place? Is he afraid of intimacy with someone with the age and experience to challenge him? Why would he--of all people--want to spend his free time with someone who doesn't remember the Clinton administration?

    Here's a thought for the next single male governor of New York: you have access to the best feminist advice on the planet. Take it.

     


    3/4/21: Hold His Feet to the Fire
    Unsurprising news this week that the CIA has determined that Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman ordered the 2018 murder of Saudi journalist (and American resident) Jamal Khashoggi. Slightly more surprising news that the Biden Administration has no plans to do anything about it.

    We all get realpolitik. We all understand that the United States desires a positive relationship with the repressive kingdom as a bulwark against Iran--which has a repressive (and militantly anti-Zionist) government but a more open society, especially when it comes to women's rights.

    But if Trump were still in office, the press would be full-throatedly decrying this. So let's hold Biden's feet to the fire. You don't save the Republic by coddling dictators in Riyadh any more than by coddling would-be dictators in Mar-a-Lago.

     


    2/26/21: I'm Still Rooting for Black History Year - Every Year
    As another Black History Month draws to a close, it's worth remembering how it came to be--see Veronica Chambers' New York Times article on the subject--and asking why it's necessary. We should celebrate, retell, and contemplate Black history as American history twelve months a year and not relegate it to this single, shortest month.

    Professional historians have figured this out. It's time for the culture to catch up.

     


    At least he didn’t bring up the Green New Deal.
    By Jamelle Bouie
    Opinion Columnist, The New York Times, February 19, 2021

    We all know by now that Ted Cruz went on vacation while Texas froze.

    Over the last week, millions of Texans have suffered in the cold as workers tried to restore power amid freezing temperatures and icy conditions. So far, the official local death toll from the snow, ice and power outages stands at 24.

    Rather than stay behind and help coordinate aid and federal assistance, the state’s junior senator went to Cancún, if only for a day, before widespread outrage brought him back to the United States.

    Of course, Cruz is not the governor. He has no formal power in the state government of Texas. His is more a failure of optics and political leadership than governance per se.

    Greg Abbott, who actually is the governor of Texas, doesn’t have that excuse. As Texans froze, he went on Fox News to falsely blame renewable energy and the as-yet-unrealized Green New Deal for the crisis in Texas. “This shows how the Green New Deal would be a deadly deal for the United States of America,” he said. “Texas is blessed with multiple sources of energy, such as natural gas and oil and nuclear, as well as solar and wind. But … our wind and our solar got shut down, and they were collectively more than 10 percent of our power grid, and that thrust Texas into a situation where it was lacking power on a statewide basis.”

    Faced with one of the worst crises in the recent history of the state, Republicans have turned their attention away from conditions on the ground and toward the objects of their ideological ire. The issue isn’t energy policy; it is liberals and environmentalists, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez — a New York congresswoman who was a child when Texas built its first wind farms — and climate activists.

    Amid awful suffering and deteriorating conditions, Texas Republicans decided to fight a culture war. In doing so, they are emblematic of the national party, which has abandoned even the pretense of governance in favor of the celebration of endless grievance.

    It should be said that there’s no mystery about the collapse of the Texas electrical grid. A once-in-a-century cold front spiked demand beyond the capacity of the system as Texans turned up the heat in their homes and plugged in their space heaters. At the same time, much of the infrastructure for power in the state was disabled by the snow and ice. What do you get when you add a sudden surge of demand to an equally sudden loss of capacity? A crisis, whose roots lie in a decade’s worth of deregulation and cost-cutting, of an energy “independence” that has left the state at the mercy of the elements.

    This disaster, in other words, is the fruit of policy, of specific choices made by lawmakers in Texas. And it’s this fact that helps explain the response to the crisis of Abbott and the Texas Republican Party, which has governed the state as a laboratory for conservative ideas for much of the last 20 years. When you don’t want to face the consequences of your actions as a lawmaker — when you’d rather demonize scapegoats than give answers — you fight a culture war.

    But then, this is just what it means to be a Republican politician now. Accountability is out, distraction is in. You don’t deal with problems, you make them fodder for zero-sum partisan conflict. As president, Donald Trump refused to treat the coronavirus pandemic as a challenge to overcome with leadership and expertise. Instead, he made it another battle in the culture wars, from whether you wore a mask to whether you remained away from public places. He spent more time trying to racialize the virus for cheap points — calling it the “China virus” and the “kung flu” — than he did giving guidance to the American public.

    Yes, Trump is an easy target. But you’ll find the same dynamic at all levels of Republican politics. At no point during the Georgia Senate race, for example, did the Republican candidates, Kelly Loeffler and David Perdue, produce a platform to rival the detailed policy proposals of their Democratic opponents. Instead, they ran on fear, identity and fealty to Trump. “Are you ready to keep fighting for President Trump and show America that Georgia is a red state?” asked Loeffler at one campaign stop. “We are the firewall to stopping socialism, and we have to hold the line.”

    This turn away from even the appearance of traditional governance is most apparent among the newest members of the House Republican caucus. Representative Marjorie Taylor Greene, also of Georgia, is a glorified social media influencer, seemingly more concerned with making content for fans than bringing aid or assistance to her district. And shortly after taking office, Representative Madison Cawthorn of North Carolina announced to his colleagues that he would be building his congressional staff “around comms rather than legislation.”

    In his Inaugural Address, President Biden urged “unity.” This wasn’t a call for bipartisanship. It was a plea to “lower the temperature” and to “see each other not as adversaries but as neighbors.” Politics, he said, “need not be a raging fire destroying everything in its path” and “every disagreement doesn’t have to be a cause for total war.”

    Biden’s appeal stands in stark contrast with the reigning ethos of the Republican Party as it exists today. Nothing, not even a deadly crisis, will turn Republicans away from a politics that rejects problem-solving in favor of grievance-mongering.

    Our system has room for two major political parties. One of them, however imperfectly, at least attempts to govern. The other has devoted its energy to entertainment. It is a tragedy for the people of Texas that at this moment of danger, they have to deal with a government of showmen.

     


    2/12/21
     
    Support the University Press of Kansas
    Today I sent this open letter to the Board of Directors of the University Press of Kansas:

    University Press of Kansas Board of Trustees
    David Cordle, Provost, Emporia State University
    Jill Arensdorf, Provost, Fort Hays State University
    Charles Taber, Provost, Kansas State University
    Howard W. Smith, Provost, Pittsburg State University
    Barbara Bichelmeyer, Provost, University of Kansas
    Shirley Lefever, Interim Provost, Wichita State University

    Colleagues, I write with urgency and a sense of foreboding at the possibility that you might consider shuttering the University Press of Kansas.

    In your notice that you have contracted an external consultant to review the press, you note that "with approximately 1,000 books in print, the University Press of Kansas publishes a world-class list of books in US history, military history, law, political science, and other fields, as well as regional books that contribute to the understanding of Kansas, the Great Plains, and the Midwest."

    World class indeed. Your list includes my 2019 book, A Terrible Thing to Waste: Arthur Fletcher and the Conundrum of the Black Republican, which is the 2020-21 iRead (freshman common read) selection at Washburn University.

    As my fellow UPK author Tai S. Edwards wrote, "It is the responsibility of Kansas colleges and universities to produce scholarship on this state for our students and community."

    I am not a publisher, librarian, or professional bookseller, and claim no expertise in press management. But if the press in its current form is financially unsustainable, I would suggest you consider a) increasing the subsidy each institution provides to the press; b) lobbying the state legislature, whose constituents surely see the importance of Kansas history and the role of Kansas in our national story; and/or c) expanding the consortium to include other Kansas colleges and universities.

    Again quoting Professor Edwards, "I will happily be part of any work that is required to save this press. Let me know how I can help serve."

    Respectfully,

    David Hamilton Golland
    Professor of History and Coordinator of Humanities
    President, Faculty Senate
    Governors State University (Illinois)

    Sign the petition here.

     


    2/5/21
     
    KU Faculty & Staff Say No to KBOR Policy
    I signed to following statement in solidarity with the University of Kansas faculty and staff:

    "As colleagues, students, alumni, donors and supporters of universities in general, we stand with the faculty and staff of the University of Kansas who object to a new regents policy that suspends the procedures of shared governance, including tenure protection, in order to ease dismissals, suspensions, and terminations. The principles of shared governance and transparency exist to support free inquiry and learning in all universities. We call upon Chancellor Douglas Girod to join the leaders of other Kansas Regents universities by refusing to exercise the policy and respect the long-standing standards of the academic profession."

    View the list of solidarity signatories here.

    View the KU petition here.

     


    1/28/21
     
    Towards a More Democratic Republic
    The Biden Administration and Congressional allies have less than two years to make this a more democratic republic. If they fail, they will lose their tenuous majority in the Senate and possibly the House as well.

    The structural problems that make our republic undemocratic are several, but the most glaring are the electoral college (which too frequently allows presidents to be elected without winning a majority of the votes cast) and under-representation in the Senate of citizens in less populous states (which gives the minority party a better-than-even chance of controlling the Senate). Beyond that there is the lack of representation of citizens in the territories, and the Senate filibuster (which once allowed principled stands but today gives the minority party an undemocratic veto).

    Here's my quick prescription for some immediate fixes:

    1. Admit New Columbia (currently known as Washington, D.C.) and Puerto Rico to statehood, and invite other territories with populations equaling at least one congressional district to apply. According to the Constitution, the Congress may admit new states to the union. Statehood movements in both territories are in various stages, but the House has already approved D.C. statehood, reserving a very small portion as the "federal district" required by the Constitution.

    2. Abolish the Filibuster. This will take a simple majority in the Senate, which Democrats have thanks to Vice President Harris' tie-breaking vote. However, Senators Joe Manchin (WV) and Kyrsten Sinema (AZ) have signaled their opposition to such a measure. But Democrats could move immediately to require a traditional filibuster, where members are required to remain on the floor speaking (rather than the current version where any Senator need merely submit paperwork to place a hold on legislation). Otherwise, the Manchin/Sinema problem might be solved with the votes of two new Senators from D.C.

    3. Abolish the Electoral College. Long term, this would require a Constitutional Amendment, which the minority party can too easily block today. But Congress could pass--and President Biden sign--legislation enabling the National Popular Vote Interstate Compact. This agreement, which will go into effect when enacted by enough states to encompass a majority of electoral votes, requires signatory states to pledge their electoral votes to the winner of the popular vote. Currently, there are enough states considering joining the compact, and federal legislation will encourage them to do so, and make for a stronger case when the inevitable court challenges arise. Once the electoral college is bypassed, permanently abolishing it with a Constitutional amendment will be easier.

    4. Pack the court. Five of the current nine justices were appointed by Presidents who had not entered office with popular majorities. The minority party has made it perfectly clear that it will throw out tradition to achieve its goals here, so it's time to admit that tradition is out. And it's only by tradition that the Court is limited to nine members. If President Biden won't name appointees on his own, the Senate should send him a slate. The minority party eliminated the filibuster for these appointments four years ago, so there's nothing legally preventing 50 Democratic Senators plus Vice President Harris from confirming as many nominees as President Biden chooses to send them. I'd recommend two for now.

    5. Reform the court. Less extreme than packing, the Congress can pass legislation establishing the voting term for each justice at eighteen years, after which the President may appoint a replacement. Non-voting justices may continue to have all privileges other than the vote--satisfying the lifetime tenure guaranteed by the Constitution.

    If the Democrats can do enough of this to ensure majority rule and survive the midterms in 2022, they can start to think about long term improvements like ranked choice voting and open primaries.

    I'd recommend they also think about a comprehensive plan to split populous states, a procedure which requires the assent of the state legislature in question. This was done in 1820 when Maine was created from the non-contiguous portion of Massachusetts (and in a more extreme circumstance when the western counties of Virginia were admitted as West Virginia after seceding from their state--which had seceded from the union). I'd recommend a modern-day Missouri compromise: two states of roughly equal size could do this at a time, one blue and one red, each creating one new safe state and one new swing state within their boundaries.

    Whatever they do, Democrats need to do something to make this republic more democratic. Otherwise minority rule will return--and the minority party will see no need for reform.

     


    1/21/21
     
    What Would We Have Done?
    From my safe perch on the other side of the inauguration, having joined my fellow Americans in our collective sigh of relief at the sight of President Joseph R. Biden taking the oath of office, it's time to look back and imagine what might have happened differently.

    Mr. Biden's victory, and our relief, is not simply the result of the election. Because former President Trump refused to accept the results, many people and many institutions had to positively act to ensure that Mr. Biden would take the stage in front of the capitol Wednesday. If honest Republican election officials in Georgia, Pennsylvania, Arizona, Michigan, and Wisconsin--Trump supporters among them--had failed to put the voters first, it might have turned out differently. If the Republican majority on the Supreme Court--including the three Trump appointees--had entertained the outlandish lawsuits claiming ever more farfetched conspiracy theories, it might have turned out differently. If the rioters of January 6th had destroyed the electoral votes, or--God help us--sacked Congress, it might have turned out differently.

    What would we have done if it had? I ask this as a thought experiment. The rioters wrongly believed that the election had been stolen by Democrats. Mr. Biden in fact won the election, with no credible evidence of fraud significant enough to have changed the outcome in any state. But what if Mr. Trump's White House conversation with Michigan lawmakers had caused the Michigan State legislature to order the state's electoral votes to go to Trump; what if the Supreme Court, by a vote of 6-3, upheld the lawsuit and forced the State of Pennsylvania to throw out thousands of ballots mailed before election day but not postmarked until after, thereby forcing that state's electoral votes to go to Trump; and what if something similar had happened in Wisconsin, Georgia, Arizona, or Nevada--the sum total of these resulting in Trump winning a majority of the electoral college?

    That would have been a very clear case of a stolen election--far clearer than when the Supreme Court ordered the State of Florida to stop counting ballots in December 2000.

    This was always a possibility (and would have been more likely had the electoral college vote been tighter). Weeks before the election, Trump projected his refusal to accept the results. On The Argument, Michelle Goldberg openly entertained the idea of secession, imagining a nation split in three. Another columnist said that if Trump stole the election we should "take to the streets." (Perhaps he meant for peaceful protests.)

    Over the holidays my family and I gathered to watch Les Miserables. On the night of January 6th I found myself tasked with explaining to my children why the insurrectionists of 1832 Paris were on the side of right while the rioters of 2021 Washington were on the side of wrong. I pointed out that the revolutionaries of France engaged in violence on behalf of the people, while the rioters of MAGA-world did so on behalf of a tyrant. But even as I was saying that it occurred to me that at least some of the rioters honestly thought their hero had won the election. So from their point of view, they too were engaging in violence on behalf of the people. So when is violence right?

    Last summer, as I watched the video of the murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis, I felt a strong urge to tackle Officer Derek Chauvin--notwithstanding that I was watching a video and the horrific act had taken place hours earlier in another city. But if I had been there, and forced Chauvin off Floyd's neck, would I have been in the right? I think so.

    I would have been breaking the law, and I would have been made to suffer the consequences--I would have been arrested and charged with assaulting a police officer, and probably beaten in custody--but I would have acted to save the life of another. That seems the very definition of right. (Of course, had I actually been there, I probably would have been too shocked and scared to act.)

    If Trump had stolen the election, would violent protest have been right? I don't think I would have stormed the capitol myself. But I might have sympathized with those who did.

    I'm glad I didn't have to consider that. And I hope I never do.

     


    1/14/21
     
    Closing Remarks for GSU Faculty Professional Development Day
    We live in dangerous times. The forces of intolerance, bigotry, and tribal partisanship have always been with us, but today they aim to extinguish democracy. In their continuing attack on knowledge, science is bent to political ends, the diploma reduced to a tool of the labor market, the arts and humanities mere pleasures reserved for elites.

    This is a global emergency of even greater importance than the pandemic. Our fellow citizens are questioning the meaning of life and finding the answers lacking. Modern technology seems to bring more demands than convenience. We are pulled apart when we need human contact most. If ever we must have a call to action as educators, it is now. As each of us pushes through another day on Zoom, we can continue to find meaning in our own lives by helping our students discover meaning in theirs.

    What we do here matters. And how we do it matters.

    We need to always remind students that a college degree is not primarily about job preparation, but rather an invitation to a lifetime of discovery. It is through academic inquiry that our students acquire the tools to enjoy the plays of Aeschylus, Shakespeare, and August Wilson; contemplate the philosophy of Plato, Kant, and Anscombe; contrast the linguistic patterns of Spanish, Farsi, and Mandarin; debate the musicality of Robert Johnson, The Rolling Stones, and Lady Gaga; compare the galactic impact of a supernova with that of a neutron star. We help them understand why we cry at the birth of a child or cheer the execution of an Eichmann. Perhaps most importantly, we give them the tools to discern between honest journalism and dangerous propaganda.

    My colleagues, what we do here is the enlightenment. And so, I conclude with my standard admonition, which has never been more timely or important: teach well.

     


    1/7/21
     
    Impeach Again. He's Still Got the Nukes.
    Donald Trump has always represented a long-term threat to the republic, but yesterday that threat became immediate and acute. He remins the most powerful person in the world for thirteen more days and there's no telling what he will do with that power in his next tantrum.

    This is nothing short of a national emergency. That's not hyperbole.

    I know yesterday was a long day for our representatives, but they have a duty to act now. The House should quickly draft articles of impeachment on the grounds that Mr. Trump incited a riot in an attempted coup against the American people. They can pass these articles by simple majority. Chief Justice Roberts can convene the trial immediately and the Senate can vote by a two-thirds majority to find the president guilty, remove him from office, and debar him from future office. Mr. Pence can keep the nation safe until Mr. Biden is inaugurated.

    At the same time, cabinet members shouldn't resign in protest; that's cowardly, and they're expected to resign by inauguration day anyway. Instead they should push Vice President Pence to invoke the 25th Amendment and place President Trump on medical leave until January 20.

     


    12/31/20   In Support of a Mother Jones Statue in Chicago
    This week I joined fellow historians by signing the following open letter:

    "Statues and memorials tell us who deserves our collective remembrance, who accomplished significant things in their lives, initiated major social changes, or transformed the way we think. Today, only a few representations of immigrants, and even fewer women mark the Chicago landscape. Many good candidates deserve to be honored in bronze. Among the most noteworthy, we the undersigned argue, is Mother Jones.

    "Mother Jones was one of the most famous women of early twentieth century America. Sixty-three years old in 1900, she strode the national stage for the next twenty years. She organized coal miners, steel workers, women in the garment trades. She led a headline-grabbing “Children’s Crusade” against child labor in the summer of 1903. She preached the union gospel to men and women, immigrants and native-born, black and white Americans.

    "A famine refugee from Ireland’s darkest hour, Mary Harris came to North America in her early teens. She studied to be a teacher, but also learned the art of sewing, and in her early twenties, married a man named George Jones. They had four children together, but in 1867, a yellow fever epidemic took her entire family.

    "Alone, Mary Jones moved to Chicago, started a small seamstress business, then was burned out in the great fire of 1871. Devastated by famine, plague and fire, she turned her bereavement into compassion. For the next thirty years she studied the plight of American workers and began to act.

    "Mary Jones emerged a hell-fire orator, decrying poverty and exploitation. “She is a wonder,” Chicago’s poet Carl Sandburg marveled; “The walking wrath of God,” novelist Upton Sinclair called her; “A woman of the future, a kind of being I wanted to be like,” wrote the feminist author Meridel Le Sueur; a “fearless soul,” attorney Clarence Darrow said of his old friend.

    "Workers called her simply “Mother,” the beloved protector of her flock. In time, presidents called her Mother Jones too, along with union leaders, and captains of industry.

    "Many people are worthy of a statue or a memorial in Chicago. Mother Jones stands out. Here was an elderly, working-class, immigrant widow who rose to fame by standing up for workers everywhere. All who met her noted her wit, charm, and intelligence. But above all it was her tireless devotion, the courage and dedication of this elderly woman to empowering the powerless that amazed contemporaries.

    "The Mother Jones Heritage Project has raised tens of thousands of dollars from many sources, including the Government of Ireland and the Chicago Teachers Union, to complete a statue of Mother Jones. Plans are “shovel ready”. It is past time to commemorate this great Chicago woman, beloved by millions of people, both in her own day, and since. As historians, we endorse raising a statue of Mother Jones in Chicago."

    Click here for a list of signatures and/or to add your own.

     


    12/24/20   Letter to Chancellor Glenn Boyce
    This week I signed the following open letter:

    Chancellor Glenn Boyce
    University of Mississippi
    chancellor@olemiss.edu

    Professor Noell Wilson
    Chair, Department of History
    nrwilson@olemiss.edu

    Dear Chancellor Boyce and Chair Wilson:

    We write to express our shock and dismay at the firing of Professor Garrett Felber from the History Department at the University of Mississippi, which has every appearance of being both politically motivated and retaliatory. Garrett Felber is a highly respected scholar and educator. His monograph, Those Who Know Don’t Say: The Nation of Islam, The Black Freedom Movement, and the Carceral State (University of North Carolina Press, 2020), is widely praised as a definitive political and intellectual history of the Nation of Islam during the Civil Rights Era. In the few months since its release, the book has already been shortlisted for a national book award from the Museum of African American History. He is a public figure active in prison abolition and carceral studies, and a cofounder of the Study & Struggle project, a political education project on mass incarceration and immigrant detention, for which Felber garnered a significant grant that university administrators forbade him to accept. We construe his firing as a chilling example of the university’s attempt to suppress academic freedom.

    In her letter of December 10, History Department Chair Wilson implied, although she did not directly state, that Professor Felber was being fired because he refused to meet with her in-person (on-line) on three separate occasions, and instead demanded that she communicate with him in writing. There is no evidence provided in the letter that Professor Felber failed to properly fulfill the responsibilities of his position, to teach his classes and conduct his research. Indeed, Professor Felber was on leave as a 2020-2021 Fellow at Harvard University’s Hutchins Center when Professor Wilson was insisting on meeting with him over Zoom.

    Simply put, the stated reasons for Professor Felber’s firing are both arbitrary and nonsensical.

    According to Professor Felber, the precipitating cause of his conflict with Professor Wilson was her refusal to allow him to accept a grant he had received to fund a prison education program based at the university (cf. Twitter thread). Given the climate of mistrust between the faculty and administration prevailing at the university as well as the documented influence of overtly racist donors in setting the terms under which the university administration operates, it seems only reasonable for Professor Felber to have requested that any discussion with his Chair about the withdrawal of support for his grant be in writing.

    Indeed, the only publicly available reason provided for the firing beyond Professor Wilson’s assertion that she was unable to properly “supervise” his work (while he was on leave from the university), is the statement by the university’s Chief Marketing and Communications Officer Jim Zook that Felber “did not follow the appropriate process for seeking external funding” in seeking funding for the prison education program. Felber’s mistake, according to the university itself, was running afoul of the development office in seeking to raise money to educate some of the state’s most vulnerable and immiserated citizens.

    In the absence of a fuller account of the actual circumstances of Professor Felber’s firing, we understand the firing as an attack on Professor Felber’s commitment to anti-racist political organizing as well as his well-documented history of demanding accountability from the university administration and wealthy donors.

    We further note that there is every reason to suspect that Professor Felber’s firing is retaliatory, given his forthright and public criticism of both of the university and its prominent donors.

    We, the undersigned scholars, demand a full and transparent account of the circumstances leading up to Professor Felber’s firing, including:

     1. A full and transparent account of the university administration and development office’s response to Felber’s decision to move the Making and Unmaking of Mass Incarceration conference from the Overby Center for Southern Journalism and Politics on the grounds that the center’s titular donor was a member of the board of Core Civic, a private prison company.

    2. A full and transparent account of the university administration and development office’s response to Felber’s effort to house the Study and Struggle prison education grant in the History Department, including the substance of the “consultation [among] the relevant campus offices” mentioned by university spokesperson Jim Zook.

    3. A full and transparent account of the consultation between the university administration, the development office, the Dean of the College of Liberal Arts, and the Chair of the History Department leading up to the firing of Professor Felber.

    We finally demand that, unless the university can fully demonstrate that Professor Felber’s conduct in any of these matters was, in the words of the university’s policies and procedures governing the dismissal of untenured faculty, “contumacious” (that is, wilfully resistant), rather than reasonable, rightful, and anti-racist, we finally demand that:

     4. Professor Felber’s immediate reinstatement as Assistant Professor of History be assured.

    We collectively pledge to refuse all invitations to speak at, conduct professional service for, or otherwise be associated with the University of Mississippi (outside the terms of full-time employment) until this egregious assault on academic freedom is reversed.

    SIGNATURES
    [Institutional affiliations are listed for identification purposes only.]

    [If you wish to add your name to the letter, you may do so HERE.]
    [For a full list of the 5000+ signatures, see HERE.]

    Walter Johnson, Winthrop Professor of History and African American Studies, Harvard University

    Lisa Lowe, Samuel Knight Professor of American Studies, Yale University

    Robin D. G. Kelley, Gary B. Nash Endowed Chair of History, UCLA

    Elizabeth Hinton, Associate Professor of History and African American Studies and Professor of Law, Yale University

    Dan Berger, Associate Professor of Comparative Ethnic Studies, University of Washington Bothell and Adjunct Affiliate Associate Professor of History, University of Washington Seattle

    Austin McCoy, Assistant Professor of History, Auburn University

    Jessica Wilkerson, Associate Professor of History and Stuart & Joyce Robbins Chair, West Virginia University

    Cornel West, Harvard Divinity School and Department of African and African American Studies

    Ruth Wilson Gilmore, Professor of Earth & Environmental Sciences, and American Studies, CUNY Graduate Center, City University of New York

    et al.


    12/17/20   Assessing the Trump Presidency, in Brief
    This week I came across what I believe to be the single best sentence summarizing the Trump presidency and the havoc it has created. According to columnist Bret Stephens ("Donald Trump and the Damage Done," New York Times, December 14, 2020), the system held but society corroded. "Bad things happened under Trump. But nothing so bad that it couldn’t be stopped by courts (such as his attempt to end the DACA program), prevented by Congress (his desire to ease sanctions on Russia), undermined by underlings (his effort to withdraw U.S. forces from Syria), exposed by the press (the child-separation policy), corrected by civil servants (his coronavirus misinformation), rejected by voters (his presidency) or dismissed by the very judges he appointed (his election challenges)," he wrote.

    "But the catastrophe of Trump’s presidency doesn’t mainly lie in the visible damage it has caused. It’s in the invisible damage. Trump was a corrosive. What he mainly corroded was social trust--the most important element in any successful society."


    12/10/20   Raising the Minimum Wage through Government Contracts Won't Be So Easy
    The national movement to increase the minimum wage--which has fallen significantly in real dollars for nearly thirty years--has begun to get some traction on a state-by-state level. Last month the voters of Florida approved an increase. But the most vulnerable workers remain in states where such measures are not being considered and would have little chance of passing if they were. President-elect Biden has indicated a willingness to increase the national minimum wage, but with obstructionist Republicans expected to hold a slim majority in the Senate, the chances of federal minimum wage legislation reaching his desk are minimal.

    Mr. Biden can order federal contractors to raise the minimum wage for their workers, which would increase the wages of a significant proportion of the American workforce. He could make a $15 minimum wage for all workers a part of every federal contract going forward. This would be a step in the right direction, but it wouldn't be a panacea.

    The main problem is enforcement. As I wrote in my first book, which addressed compliance with affirmative action mandates by federal contractors, it is very difficult to enforce labor clauses in federal contracts. This is because federal contract officers, with whom the contractors work most closely, are focused on whether or not each contractor "gets the job done." The officers who will administer the forthcoming contracts to distribute a Covid-19 vaccine, for instance, will be employees of the Department of Health and Human Services, and will be focused primarily on the effectiveness of vaccine delivery. When it comes to contractors' compliance with the clauses that effect workers, the responsible officials are in the Department of Labor, and often find themselves on the losing side of the argument.

    The Labor Deparrtment does have two rather blunt instruments: contract cancellation, which delays project completion, and debarment of contractors from future work, which raises the hackles of elected officials seeking to protect job-creators in their districts. When it comes to vaccine delivery or any number of federal services requiring contractors, sadly, the American public is unlikely to tolerate delays for noncompliance with labor clauses.

    This is what happened when the federal government began requiring contractors to develop affirmative action programs in the late 1960s. Even when the Department of Labor created an office dedicated to the enforcement of the affirmative action clause in all federal contracts, it took years to gain any traction--and even now there are huge gaps in enforcement.

    So while Mr. Biden should absolutely use every tool available to increase the minimum wage for as many workers as possible, he will be better served by focusing on a legislative fix: winning the two Senate runoffs in Georgia, or lobbying some of the remaining Republicans in Congress still amenable to a living wage for their constituents.


    12/03/20   Let Them Eat Pardons
    Following closely on the news of President Trump's pardon of Michael Flynn, the media are abuzz this week at the prospect that Mr. Trump is considering pardons for his children, for Rudolph Giuliani, and even for himself (although this last one would be of dubious legality).

    Eleventh-hour pardons have become an unfortunate part of the political landscape in the past few decades, as presidents use their final days in office to provide a soft landing to their cronies. Few presidents have abused the pardon power more than President Trump, who may have dangled the promise of a pardon to keep Paul Manafort from participating in the Robert Mueller inquiry. That's illegal, and certainly an impeachable offense, if proven. Otherwise, a president's pardon power for federal crimes is absolute.

    The pardon authority, an outgrowth of a similar power in the British monarchy, was not created to help presidents evade justice or reward loyalists. It exists to encourage mercy in a justice system designed to be blind. To change or limit it would require a Constitutional amendment, which I do not recommend. Instead, I recommend we change how we perceive it.

    Strictly speaking, a pardon allows a guilty person to avoid punishment. The most famous presidential pardon in recent American history was Gerald Ford's pardon of Richard Nixon. Ford long maintained not only that he did it to spare the nation the trauma of a presidential trial, but that Nixon's acceptance of the pardon was an admission of guilt. Therefore, a pardon should be considered more like a plea bargain: the accused pleads guilty in exchange for no jail time.

    So, as a first step, we should treat the pardoned as the felons they are. If they show remorse, we can offer forgiveness. Otherwise, we should shame them for abusing the public trust.

    But we also have a positive responsibility to prevent them from further endangering society. That's not punishment, it's public safety. And it shouldn't be covered by a pardon.

    Michael Flynn could be a test case. Having accepted a pardon, he cannot be punished, but he should still be treated as if he has plead guilty to a federal crime. The Justice Department could bring him before a federal judge who could consider a range of remedies, short of jail time, by which the Republic can be protected from this felon. The removal of his voting rights could be considered. A lifetime ban on service in federal office might be appropriate. At the very least he should be required to check the "prior convictions" box on employment applications. (Perhaps if more people like Flynn had to do this, there would be more traction to "ban the box.")

    Ultimately there's nothing any of us can do to stop Mr. Trump from exercising the pardon power with wanton abandon during the remaining weeks of his term. We should focus instead on seeing a pardon for what it really is.


    11/26/20   Why I'm Thankful
    I'm thankful for my health and for the health of my family and friends. Too many people have taken sick this year, and too many have died.

    I'm thankful for the essential workers who keep my house and my university running smoothly, for the IT specialists who work overtime to keep me online, and for the grocery, restaurant, transportation, and infrastructure workers who keep my family fed, provisioned, and warm.

    I'm thankful for my colleagues and my students who have risen to the challenge of distance learning, Zoom fatigue, and pandemic fatigue.

    I'm thankful for my promotion to the rank of professor, for the evaluators who understood that a scholarly book with a university press is the equivalent of at least two articles in peer-reviewed journals, and I'm thankful that my upcoming sabbatical has been approved.

    I'm thankful to be employed, and I'm thankful that my spouse is employed. Too many people have lost their jobs this year. I'm especially thankful to the students who keep paying tuition and the admissions staff who tell them why they should.

    I'm thankful for the American voter, especially the African-American woman voter, and especially those who live in or near Atlanta, Detroit, Philadelphia, Milwaukee, Phoenix, and Las Vegas. I'm thankful for the poll workers who showed up in a pandemic to ensure an accurate count. And I'm thankful for Mitt Romney and Lamar Alexander and every other brave Republican who pressured the General Services Administration to acknowledge the outcome of the presidential election, recognizing that in a democracy, the people are sovereign.

    We have--for now--come back from the brink of fascism. We have good reason to be thankful.

     


    11/18/20   An Alternate Path to a Senate Majority
    In the wake of the 2020 election, Democrats are understandably focused on two Senate runoffs in Georgia. Control of the upper chamber, we are told, hinges on the outcome of races in a state former Vice President Joseph R. Biden will likely have flipped by a margin of about 15,000 votes.

    The United States Senate is one of the least representative institutions in the federal government. It affords the same number of seats to states like Wyoming, with fewer than 600,000 residents, as it does California, which has more than 39 Million. The filibuster, which requires a threshold of 60 votes to pass legislation, makes it even less representative, contributing to our nation's decreasing governability.

    A Democrat-led Senate in 2021, however, with a Democrat-led House of Representatives and a Democrat in the White House, would have a rare opportunity to work to fix that. They could admit Washington, DC and Puerto Rico to statehood, reform the judiciary, and abolish the filibuster.

    But there is another path to a Democrat-led Senate. When a senator resigns mid-term, the state governor names a replacement until a special election in which the replacement has the advantage of incumbency. This is no rare event: Twelve current senators began their tenure as gubernatorial appointees.

    On January 20 there will be eleven Republican senators representing states led by Democrat Governors. If President-elect Biden were to name two to his cabinet, and their Governors were to replace them with Democrats, Mr. Biden would have the Democrat-led Senate he needs to implement his legislative agenda.

    Pennsylvania's Pat Toomey could serve as Secretary of the Treasury, as might John Kennedy, the former Louisiana state treasurer. Ron Johnson of Wisconsin could serve as Secretary of Homeland Security. Louisiana's Bill Cassidy, a gastroenterologist, could serve as Secretary of Health and Human Services or Surgeon General. Maine's Susan Collins could direct the Office of Management and Budget. The list goes on.

    While each of these potential nominees would pledge to support the agenda of the new President and put the interests of the United States above those of the Republican Party, each would be free to lead their departments according to the dictates of their conscience.

    It will not be easy for Mr. Biden to convince Republicans to leave the senate for his cabinet. The president's motivations will be clear, and countervailing pressure from GOP colleagues will be furious. But when it comes to understanding United States Senators, Mr. Biden, who talked Arlen Specter into switching parties in 2009, may be the most savvy occupant of the White House since Lyndon Baines Johnson.

    On the other hand, should the Senate remain under Republican control, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell will not hesitate to put party before country again.

    Mr. Biden has promised to govern for all the people, whether they voted for him or his opponent. He also has an ambitious legislative agenda. Offering cabinet appointments to at least two Republican Senators from states with Democratic Governors will allow him to do both.


    11/06/20   This Is America
    Twelve years ago I started this blog on the occasion of the historic election of Barack Obama. Now his former running mate, Joe Biden, appears to have been elected president in his own right. But the results of the 2020 election reveal continuing racism and intransigence, American problems that the incumbent did not create, but nonetheless exacerbated.

    Although I am pleased by the election's apparent outcome (as of this writing, The Associated Press has called state races awarding Joe Biden 264 electoral votes, and the former vice president leads President Trump in three other states together representing 42 more), my continuing deep concerns for the state of our nation were reflected today by a contributing opinion writer for the New York Times:

    "The past four years have shattered my faith. But I’m ready to fight for our future. Are you?"

    By Roxane Gay
    November 5, 2020
    "Joe Biden appears poised to win the presidency, but his win will not be a landslide. And that’s fine. A win is a win and the margin of that win only sweetens the victory. Democrats can and should celebrate this win if it does, indeed, come to pass.

    "And still, many of us are disappointed, for good reason. Republicans are likely to maintain control of the Senate, which will make enacting progressive legislation nearly impossible. Odious politicians like Mitch McConnell and Lindsey Graham were re-elected. Though Mr. Biden will probably win more votes than any previous presidential candidate, that President Trump was a contender at all is a disgrace. That Mr. Trump has received nearly 70 million votes is a disgrace. And it says a lot about this country that too many people refuse to face.

    "This is America. This is not an aberration. This is indeed our country and who the proverbial 'we' are. The way this election has played out shouldn’t be a surprise if you’ve been paying attention or if you understand racism and how systemic it really is. Polling can account for a great many factors, but unless they ask about the extent to which racism motivates voters — and find a way to get honest answers on this topic — they will never be able to account for this.

    "Some Trump voters are proud about their political affiliation. They attend his rallies. They drive around with their cars draped in Trump posters and flags and other paraphernalia. They proudly crow about America and pride and nationalism. They are the subjects of fawning profiles that aim to explain their voting tendencies as the result of 'economic anxiety,' as if they are tragically misunderstood. They aren’t. We know exactly who they are.

    "And then there are the other Trump supporters, the ones who are ashamed. The ones who want to seem urbane. The ones who want to be invited to all the good parties. They lie to pollsters. They lie to family and friends. And when they fill out their ballots, they finally tell the truth. That is their right. We live in a democracy, or at least we say we do.

    "I expect to hear a lot of frenzied political discourse over the next several months. I imagine pundits will try to understand how the 2020 election panned out and why. Too many white liberals will obsess over early exit polls indicating that 20 percent of Black men and a significant number of the overly broad categories of Latinos and Asians voted for Mr. Trump. They'll do this instead of reckoning with how more white women voted for the president this time around and how white men remain the most significant demographic of his base. They will say that once more, Black women saved America from itself, which of course, we did, even though some things don't deserve salvation.

    "Many will say it was identity politics — which, in their minds means a focus by Democrats on the experiences of marginalized people, which some find distasteful — that kept Mr. Biden from winning by a larger margin. They may be right, but not for the reasons they mean. There is no greater identity politics than that of white people trying to build a firewall around what remains of their empire as this country's demographics continue to shift.

    "The United States is not at all united. We live in two countries. In one, people are willing to grapple with racism and bigotry. We acknowledge that women have a right to bodily autonomy, that every American has a right to vote and the right to health care and the right to a fair living wage. We understand that this is a country of abundance and that the only reason economic disparity exists is because of a continued government refusal to tax the wealthy proportionally.

    "The other United States is committed to defending white supremacy and patriarchy at all costs. Its citizens are the people who believe in QAnon conspiracy theories and take Mr. Trump's misinformation as gospel. They see America as a country of scarcity, where there will never be enough of anything to go around, so it is every man and woman for themselves.

    "They are not concerned with the collective, because they believe any success they achieve by virtue of their white privilege is achieved by virtue of merit. They see equity as oppression. They are so terrified, in fact, that as the final votes were counted in Detroit, a group of them swarmed the venue shouting, 'Stop the count.' In Arizona, others swarmed a venue shouting, 'Count the votes.' The citizens of this version of America only believe in democracy that serves their interests.

    "I do not know how we move forward from this moment. I am optimistic, certainly. I am excited that Kamala Harris will be the first Black woman vice president. I am excited that Mr. Biden will not lead and legislate via social media, that he is competent and that he may not lead the revolution but he will, certainly, lead the country.

    "I am also worried. I am worried about what Mr. Trump's court-packing will mean for voting rights, reproductive freedom and L.G.B.T.Q. civil rights. I am worried that my marriage is in danger. I am worried that the police will continue to act as if Black lives don't matter, committing extrajudicial murders with impunity. I am worried that the yawning chasms between the poor and middle class and wealthy will grow ever wider. I am worried that too many people are too comfortable in their lives to care about these problems.

    "I'll be honest. The past four years have shattered my faith in just about everything. I feel ridiculous saying that. I feel ridiculous that I was so confident in a Hillary Clinton victory, that I believed that if a terrible person was elected president, checks and balances would minimize the damage he could do. Since Mr. Trump's election, we have watched him and the Republican Party execute their plans systematically and relentlessly. They have dismantled democratic norms with vigor. We have seen an endless parade of horrors, from families being separated at the Mexican border, to a shattered economy, to an administration completely indifferent to a pandemic that continues to ravage the country. And the list goes on and on. Atrocity only begets more atrocity.

    "At the same time, the past four years have energized me. They have moved me further left from the comfort of left of center. I have become more active and engaged in my community. I find my sociopolitical stances changing toward real progressive values. I am not the same woman I was and I am grateful for that, even if I hate what brought me to this point.

    "For much of the 2020 election cycle, many of us wanted anyone but Donald Trump as president because literally anyone but Mr. Trump would be an improvement. The bar he set was subterranean. As the Democratic field narrowed, there was time to consider who would best serve the country, but even as we found our preferred candidates, it was clear that getting Mr. Trump out of office would only be the beginning of the work. That's where things stand. The state of this country will improve if and when Joe Biden is inaugurated as the 46th president of the United States, but a great many things will stay exactly the same unless we remain as committed to progress under his administration as we were under Mr. Trump’s.

    "This is America, a country desperately divided, and desperately flawed. The future of this country is uncertain but it is not hopeless. I am ready to fight for that future, no matter what it holds. Are you?"


    10/29/20   Ask the Professors: 2020 Election Edition

    Pre-Election, Part One

    Pre-Election, Part Two

    Ballot-Counting



      
    7/18/20   Remembering John Lewis and C.T. Vivian
    John Lewis, Towering Figure of Civil Rights Era, Dies at 80
    C.T. Vivian, Martin Luther King’s Field General, Dies at 95
    The New York Times, July 18, 2020


    7/18/20   Demand Congress Provide Free School Meals To Every K-12 Student In America
    I signed the following petition, by School Lunch for All, at Change.Org:

    "My six-year-old granddaughter, Anya Howard, is a great kid and enjoys school. So one day last year, when she came home crying, I was confused and concerned — more so when she explained what happened. That day, my granddaughter went through the lunch line and got a hot lunch like she always did. But when she got to the front, her food was taken from her because she didn’t have enough money in her account.

    "We had the money, but never even got a notice. Not once. Regardless, that shouldn’t be her burden, and it shouldn’t be any child’s burden. The faculty forced her to do a “walk of shame” to the back of the line to get an alternative cold lunch. Her classmates laughed at her, and even though my granddaughter handled it well, she was heartbroken. She was “lunch shamed,” a cruel practice punishing students for things they don’t control.

    "This is not a one-time thing. It's a nationwide problem. And it's a result of outdated, unfair federal laws governing school meals. Students across the country get shamed, families go into debt, and lives are impacted forever. It doesn’t have to be this way. No kid should ever get embarrassed like that, it’s just wrong. It’s been proven that students perform better when they have school meals. School meals should be provided at no charge to all children in grades K-12, just like bus rides and textbooks. By making lunch free for all kids, no single student can be targeted and shamed. It’s just the fair thing to do.

    "Due to COVID-19, millions of parents are out of work and struggling to put food on the table through no fault of their own. Not to mention, many schools are operating on inconsistent schedules and facing budget reductions. This isn’t a local school district or state problem – we need a new solution from the federal level immediately.

    "Sign my petition to demand a fully-funded national pilot program that will provide all students with free school meals.

    "Putting families in debt over school lunch and shaming students because of school lunch debt must be abolished. That is why I’m calling on USDA Secretary Perdue, Kansas Senator Pat Roberts, Chair of The United States Senate Committee on Agriculture, Michigan Senator Debbie Stabenow — the Ranking Member of the committee — Representative Bobby Scott from Virginia and Representative Virginia Foxx from North Carolina, to establish a free school meals pilot program for the 2020-21 school year to provide daily meals, FREE OF CHARGE, to all students upon the reopening of schools. They can do this by investing some of the COVID-19 relief money in our children."

    Click HERE to sign the petition yourself.

     


    7/10/20   Open Letter Against the Student Ban
    I signed the following petition:

    "We, faculty at institutions across the United States, condemn the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) decision, announced Monday July 6th, that stipulates that International Students with F-1 and M-1 visas, “attending schools operating entirely online may not take a full online course load and remain in the United States.” Further it states that students with F-1 visas may not take a fully online course load even if their university or college is adopting a hybrid model.

    "As universities and colleges do the work of figuring out how to keep our communities safe during the COVID-19 pandemic, while ensuring the integrity of our pedagogy, our administrators have made difficult decisions. To protect our staff, students and workers, some have chosen to go entirely online. And universities and colleges that have chosen a hybrid model may also be forced to go online, if the pandemic’s impact worsens. This ICE decision means that not only will our international students not be allowed to stay in the country, but that even if they do, they will not be allowed to make decisions to keep their family safe from the pandemic by taking an online course load. If universities change course based on this ICE decision, it would mean putting their other students and faculty at risk, forcing all back into classrooms during a pandemic.

    "This policy is discriminatory. It fails to take into account the profound social and financial investments that international students have made in their often difficult decisions to embark on their educational journeys in the United States. Like all students, international students have created relationships, rented apartments, and invested in communities as they work towards building their futures. For our graduate students, who may have moved here along with their families, and who receive university stipends, this poses additional obstacles around their education and stipends. This policy would uproot their lives during their studies, and force a return to their countries of origin with uncertain prospects. For countries with which the United States has an imposed travel ban, and in a moment of limited global mobility with increasing border restrictions, it is unclear if these students will be able, in the future, to return to the United States. In all of these ways, this policy comes at great financial and emotional expense to our students, and puts their futures in unnecessary limbo.

    "What’s more, this policy is economically dangerous for our country, particularly in the context of the current financial crisis. The almost one million international students in the United States are drivers of our national economy. The Commerce Department puts international student contributions to the United States economy at $45 billion in 2018. A 2019 report shows that 62% of all international students receive the majority of their funds from sources outside of the United States. And, not only do international students come with their own resources, but they also effectively subsidize higher education, making substantial contributions to the costs of public universities and their domestic students. Finally, international students make up the majority of graduate STEM enrollment, a crucial field in which the United States aims to become a “global leader.”

    "International students are students. They are also contributors to the growth of higher education in the US. We as educators reject the artificial distinction between foreign and domestic students, which undermines the pursuit of both knowledge and justice. We call on ICE to rescind its decision, and on our university leaders to join us in prioritizing this issue, advocating for our students, and coming up with a quick response that minimizes the impact on international students so they do not have to make the impossible choice to return to their home countries in the context of a global pandemic.

    "Signed,

    "For a list of signatories, follow link: https://docs.google.com/spreadsheets/d/1J_ZDiO60RRcDuIGYJPLteHMX_MzRQhODWGvEQ1-CCv8/edit#gid=857544046"

    Update: On July 14, the Trump administration rescinded the ban.


    6/17/20   Be Careful What You Wish For: A Warning about the "Court-Martial" of Trump
    It is understandable for Democrats to be heartened by news that retired generals, including former Secretary of Defense James Mattis, are denouncing President Trump's politicization of the military. After years of seeing Republicans cowed into silence, most recently at the impeachment trial, it is cheering to imagine a majority-Republican institution rescuing the nation from its gravest threat since the second world war. In fact, however, this is the most dangerous example yet of the damage trump has done to the institutions on which our democracy relies.

    The relationship between the military and their civilian commanders is one of the pillars that has supported the republic since its founding. It stems from a simple yet sublime premise: the military does not interfere in politics. Our soldiers are encouraged to vote, but are bound to respect the results of elections, and follow the orders of their civilian commander-in-chief. Prior to promotion, generals and admirals undergo Senate hearings that test their adherence to this principle.

    Trump's presidency has weakened countless pillars supporting our republic, from the foreign service, which nurtures our relationships abroad, to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which provides science-based information about public health threats like the COVID-19 pandemic.

    Thus far, however, Trump's popularity among military servicemembers has largely strengthened their support for civilian control.

    This despite the modern military's decreasing connections to the civilian world. More than four decades since the end of the draft, fewer policymakers than ever have served in the military, and no president since George H.W. Bush--who left office nearly three decades ago--has been an active-duty veteran. The children of the wealthy and middle class largely disdain such service, seemingly content to send the children of the poor and working class to fight in wars without end.

    History provides countless examples of republics that have fallen to a military coup, from Julius Caesar's takeover of Rome to Napoleon's squelching of the French Revolution. More recently the Egyptian military quashed the Arab Spring when it overthrew President Mohammad Morsi in 2012, violating a constitution modeled on that of the United States. These were all weaker republics than ours, to be sure. But the Roman had been around far longer while its own pillars crumbled.

    Trump's politicization of the military, on display during his recent photo-op amidst the protests over the police killing of George Floyd, is unlikely to result in a military overthrow of the United States government. Too many commanders and rank-and-file servicemembers approve of his leadership.

    The danger will be during future administrations that do not enjoy Trump's popularity among the troops. The weakened respect for civilian control, coupled with growing distrust of the government inside and outside the military, will be most dangerous when we have a Democratic president.

    So we should be careful what we wish for. Let's look to the ballot box to save us from Trump, not the military.


    6/2/20   My Message Today to Academic Council
    Dr. King taught us that injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. By now you have all seen the horrifying images of George Floyd, handcuffed and prone, murdered by a bad cop who pressed the life from him with the weight of a knee on his neck. You have seen the murder of Ahmaud Arbery. And Philando Castile. And Michael Brown. And Tamir Rice. And Breonna Taylor. And Laquan McDonald. And Eric Garner. And Walter Scott. And Botham Jean. And Sandra Bland. And Trayvon Martin. And Oscar Grant. And Amadou Diallo. And James Byrd, Jr. And James Cheney, Andrew Goodman, and Mickey Schwerner. And Emmett Till. And Sam Hose.

    You have also seen, in the same images of the murder of George Floyd, so-called good cops standing by and doing nothing. Doing nothing to save a life they were capable of saving. So many of us—law abiding citizens—have watched those horrifying images and felt the urge to tackle Officer Derek Chauvin to save George Floyd’s life. If we who are not first responders have felt that urge, why didn’t officers Thao, Keung, and Lane, who are sworn to protect human life?

    Governors State University is a civil rights institution and a social justice institution. Not just because we actively provide equal educational opportunity, one of the fundamental civil rights guaranteed by law. But because we are a beacon for justice in the Chicago Southland, from the films of Professor Dan Nearing, to productions at the Center for Performing Arts, to the training of nurses and social workers and occupational therapists for work in local under-served communities, to the work of Professors Joao Salm and Jarrod Shanahan in restorative justice and prison abolition, to Professor Yvette Brown’s Respond2Violence initiative, and so many, many more.

    Governors State University provides no comfort to murderers like Derek Chauvin. But many among us might be all too similar to Thao, Keung, and Lane, calmly standing by in the face of injustice, or perhaps afraid of official repercussions. So let me say this as clearly as possible: you do not need to be a tenured professor to have academic freedom at Governors State University. I applaud Dean Corey Williams for his message to the community last week. And I make this promise: if any member of the GSU community chooses to engage in peaceful protest against injustice, I will support you and champion your right to continue working at Governors State University.

    I know that some of you are thinking that this is neither the time nor the place for this discussion. Stay in your lane, Professor Golland. Tell us how many syllabi UCC approved last month, or how many policy amendments have come out of IPC this term. To them I say that there is no better example than this of the role of the University Faculty Senate as the intellectual and moral compass of the university.


    6/20   LAWCHA Statement on Racist Violence and Solidarity in Working-Class History
    "Approved by the Executive Council of the Labor and Working-Class History Association, June 2020

    "The Labor and Working-Class History Association condemns the murders of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery and all victims of racist police brutality, and we demand justice. We stand in solidarity with all who are in the streets to protest racist policing and with the thousands who have been attacked by police in the past week. We are heartened by the large numbers and rich diversity of those who have demonstrated their outrage and demanded meaningful change in our criminal justice system and beyond.

    "We are scholars committed to studying, teaching, and writing about the lives, struggles, and contributions of working people to American history. Central to that history is the African American movement for freedom and dignity against systemic racism and violence at the hands of white civilians, police, and the state. Our research has shown that racist violence is often historically rooted in economic exploitation. From slave patrols and the capture of people escaping enslavement, the exclusion and deportation of immigrants, and the killing and arrest of strikers, police power has been deployed to control labor as well as to limit the freedom of workers, particularly those with black and brown bodies. Often reinforced by segments of the privileged white working class, white elites -- through government, police, and mobs -- have used their power to break apart multiracial labor organizing, Black Freedom struggles, and other justice movements by firing organizers and through lynching, police brutality, incarceration, and deportation.

    "Members of the Minneapolis police thought they could execute George Floyd in broad daylight because he was Black but also because he was part of an American working class that politicians, corporate leaders, and others have too often treated as disposable. Floyd moved to Minnesota in search of employment in 2014. He found work as a truck driver and as a restaurant security guard, but lost his job due to the COVID-19 stay-at-home order. An autopsy showed that he had contracted and survived the coronavirus only to be killed by police. Millions of working-class Americans can identify with George Floyd because his economic precarity is their story, too. Black workers are often one police stop, one hospital visit, or one job loss away from disaster. Since they are so often in front-line jobs and so susceptible to COVID-19’s worst symptoms due to generations of substandard healthcare services and barriers to access, many are now one microbe away from death.

    "We who study labor and working-class communities have analyzed how working people expanded our democracy and narrowed inequality through organizing, resistance, and solidarity. In the past, unions have sanctioned and expelled affiliates that discriminated against Black workers, and some have now affirmed that tradition by holding themselves and their members to high standards of anti-racism and accountability to the communities they serve.

    "Yet we have also examined moments when white workers embraced what W.E.B. Du Bois termed “the psychological wage” of whiteness and took advantage of their perceived superiority to demand better treatment for themselves only. Today, some police unions use collective bargaining and political influence to shield their members from accountability for brutality and murder against Black people. It is critical, in this moment, that labor recommit itself forcefully to the principle that an injury to one is the concern of all.

    "Anti-racism is central to LAWCHA’s mission. Labor exploitation and racism have always been entwined. As such, we must use our historical knowledge and the power of the pen to speak out and join and support workers who unite and fight racism in all its forms. BLACK LIVES MATTER."


    4/30/20   2020 GSU Ballot Message


     


    4/27/20   Zurowski Tribute



    1/16/20   Speech Preceding GSU Confidence Vote
    We have next on our agenda an item of the utmost seriousness and importance: a consideration of confidence in the university president. It is a truly rare and sad occasion for us to consider this. Weighing our responsibility to all stakeholders, we will consider this action with the sobriety, deliberation, and responsibility required of a matter of such import to our university community.

    A consideration of confidence by the faculty senate is one of the oldest aspects of shared governance in the canon of academia. The faculty and their senate are the intellectual center of the academic enterprise, the permanent stewards of the institution. Our administrators are appointed by the Board of Trustees to implement policies developed through shared governance and contractual negotiation. The full confidence of the faculty in their leadership is assumed. A fair and careful consideration of confidence, and a vote in which the faculty senate expresses no confidence or diminished confidence, occurs only when an administrator or other authority is found to have breached the trust which we place in them.

    Let us speak on what a consideration of confidence is not.

    A consideration of confidence is not based on personal animus. It is not and cannot be, and the votes cast today cannot and will not be, based on any personal feelings, positive or negative, towards an individual administrator or other authority.

    A consideration of confidence is not based on policy differences. Members of the faculty and their elected senators often disagree with one another, and certainly have disagreements with administrators, on matters of university policy. Such disagreements are an everyday part of the intellectual and academic enterprise we call a university. A consideration of confidence may only occur when a serious breach of policy, law, integrity, or ethics has occurred.

    Finally, a consideration of confidence is not contract negotiation by other means. The members of the faculty senate must never put their own personal and financial interests ahead of those of the university. To this end, it is important to distinguish between a faculty union and a faculty senate. The faculty union collectively represents our interests as individual employees, focusing on working conditions and compensation; whereas the faculty senate represents the interests of the university from the perspective of its faculty, focusing on policy, curriculum, and shared governance. To that end, although most members of the senate are also members of the union, we leave our personal interests at the door, and engage in constructive debate, deliberation, and voting as our conscience dictates what is best for the university—even if the interests of the university are contrary to our personal interests.

    So, what is a consideration of confidence? A consideration of confidence is an expression by the faculty, in this case through their elected senate, that an individual administrator or other authority may have engaged in a major breach of policy, law, integrity, and/or ethics, or otherwise significantly endangered and threatened the well-being and success of the university. A subsequent vote of no confidence expresses the opinion that the charges are founded, and that the administrator or authority should immediately resign or be terminated from his or her post.

    Based on a careful reading of the Office of the Executive Inspector General’s report on the investigation of Case #17-01703, and subsequent articles in the press, the executive committee of the senate has found sufficient evidence that Dr. Elaine P. Maimon, in her official capacity as President of Governors State University, has engaged in a major breach of policy, law, integrity, and/or ethics, or has otherwise significantly endangered and threatened the well-being and success of the university. We have therefore placed on today’s agenda a consideration of confidence in the university president.

    We will observe the following order of business. First, Dr. Bill Kresse, Senate parliamentarian, speaking on behalf of the Executive Committee, will offer the argument for no confidence. At that point, if she or a designee is present, President Maimon will offer an argument asking us to retain full confidence. Each will then have the opportunity for a brief rebuttal.

    There will be no questions or interruptions during the presentations or the rebuttals. Senators will have the opportunity to question the presenters during Executive Session, which will immediately follow the arguments.

    The senate will go into executive session for up to 40 minutes, at which point we will ask that all guests clear the room. After we come back into open session, we will vote, in public, by secret ballot. The ballot has two options: “confidence” and “no confidence.” The parliamentarian will collect the ballots and will then read them aloud, one at a time, to be recorded by the secretary, and I will immediately announce the result.

    Dr. Kresse, you have the floor.


    1/16/20   GSU Faculty Senate Resolution of No Confidence
    UFS 2019-20 No. 03

    Whereas the University Faculty Senate is the elected and representative body of the faculty, tasked with the careful and sober deliberation of matters concerning the mission, welfare, and performance of the university; and

    Whereas the Office of the Executive Inspector General (OEIG) has released a report of an investigation into Case #17-01703, which alleged that “GSU required [a former employee] to submit timesheets falsely indicating that she was still working for GSU and the timesheets were signed at the direction of GSU President Elaine Maimon…and that [Dr.] Maimon made a practice of paying other employees after the employees stopped working for GSU or started working elsewhere,” with such payments totaling $1,598,108; and

    Whereas the OEIG report stated that “the allegation that GSU and [Dr.] Maimon mismanaged the termination of numerous at-will employees…is FOUNDED,” which it defined as “reasonable cause to believe that a violation of law or policy has occurred, or that there has been fraud, waste, mismanagement, misconduct, nonfeasance, misfeasance, or malfeasance;” and

    Whereas the Chicago Tribune published an article by Dawn Rhodes entitled “Governors State paid $1.5M to terminated employees, even though many of them did no work: state watchdog,” in the edition published on Sunday, December 22, 2019; and

    Whereas the mismanagement of such a large sum during a time of significant state budget cuts, tuition and student fee increases, and academic program eliminations represents an astonishing failure to prioritize the university mission; and

    Whereas the finding of the OEIG will significantly inhibit the ability of Dr. Maimon to lead Governors State University and serve as an example to its students, faculty, staff, and administration in meeting its mission and vision, particularly regarding its ethical goals; and

    Whereas the finding of the OEIG will significantly inhibit the ability of Dr. Maimon to secure adequate public and private funding for the continued operations of Governors State University; and

    Whereas the President of Governors State University must be held to the highest levels of integrity and accountability;

    Now, therefore be it Resolved that the University Faculty Senate, on behalf of the faculty, has no confidence in the continued leadership of Elaine P. Maimon, and hereby and herewith recommends and urges her immediate resignation as President of Governors State University; and

    Be it further resolved that if Dr Maimon does not immediately resign the presidency, that the Senate hereby and herewith recommends and urges the Board of Trustees to affect her immediate removal from that post.

    The resolution was approved by a vote of 25 "no confidence," 1 "confidence," and 1 absent.


    6/27/19   When Affirmative Action Was Republican
    The students who protested affirmative action at the University of Washington last month might be surprised to learn that the policy originated with the party of Lincoln. On June 27, 1969, fifty years ago today, African American Republican and Nixon appointee Arthur Fletcher announced, from the steps of Liberty Hall, implementation of the Philadelphia Plan, the nation's first comprehensive affirmative action program.

    For Fletcher, being a Republican went hand-in-glove with being a civil rights leader. Equal opportunity meant an increase in skilled workers; a robust consumer base; and enhanced national security.

    Fletcher had faced discrimination throughout his life. Despite being the first Black player for the Baltimore Colts, he was denied employment as a high school football coach. While leading a civil rights organization in Washington state, his efforts were stymied at every turn.

    Fletcher believed that a true meritocracy was possible if the government could establish a level playing field and then get out of the way. He particularly admired Nelson Rockefeller, Gerald Ford, and George H.W. Bush for their commitment to this ideal.

    After winning a city council seat in Pasco, Washington--the first African American to do so in any city of that state since the 19th Century--a near miss for lieutenant governor in 1968 caught the attention of Richard Nixon, who appointed him Assistant Secretary of Labor. As his first order of business he revised the Philadelphia Plan, a failed attempt by the Johnson Administration to address segregation in building construction, where whites controlled the more lucrative skilled trades and relegated Blacks to the unskilled "trowel" trades. Some trades, like the pipefitters, included not a single Black member in many cities. Fletcher's version required federal contractors to integrate all employment categories--with or without support from the unions that controlled hiring--or face disqualification from future contracts. Where it was implemented, the plan worked, with most skilled trades showing more than 20% minority membership by 1973.

    But Nixon saw affirmative action as an obstacle to his reelection. In a Northern version of the Southern Strategy, he wrote off the Black vote as permanently Democratic and appealed instead to white "hardhats" who rioted against civil rights. Nixon fired Fletcher and reorganized the Labor Department under Peter Brennan, leader of the New York Building Trades. Fletcher went on to lead the United Negro College Fund and later served as chairman of the United States Commission on Civil Rights, where he successfully called for the Department of Justice to bring federal civil rights charges against police officers acquitted of the Rodney King beating.

    Today's opponents of affirmative action, who decry it as "reverse racism," miss the point. It doesn't mean hiring unqualified workers or admitting unprepared students, and it doesn't mean setting quotas. Affirmative action is about ensuring that all applicants can compete on an equal basis--and taking the necessary steps to make that possible, from headstart funding to inner-city training programs to restorative justice to more equitable hiring goals.

    That's not a Republican or a Democratic idea. It's an American idea. For fifty years we've been fighting about it. Now let's make it work.


    6/26/19   Letter to the Governor Re: Board of Trustees
    Honorable J. B. Pritzker
    Governor
    State of Illinois

    Dear Sir--

    I write today on behalf of the faculty of Governors State University to congratulate you on your historic first legislative session and to urge you to appoint seven community leaders to our Board of Trustees.

    I have been heartened by your appointments in higher education so far. The qualifications of the individuals you have selected have been impressive, and demonstrate the care and thoughtfulness with which you and your team have approached this solemn task. I have no doubt that your appointments to the Governors State board will be similarly outstanding.

    As you know, the vacancies on our board have prevented it from conducting important university business. One pending item of great concern to me and my colleagues is the award of tenure. President Elaine P. Maimon has recommended ten dynamic women and men for tenure this year based on their years of dedicated service to our students and their scholarly accomplishments, which include national profiles and publications in the premier journals in their fields.

    The Governors State board currently has seven vacancies. This presents you with a unique opportunity to shape the future of our beloved institution in its fiftieth anniversary year. It is my hope that your appointments will include a beneficial mix of former and new trustees from a variety of professional backgrounds. I also urge you to include at least one from among Governors State's alumni, and one from our distinguished pool of faculty emeriti.

    Congratulations again on your accomplishments during the legislative session. Should you have any questions or wish to discuss this further, I am at your disposal.

    Sincerely,

    David Hamilton Golland, PhD
    Associate Professor of History and
    President, Faculty Senate
    Governors State University

     


    9/22/18   What Is the University Faculty Senate?
    The University Faculty Senate is the senior shared governance organization on campus. It supports and serves the university. It is the highest expression of the faculty role in university leadership in our capacity as academic citizens and institutional stewards.

    Because the Senate is a university-wide body, members participate in discussions and decisions based on what they believe to be in the best interest of the university. They put the university's needs ahead of those of their own colleges and academic programs, and--to the extent possible--ahead of their own personal interests. At the same time, their experience and knowledge as representatives of their colleges and members of their academic programs help the Senate best serve the entire university.

    The senate provides oversight for curricular development, program review, and university policy; conducts university-wide elections; makes faculty appointments to, and helps facilitate the operation of, university-wide committees and councils; facilitates healthy relationships between various shared governance and administrative units; passes resolutions on matters of institutional import; recommends faculty to serve on senior administrative searches; advises the Board of Trustees; and, in the broadest sense, partners with the administration in fulfilling the university's mission.

    Because Senate places the interest of the university above the needs of the individual (and also because at GSU faculty employees are represented by a union), the Senate does not engage in personnel matters like contract grievances and salary negotiations. We do consider university-wide personnel matters such as adjunctificaton and sabbatical and emeritus policies, and we engage in shared governance of the Human Resources Department.

    Much of the Senate's day-to-day work is handled by its officers and other members of its Executive Committee, in particular the Senate President. Senators attend monthly Senate meetings, where they hear reports from university-wide committees and councils, reports from administrators and the leaders of the union and the Student and Civil Service Senates, and presentations from various offices and entities from around the campus.


    9/7/18   How to Ensure Committee Shared Governance
    When discussing the formation of new and existing university committees, my concerns as Faculty Senate President seem come down to these three questions:

    1. Given the scope of the committee, is there an appropriate proportion of faculty elected and appointed seats--as well as an appropriate proportion of faculty to non-faculty--to ensure stewardship of the institution? Sometimes "faculty" includes administrators with faculty rank (normally defined as assistant, associate, or "full" professor), term faculty (Unit B at GSU), or even adjuncts. Committees pertaining to curriculum, for instance, need to be restricted to elected tenure-line faculty who don't hold administrative appointments, while committees related to janitorial services, say, might need only a single appointed member with faculty rank. Committees focused on student services tend to be around the middle of that spectrum, with a mixed group of elected and appointed faculty who respect the student services professionals and are treated with respect for their intellectual accomplishments (and potential) and their lifelong commitment to the institution codified by the tenure process.

    2. Do faculty members gain professional development through service on the committee? Does it enhance their ability to be a professor (i.e. a scholar and a teacher)? (Similarly, if students are involved in the committee, do students enhance their educational experience through service on the committee?)

    3. Given its scope, to what degree does the group function democratically? Put another way, to what degree are faculty treated as academic citizens? Some committees must have a chair elected from a very specific group of elected faculty; others might have a chair designated by an administrative authority. Some committees should give voice and vote to every member; others will restrict the vote to faculty.


    5/19/18   GSU Commencement Speech
    Here, you are.

    Here you are strivers.
    You came to GSU to make something better of yourself, to gain the skills to master a craft, the credentials for entry into a professional field. You came here knowing that a college degree was a ticket to the middle class.

    Here you are seekers. Once here, however, you learned just how much more a college degree is. GSU helped you find your intellectual curiosity, helped you develop a desire to challenge the boundaries of human knowledge. Here you learned that a college education represents a journey, a quest, that it is not an end of itself, but rather a beginning.

    Here you are first-generation with an exclamation-point! College was an alien world just a few short years ago. Few of you had parents, siblings, aunts or uncles, cousins, grandparents, or even members of your community who understood what it truly meant to go to college.

    Here you are someone’s children. You represent the hopes and dreams of those parents, siblings, aunts and uncles, cousins, grandparents, and neighbors for whom college was not an option, but without whom you could not have made it to GSU, and without whose support you would not be here today.

    Here you are parents. You have balanced the demands of our rigorous curriculum with the demands of your children of all ages. You have wiped runny noses—and runny other things—while sitting at the computer working at that next paper. You have rushed home from the library to make a parent-teacher meeting. You represent their hopes and dreams too. Your accomplishments will make a better life for them—not simply because you will bring home a larger salary but also because you now have a better command of the tools that will put your own children on a path to lifelong learning.

    Here you are travelers. This class of GSU graduates has been to Italy, Serbia, Austria, Ukraine, China, and more. The world is GSU, and GSU is the world.

    Here you are international. Look around you. At GSU we take great pride in our international students. We have made every effort to help you get here. And now, here you are.

    Here you are Muslim, Jewish, atheist, Buddhist, Christian, Sikh, and Hindu. At GSU you have practiced your faith as you wish, and you have discovered that you also can choose to practice no faith at all. GSU has been and continues to be a beacon on the prairie for people of every religious persuasion.

    Here you are proud of your prior institution. Graduates of the City Colleges of Chicago make some noise! How about College of DuPage? Where is Harper College? Triton College? Waubonsee Community College? Let’s hear from Joliet Junior College. Kankakee Community College. Moraine Valley Community College. Morton College. South-Suburban-College! Prairie-State-College!

    And you know who else you are here? Here you are First Class Fourteen. Where are GSU’s original freshmen? For forty-five years, something was missing at GSU: that pitter-patter of eighteen-year-old feet. Like expectant parents, we prepared for the big day with great anticipation, developing curriculum, expanding and creating new programs, hiring new faculty. We built you a house to live in, establishing Prairie Place, GSU’s first living-learning community, also known as “the dorm.” We even created a mascot. It has been such an immense pleasure, these last four years, to watch you grow, to become what you now are. And now, here you are.

    Here you are athletes. Here you know that a strong mind is enhanced by a healthy body. You have engaged in sports and fitness in your years at GSU, and you have enhanced our university by bringing us championships. Your successes on the field, on the court, and on the course have instilled in students and faculty alike a newfound sense of pride in being associated with GSU.

    [Morning Commencement Only.] Here you are Artistic. You have participated in GSU student productions like The Scarlet Letter and For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide When the Rainbow is Enuf, obtaining a glimpse into other lives, other times, other worlds. You have brightened our campus with your complex and wonderful painting, sculpture, and film, sharing with the university a piece of yourself. You have touched our hearts with your art.

    [Afternoon Commencement Only.] Here you are the next generation of healers and teachers. You are counselors, educational administrators, hospital administrators, nurses, occupational therapists, physical therapists, school psychologists, social workers. When I visit local schools, hospitals, and clinics, I proudly seek out GSU alumni like you.

    Here you are leaders. Whether in student government or in clubs, in your honor societies or everyday study groups, here you have been prepared to take on the leadership challenges our country and our world expects of college graduates.

    Here you are veterans. Here you are veterans. Your journey to this moment was filled with dangers in theater and even more challenges at home. Thank you for your service.

    Here you are lifelong students. The ignorant think they know everything, but true wisdom is understanding how little, in fact, we know. Here you have learned how much more there is yet to learn, and here you have started on the path to continuous learning.

    Here you are worried. We live in a more dangerous country, and a more dangerous world, than we did when you started here at GSU. The forces of disorder have had some very important victories. Instead of bringing us together, we now have national leaders who give license to our worst instincts. We have seen a rise in tribalism, sectarianism, chauvinism, xenophobia. In expressions of hate, increased anger against the other. And too often this has crossed the line into violence.

    But here you are brave. You know that you can make the world a better place by using your knowledge and education to stand up to the forces of intolerance and bigotry. Each of you, in ways large and small, will face the challenges of our time and make the world a better place for my children and your own.

    And here you are honorable. You came here knowing that “to err is human,” and we have taught you that the college-educated citizen owns up to his mistakes. That sometimes the right thing is resolving to do better after you have done the wrong thing. To be honorable is also to be trustworthy. The word of the college graduate is her bond. We have taught you how to discern between facts and opinion, and we trust that you will go out there and challenge the lies.

    Here, you are college graduates. And so, on behalf of a truly proud faculty, I offer you our congratulations and wish you my very best as you undertake your next journey. Thank you.


    5/18/18   Speech Honoring Martin Castro, GSU Honorary Degree Recipient
    In 1957, in the wake of the brutal murder of Emmett Till and the integration of Little Rock High School at the point of the bayonet, Congress established the United States Commission on Civil Rights as part of the first civil rights act in nearly a century. Chaired by John Hannah, President of Michigan State University, the commission held hearings, investigated voting rights violations, and analyzed school segregation. They helped draft the Civil Rights Act of 1964, and the Voting Rights Act of 1965 was partly the result of commission hearings. These acts created new civil rights agencies, and the commission became a “watchdog” observing them all.

    President Nixon came to see the commission as a thorn in his side, and fired as chairman Reverend Theodore Hesburgh, President of Notre Dame University. For fourteen months the commission was rudderless, but in 1974 the senate approved moderate Arthur Flemming as chair. Flemming restored the commission’s independence as an investigative watchdog, serving under three presidents.

    Members of the Reagan administration, especially special assistant to the attorney general (and now Chief Justice) John Roberts, disliked the commission’s independence. Two 1981 commission reports worried them: one which recommended the strengthening of affirmative action, and one on police brutality. Conservatives like Reagan and Roberts looked to the market for remedies and believed that racism was an accident of history and would work itself out over time. So Reagan fired Chairman Flemming and replaced him with Clarence Pendleton, who agreed to make the commission a lapdog rather than watchdog. But when Reagan summarily fired two Carter appointees, they took him to court. Congress intervened, expanding the commission to eight members serving fixed six-year terms—four appointed by the president and four by Congress, with a partisan mix.

    The commissioners had won their fight to remain on the commission, and had secured its independence, but the partisan divide spelled continued acrimony as the commission has oscillated between conservative and liberal control ever since. All too often, commissioners have spent more time fighting each other and not enough fighting for civil rights. When Chairman Pendleton died, his Reaganite successor, William Allen, only added scandal to incompetence.

    In 1989 the Bush administration tried to fix the damage by appointing Arthur Fletcher, the subject of my forthcoming biography, as chair, and for a time the moderate, who had coined the phrase A Mind is a Terrible Thing to Waste, was able to hold the group together. They pushed for passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 and the Civil Rights Act of 1991, and successfully lobbied the Justice Department to bring civil rights charges against officers involved in the Rodney King beating. But Bush sabotaged the commission in the eleventh hour of his presidency, appointing two hardline conservatives who effectively blocked the efforts of President Clinton’s commission chair, Mary Frances Berry, a historian at the University of Pennsylvania.

    The conservatives’ terms finally expired in 1998, and in 2001 under Berry’s leadership the commission conducted the only investigation into the civil rights violations in Florida during the contested 2000 presidential nomination. For their efforts, the winner of that election, President George W. Bush, fired Berry. Like Reagan before him, Bush replaced a competent commission chair with a lapdog Gerald Reynolds. With the historic election of Barack Obama to the presidency, Reynolds and the conservatives went on the attack, undermining the president’s civil rights initiatives and pushing for the nullification of the Voting Rights Act.

    In 2011, when Reynolds’ term expired, President Obama appointed Martin Castro chair of the Civil Rights Commission. As we have seen, Mr. Castro had his work cut out for him. But as a former chair of the Illinois Human Rights Commission and board member of the Mexican American Legal Defense Fund, he was no stranger to the challenges of leading a civil rights agency in turbulent political times. At the United States Commission on Civil Rights, Mr. Castro bravely restored the commission’s independence and watchdog status during the era of Michael Brown, Eric Garner, and Black Lives Matter. In his five years as chair, he led the commission in the spirit of Hannah, Hesburgh, Flemming, Fletcher, and Berry, earning the undisputed title of modern civil rights leader, and the nation’s civil rights conscience. The future of the commission continues to be uncertain, although I have no doubt that, thanks to the hard work of Mr. Castro, it will continue to challenge the worst instincts of the Trump Administration and stand up for the rights of the most vulnerable in our society.


    5/10/18   Remarks at GSU Veterans' Cording Ceremony
    Twelve score and two years ago our forebears brought forth on this continent a new nation conceived in liberty and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal. Eighty-seven years later, an American President from the great state of Illinois went to a battlefield of the Civil War, still soaked in the blood of the brave souls who had given their lives so that our nation could have a new birth—of freedom.

    We are yet an imperfect union. We remain torn by internal strife and challenged by dangers abroad. We have yet to live up to our founding promise of equality. We have been, and to a great extent remain, a nation of racism, of sexism, of violence against our own. We have tolerated—and too often continue to tolerate—lynching, police brutality, religious discrimination, and a prison-industrial complex.

    But as an American President from Arkansas once said, “there is nothing wrong with America that cannot be corrected by what is right with America.” You and I volunteered to serve this flawed country, agreed to fight for that flag over there, because we saw in it the great promise that Lincoln saw in it, the solutions that Clinton saw in it. That we can be a tolerant nation, a forgiving nation, a generous nation.

    We are indelibly linked across time to those who came before us. Like those who fought the Revolution, who stood up to the tyranny of the King and the tyranny of the mob; like the women and men who responded to the impossible situation of human slavery and national disunion and did what had never been done before, re-uniting the nation and freeing the slaves, setting an example that the remaining slaveholding nations would soon follow; like the progressives, who tackled the worst excesses of capitalism; like our grandparents during the New Deal and World War Two, who built dams and homes and unions and planted victory gardens and endured rationing—rationing!—and stood up to the seemingly-overwhelming dark night of fascism and genocide; and like our parents in the Civil Rights Era, who overturned decades of Jim Crow and ended an ill-advised war. We too have been called to do the impossible, and do the impossible we must, so “that government of the people, by the people, and for the people, shall not perish from the earth.” Thank you.

     


    4/11/18   Remarks at GSU Faculty Authors' Reception
    The phrase “faculty author” strikes me as somewhat redundant. It seems to me that being an author, by which we mean “published writer,” is a fundamental part of the identity of nearly every university faculty member. Today we honor the hard work that goes into that aspect of our identities.

    Being a legitimate published author, however, is becoming more difficult. Academic Presses and the journals they support increasingly operate on shoestring budgets. They accept far fewer manuscripts than even just a few years ago.

    Our work is also often quite solitary. We work on topics which appeal to increasingly-specific audiences, and few in our personal lives fully relate to the process of researching, writing, citing, revising; rinse and repeat. Even our most ardent supporters can do little more than smile and nod and give us privacy.

    So why do we do it? Week in, year out, why do we dedicate so much of our waking hours to this mostly thankless, often fruitless, pursuit?

    Because we are called to expand the frontiers of human understanding. We are astronauts of the mind, exploring galaxies unknown, pushing the boundaries of knowledge. Each of us, in a small way, contributes to the growth of the intellectual universe.

    Today we celebrate that. Today we recognize the heroism of the scholarly process. I personally appreciate what you do for the academy, and the Faculty Senate appreciates what your scholarship does for our university. Thank you!


    4/4/18   We Are the Legacy of Dr. King's Dream
    Today we remember and mourn the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., an icon of civil rights and one of America’s great leaders.

    At a time of deep division in this country, Dr. King reminded us what we all have in common. His assassination, 50 years ago today, was a tragedy for all Americans.

    We still live in a nation divided. Increasing polarization pervades our politics, our media, our houses of worship, our organizations. Far too often we demonize the “other,“ whether that person has a different faith, skin color, political position, or social status. Far too often we demonize those who think differently, look differently, act differently.

    In this time of division, let us reflect on the truly transformative life and teachings of Dr. King.

    Dr. King urged us to look to the better angels of our nature. That the lion could lie down with the lamb. That we must forge partnerships across the lines in our lives. The Christian must celebrate the Muslim, the Democrat embrace the Republican. We can best honor Dr. King's memory by forming true partnerships across lines that need not divide us.

    I believe we can do that together. I believe that when we do, we will have removed the power of that assassin's bullet fifty years ago, and together we will be the legacy of Dr. King's dream.


    2/7/18   Remarks Honoring GSU Provost Deborah Bordelon
    It was October 2013, and I was in the Hall of Honors attending my very first meeting as faculty rep to the Board of Trustees Academic Affairs committee. Deb, as usual, was presenting her report. One of the trustees, probably either Eileen Durkin or Anibal Taboas, asked a question about a specific curricular proposal. At this point I had been on the University Curriculum Committee for more than a year, so I knew the content of the report fairly well. Those of you who were around then know how much new curriculum we approved in those years, in preparation for the arrival of the first freshmen. Surely, I thought, Deb’s report was ghost-written by an associate provost. Certain that she would need time to look through her notes, I prepared to raise my hand and do a little “mansplaining.” To my surprise, however, she not only answered immediately, but repeated the details as if she had memorized every single syllabus that had crossed her desk that month. It was then that I realized that despite her reticence to speak loudly, Deb was a formidable intellect indeed.

    The modern position of university provost has evolved out of the traditional role of the dean of faculty. The title, provost, combines the status of the university’s number one advisor to the President with the understanding that academics is more than research, but is also devoted to teaching. At its core, however, the position is still grounded in its relationship with faculty. The talented provost will motivate and inspire faculty towards scholarly and teaching excellence. Deb has funded my research on two separate occasions over the years, and I know I speak for all research grant recipients when I say, thank you.

    Deb, as you know, I’m a historian and a second-generation professor, and therefore something of a traditionalist in my views on academia. I thrive in the sort of environment fostered in the College of Arts and Sciences by leaders like Reinhold Hill and Andrae Marak, where faculty are basically left alone to pursue their craft; mentorship is typically initiated by the junior scholar rather than the senior; and formal supervision only occurs rarely. So if I might offer you one piece of admittedly unsolicited advice as you move on to a bigger provost position: think of it as a little less K-12, and a little more traditional academia; a little less “professor as employee” and a little more “employee as professor.”

    As Faculty Senate President, there is no more important relationship than the one I have with the provost, and I’ll wager that there are few more important relationships for a provost than the one she has with the Senate President.

    When I was elected last summer, Deb and I had a conversation to set the tone. While we no doubt would argue about a number of matters, it quickly became clear to both of us that we agreed on the most important thing of all: that we could disagree respectfully. That mutual respect has proven immensely helpful in my efforts at faculty leadership, and if you can develop half as good a relationship with the Senate President at your new position, I have no doubt you'll be successful there too, no matter what you disagree about.


    11/6/17   Remarks at Campus Community Campaign Luncheon
    Governors State University began as a noble experiment, combining the transformative ethos of the 1960s with the traditions of higher education. Here on the prairie we broke down the traditional silos of academia and created an accessible university. Much has changed for GSU since 1969, from the construction of classrooms to a four-year curriculum, but one thing remains the same: our commitment to quality, affordable higher education for the people of Chicago’s Southland.

    We live in dangerous and troubling times. Everywhere we look, it seems, we are bombarded with ignorance and apathy. It often feels like our world has turned upside-down. Governors State University, however, stands as a beacon of hope, a citadel of knowledge. The work of the faculty, staff, and students, on campus and off, is the antidote to the creeping darkness of despair.

    Doing our jobs is important, but it isn’t enough. Only by standing together, only by giving in common cause, can we maintain Governors State as the shining city on a hill that our forebears envisioned. The Campus Community Campaign is another excellent example of how we can contribute to the education that GSU provides, how we can shine a light into the darkness.

    Each year, when I pledge part of my paycheck to the Campus Community Campaign, I think about the students my money will help. I think about how it will be easier for them to pay tuition, buy books, secure housing, and maintain a nutritious diet. But I also think of the future contribution those students will make to our community and our society. I imagine them becoming teachers, physicians, lawyers, business executives. I imagine them working together to build a better world for my children and yours.

    I urge you to do the same. Give as much as you can to support our noble mission. In this time of crisis, few things we do are more important. Thank you.


    10/11/17   Remarks at GSU DACA Event
    America was built by immigrants and slaves. From the Cotton Kingdom to the Trans-Continental Railroad, from the National Parks to the electrical grid, much of what makes us a great nation can be found in their work. The true spirit of America lies in the immortal words of the Emancipation Proclamation and the poem by Emma Lazarus inscribed on the Statue of Liberty. We do honor to their memory when we honor their figurative descendants, today’s Dreamers. We dishonor their memory when we ignore the persistence of white supremacy.

    The Deferred Action for Child Arrivals Program represents what is right with America. It assures safety and security within the American system for the “Dreamers”—people who have known no other home but the United States, and who want to earn its benefits and contribute to its bounty. The end of this program would break a sacred promise. The very idea that our dreamers would be forcibly removed from their homes is the opposite of what this nation of immigrants stands for. And it is the opposite of the type of community we are building here at Governors State University.

    My message to you this evening can be summarized as this: wherever you were born, however you got here, your professors support you. The faculty of Governors State University stand ready to assist you in defining your educational goals and pursuing your dreams.

     


    9/18/17   Remarks at GSU Constitution Day Event
    The founders established the First Amendment because they felt that the freedom of speech and the freedom of religion were so important that they were the very first additions that needed to be made to the Constitution. They were worried that the newly formed Republic that they had created might lead to a recurrence of some of the worst practices they had experienced under British rule. For instance, although they technically had freedom of speech as subjects of the British Empire under English common law, they certainly did not enjoy freedom of religion. In fact, many of the original colonies, especially in the North, had been founded by religious denominations that had experienced persecution and discrimination in England—most famously the Puritans who founded the colony of Plymouth in Massachusetts. Ironically, these very same Puritans turned around almost as soon as they had established their own colony, and began to discriminate and persecute people of other denominations, like the Quakers. It has been argued recently that our freedom of religion does not extend to freedom from religion, but in fact the origins of the First Amendment show that we do have freedom from religion. The first amendment prevents the government from establishing a religion because the lesson of history was that when you establish one religion, people who worship in an any other way—or not at all—are subject to persecution by the established religion. The First Amendment not only guarantees freedom to worship however we choose, but also prevents the government from establishing any religion. The government cannot impose any religious test or engage in any official religious symbolism or ceremony. Of course our freedom from religion does not block anyone else’s freedom of speech, and part of our freedom of speech is the freedom to practice and proselytize religion—just not in the context of any official government-sanctioned event.

    Today we celebrate the First Amendment and the entire Constitution. As you go to the various events today keep in mind how important our constitution is to our freedoms and to our liberties. I thank you for coming and urge to exercise your first amendment rights in an atmosphere of mutual respect and healthy discussion. Enjoy your rights and respect those of others!


    9/11/17   Remarks at GSU Patriot Day Commemoration
    I grew up in New York City and went to elementary school just a few blocks from the World Center. It was my greatest joy on those mornings when the school bus was a bit early and the driver would say “let's go see the twins,” and drive us to the towers. Back then they were only a few years old. Years later, as a teenager, I snuck into the twins and took various elevators to see how far up I could get. I looked out of the window of an office suite and saw the Statue of Liberty, very small from that great height.

    September 11, 2001, was a bright, sunny day, much like today. The attacks came as a shock. But what was not surprising was the reaction of the first responders, people like the men and women assembled here today. People of all races, creeds, and colors, people who spoke dozens of languages, a true representation of what America stands for, what the Statue of Liberty stands for. They rushed in, as they were trained to do, to help the workers and visitors inside the twins, many of whom had only a few moments earlier, perhaps, been looking down at Lady Liberty.

    The terrorists engaged in an act of war, but the police and firefighters and EMTs engaged in an act of peace. Many gave their lives that day, some when the towers fell, others to related illnesses in the years that followed. For their sacrifice, we are eternally grateful. In this era of renewed conflict, with the possibility of new wars in every corner of the globe, we must never forget that our greatest heroes died for peace.


    8/16/17   On Academic Administration and Tenure Review
    This entry is compiled from a series of emails I sent to the members of the GSU union negotiating team during the last round of contract negotiations.

    On University Administration:

    Sadly, there is a national trend towards a permanent administrative class, and even non-academics being hired as college presidents. Part of the problem is that the salary differential discourages administrators from returning to faculty of their own volition; the "golden handcuffs" principle.

    My ideal academic world would have everyone with tenure view administrative positions as temporary, expected duties. During an average 21-year post-tenure career, almost everyone should take their turn as a department chair (what we call "program coordinator" at GSU) at least once; fully half should take 3 years as an associate dean (what we call division chair); 20% should take 3 years as a dean or associate provost; and 5% should serve a term as provost or president. All should expect to rotate "downwards" as often as they rotate "upwards," and there should be no regret in either direction. Step up when it's your turn, step down when it's not. The pay increase for each upward rotation should be significantly smaller than it is now, to offset the larger number of people who will receive it, but it should be permanent, to incentivize both a desire for service and eventual return to faculty.

    On Student Evaluations of Instruction:

    The right of college students to evaluate faculty was hard fought during the 1960s. Students' arguments were legitimate: they wanted more of a voice on campus and were concerned about what they saw as the unchecked power of their professors; a failing grade could result in suspension or expulsion, being drafted to fight in Vietnam might follow. At the same time, many campuses were getting funding from the Department of Defense to do research which helped the war effort--for an unnecessary war that our leaders lied us into.

    One unintended result in the half century since has been a serious weakening and adjunctification of the faculty and the rise of the administrative-corporate university (yes, there have been other causes of this). But that's not a valid reason to throw the baby out with the bathwater.

    Today, the most reported student issue on campus nationally is the perception of racism. With faculty of color and women still under-represented in the academy, this is not a time to advocate for the lessening of student voices.

    The issue is how SEIs are used. Their blanket discounting from classes failing to meet a certain reporting threshold would be unfair to the students who responded (and unfair to faculty who get positive responses in those classes). And eliminating SEIs from consideration for tenure and promotion would be tantamount to saying that students' opinions on teaching are irrelevant. They're not. We just need to ensure that they are taken in the overall context of the portfolio, which includes faculty evaluations and a statement explaining teaching methodology. We must also work to develop better SEIs, as the current model has been shown to discriminate against women and faculty of color.

    I won't pretend that I've been as strict as I might have been without SEIs. But I would argue that being responsive to student opinions of my teaching has helped me create a more student-centered classroom, and made me a better teacher.

    I've also found that most students, especially after the first month of freshman year, expect their college courses to be demanding, and reflect that explectation by not punishing high expectations too severely.

    On Faculty Personnel (Tenure Review) Committees

    I. On administrators overturning a decision of an adjacent faculty personnel committee:

    I am less concerned with administrators overturning split decisions of faculty review committees than I am their doing so for unanimous decisions. When the Division Personnel Committee or University Personnel Committee is unanimous in its recommendation, the Chair/Dean, or the Provost/President, respectively, needs to specifically and thoroughly document the reasons for not concurring and address a specific fault in the committee's reasoning.

    II. On the composition of the University Personnel Committee:

    The composition and scope of the University Personnel Committee (UPC) should be left to internal faculty governance, not a collective-bargaining agreement.

    The Faculty union is an advocacy group representing faculty as employees, and hence its interest is in getting the best deal for all employees, collectively; its leadership is elected by all eligible employees who join the union. While it's true that the interests of the institution as a whole are important to the union--since we'd all be laid off if the institution failed--these are viewed by the union as secondary to the interests of the employees.

    The faculty senate, on the other hand, is a deliberative group representing tenure-line faculty as academic citizens. The term faculty, in the traditional sense, refers to the critical faculties of the body, i.e. the things that make the body function (sight, smell, touch, sound, taste; arms, legs, etc.; and the all-important thought). As such, the senate serves, at least theoretically, as the faculty arm of the administration in the sense that the faculty are jointly tasked (through shared governance) with the administration of the institution.

    This poses a conflict of interest because what is good for employees is not always what is good for the institution. For instance, in my role as an employee, I want to be tenured and promoted; but in my role as a faculty member, I recognize that not everyone should be tenured and promoted. Hence my concern that the senate--elected by the faculty acting as faculty--should determine the composition and scope of UPC, rather than the union, elected by the employees acting as employees.

    (This conflict of interest is, incidentally, a fundamental problem with faculty unions. But it is a reconcilable problem, because of precisely who we are--hyper-educated professionals capable of distinguishing between two overlapping and sometimes-competing interests, and serving each separately at the appropriate moment. One can indeed serve god and mammon--as long as one has a terminal degree.)

    III. On the nature of university-level personnel review:

    Every level of personnel review should defer as much as possible to the prior levels of review, as the people closest to the applicant's own field of expertise should be the primary decision-makers. That's one reason the College Personnel Committee didn't work in in the College of Arts & Sciences, and the division personnel committees were restored: the primary review for a biologist shouldn't be made by a historian (and arguably not even by a chemist).

    I have no problem with each level of review bringing in something new, i.e. an attentive UPC librarian catching plagiarism not caught by lower levels of review, or others on UPC looking more closely at university-level service. But if the Division Personnel Committee and Division chair and College dean approve (or disapprove) of the applicant's teaching, scholarship, and division-level and professional service, the UPC (and for that matter the upper administration) shouldn't second-guess that.

    Part of the reason GSU's UPC is overworked is that they're doing too much detailed, redundant analysis of retention, tenure, and promotion portfolios from all across the university. They should just read the lower-level reviews and only consult the rest of the material when trying to resolve an issue.


    3/20/17   Free Speech Is Not an Academic Value
    In the wake of student protestors' shouting down (and even physically assaulting) those with disagreeable academic opinions, this essay in in the Chronicle of Higher Education reminds us of some of the core values of academia.

    "Free Speech Is Not an Academic Value," by Stanley Fish

    Like everyone else these days, I’ve been reading and thinking about what’s happening on campuses when invited speakers are shouted down by student protesters. And my mind keeps drifting back to a statement of principles issued last March by a faculty committee at the University of Minnesota. Principle No. 1 reads: "A public university must be absolutely committed to protecting free speech, both for constitutional and academic reasons." This statement is at best insufficiently nuanced and at worst false.

    The constitutional status of free speech at public universities has been worked out in a series of court decisions. The jurisprudence is a bit complicated, but it boils down to a key distinction between speech on a matter of public concern and speech that is personal or internal to the operations of the unit (i.e. a district attorney’s office or an academic department). If the speech at issue falls under the first category, it is constitutionally protected; if it falls under the second, it can be regulated in the same way any employer can regulate speech that disrupts the core business of the workplace.

    Justice Thurgood Marshall described the adjudicative task. We must, he said, "arrive at a balance between the interests of the teacher as a citizen in commenting on matters of public concern, and the interest of the State, as an employer, in promoting the efficiency of the public services it performs" (Pickering v. Board of Education, 1968). So, in what might seem to be a paradox, the public university is "absolutely committed to protecting free speech" only when the speech produced is nonacademic. When it is academic speech that is being produced the interest of the employer is paramount and speech is permitted only when it serves that interest.

    But isn’t that interest centered on speech because, as the Minnesota faculty put it in their draft recommendations, the university’s "larger normative commitment [is] to the free exchange of ideas"? No, it isn’t. The university’s normative commitment is to freedom of inquiry, which is quite a different thing. The phrase "free exchange of ideas" suggests something like a Hyde Park corner or a town-hall meeting where people take turns offering their opinions on pressing social matters. The right to speak is held by all; no requirements (of rank, intelligence, professional standing, etc.) limit the number of those who have access to the microphone. (Limits of course may attach to time, manner, and place.)

    The course of free inquiry in universities is not like that at all. Before one can speak, in a classroom or in the research seminar or in a journal publication, one will have been subjected to any number of vetting procedures — votes, auditions, presentations — designed largely to determine those who will not be allowed to speak. Whether it is a department, a college, a dean, a provost, a learned-journal editor, it is the business of the university to silence voices, not to license them indifferently. To put it another way, the free exchange of ideas between persons who want in on the conversation is a democratic ideal; but the university is not a democracy; it is (or is supposed to be) a meritocracy, one in which those who get to put their ideas forward are far outnumbered by those who don’t. The process is more Darwinian than democratic.

    This leads me to a conclusion implicit in the previous paragraphs: Freedom of speech is not an academic value. Accuracy of speech is an academic value; completeness of speech is an academic value; relevance of speech is an academic value. Each of these values is directly related to the goal of academic inquiry: getting a matter of fact right. The operative commonplace is "following the evidence wherever it leads." You can’t do that if your sources are suspect or nonexistent; you can’t do that if you only consider evidence favorable to your biases; you can’t do that if your evidence is far afield and hasn’t been persuasively connected to the instant matter of fact.

    Nor can you follow the evidence wherever it leads if you are guided by a desire that it reach a conclusion friendly to your political views. If free speech is not an academic value because it is not the value guiding inquiry, free political speech is positively antithetical to inquiry: It skews inquiry in advance; you get where you wanted to get from the get-go. It is political speech if, when the material under consideration raises political/ethical questions, you believe it is your task to answer them, to take them seriously rather than academically. Any number of topics taken up in a classroom will contain moral and political issues, issues like discrimination, inequality, institutional racism. Those issues should be studied, analyzed, and historicized, but they shouldn’t be debated with a view to fashioning and prosecuting a remedial agenda. The academic interrogation of an issue leads to an understanding of its complexity; it does not (or should not) lead to joining a party or marching down Main Street.

    That is what I mean by saying that the issue shouldn’t be taken seriously; taking it seriously would require following its paths and byways to the point where one embarks upon a course of action; taking it academically requires that one stop short of action and remain in the realm of deliberation so long as the academic context is in session; action, if it comes, comes later or after class.

    So neither free speech — speech uttered by anyone who has something to say — nor political speech — speech intended to nudge students in one direction or the other — is a legitimate part of the academic scene. But both are part of the extracurricular scene: the rallies, workshops, panel discussions, and lectures about which we hear so much today. In those contexts partisan views are front and center, and they are aired by anyone and everyone in the room or the quad or the auditorium. And these views are being taken seriously. Speakers are not merely reflecting on the alternatives; they are strongly urging the alternatives, sometimes in apocalyptic terms: Unless we divest from fossil-fuel stocks, the environment will be destroyed; unless we speak out against Israel, a new Nazi-ism will triumph; unless we stand up against microaggressions, racism will run rampant. Passions run high, the stakes are felt to be enormous, the fate of the republic hangs in the balance.

    It’s all so exciting, so exhilarating, so serious. But it is not a seriousness to which the university is a party. My contention that moral/political seriousness has no place in the university holds even in those areas in which moral/political seriousness is being performed to a fare-thee-well; for while that conversation (often very heated) is occurring within university precincts, the university is not actively presiding over it; rather, the university is, or should be, managing it, much as the proprietors of a sports stadium manage the crowds they invite in or as the proprietors of a Broadway theater manage the audiences they labor to attract. It’s show business! The university lets this stuff go on, but it doesn’t have a dog in the hunt; it neither affirms nor repudiates any of the positions that vie for attention in the circus it allows on its grounds; it doesn’t take those positions seriously, and it shouldn’t, for if it did so (by divesting from fossil fuels or policing microaggressions or declaring the entire campus a free-speech zone) it would no longer be in the education business; it would be in the partisan-politics business.

    Not all universities understand the difference between curricular and extracurricular activities and the different responsibilities attendant on each. They are confused in both directions: They think that the partisan passion of the extracurricular sideshow has a place in the classroom, and they think that something genuinely academic is going on when speakers invited precisely because they are controversial become the occasion for controversy. They don’t see that it is the administration’s job, first, to ensure that the classroom is a safe space for intellectual deliberation (that’s the only safe space I’m interested in), and, second — a very distant second — to maintain control of the energies that have been let loose once the decision to have a lecture or mount a panel discussion or allow a rally has been made.

    I put it that way so as to emphasize the fact that nothing requires the making of that decision; nothing requires that there be extracurricular activities at all. A university would still be one if all it contained were classrooms, a library, and facilities for research. A university would not be one if all it contained was a quad with some tables on it, a student union with a food court, an auditorium and a bowling alley, a gymnasium with a swimming pool and some climbing walls. You could take away all those things, and along with them the student newspaper, the fraternities, the sororities, the concerts, the athletic events, the dances and everything else administered by the office of student affairs (which you could get rid of too), and the core of the university would be intact.

    So if you’re a college or a university, you don’t have to saddle yourself with any of those extras. But once you’ve decided to add them on, it’s your job to see that they work, which means, mostly, ensuring that events go smoothly and no one gets hurt. If that’s the assignment, many colleges and universities deserve a failing grade.

    Consider an example much in the news these days: Middlebury College. The facts are well known. The controversial sociologist Charles Murray, co-author of The Bell Curve, was invited by the American Enterprise Institute Club to speak at Middlebury about his 2013 book Coming Apart. The event was co-sponsored by the political science department and one of its members, Allison Stanger, was scheduled to engage Murray in dialogue after his talk. That never happened, because as soon as Murray rose to speak student protesters turned their backs on him and began a nonstop serial chant featuring slogans like "Racist, sexist, anti-gay, Charles Murray go away" and "Your message is hatred; we will not tolerate it." After 20 minutes a university administrator announced that the event would be moved to another location where Murray would give his talk, and that he and Professor Stanger would engage in a live-streamed conversation. That did happen, but as Murray and Stanger were exiting the new venue they were harassed and assaulted; Stanger suffered a neck injury and spent a short time in a hospital.

    What happened here? Well, according to many commentators, something disturbing and dangerous happened. That is the suggestion of an article headline in The Atlantic: "A Violent Attack on Free Speech at Middlebury." But whose free speech was attacked? If you’re thinking First Amendment (inapplicable to a private school like Middlebury anyway), no government or government agency prevented Murray from speaking. If you’re thinking First Amendment values like the value of a free exchange of ideas, that’s not what the students wanted, and it was their show (after they took it away from the AEI club). And if it is what the Middlebury administration wanted, as President Laurie L. Patton said it was, then it was up to the administration to take the steps necessary to bring about the outcome it desired.

    If you were to ask me, "What would those steps be?" I would reply that I don’t know, but it’s not my job to know; it’s the job of the Middlebury administrators, and they failed to do it. In its account of the affair, Inside Higher Ed reports that "College officials said the size and intensity of the protest surprised them." Really? What planet were they living on? Didn’t they read the job description when they signed up?

    Some Middlebury faculty and many outside observers blamed the students for the debacle, and there is no doubt that their actions and ideas were unattractive enough to qualify them for the position of whipping boy. When an earnest representative of the AEI Club told the students that he looked forward to hearing their opinions, one of them immediately corrected him: "These are truths." In other words, you and Charles Murray have opinions, but we are in possession of the truth, and it is a waste of our time to listen to views we have already rejected and know to be worthless. Now that’s a nice brew of arrogance and ignorance, which, in combination with the obstructionism that followed, explains why the students are getting such a bad press. They are obnoxious, self-righteous, self-preening, shallow, short-sighted, intolerant, and generally impossible, which means that they are students, doing what students do.

    What they don’t do is police themselves or respect the institution’s protocols or temper their youthful enthusiasm with a dash of mature wisdom. That, again, is what administrations are supposed to do and what they are paid to do: Set up procedures for establishing, maintaining, and managing the various enterprises, academic and nonacademic, that fall within their purview. Pillorying the students while muttering something about the decline of civility and truth-seeking in a radical PC culture makes good copy for radio, TV, and newspaper pundits; however, it misses the point, which is not some piously invoked abstraction like free speech or democratic rational debate, but something much smaller and more practically consequential: the obligation of college and university administrators to know what they are supposed to do and then to actually do it. How’s that for a plan?

    My advice to administrators: Stop thinking of yourselves as in-house philosophers or free-speech champions or dispensers of moral wisdom, and accept your responsibility as managers of crowd-control, an art with its own history and analytical tools, and one that you had better learn and learn quickly.

    Stanley Fish is a professor of law at Florida International University and visiting professor of law at Cardozo Law School. He is the author, most recently, of Winning Arguments: What Works and Doesn’t Work in Politics, the Bedroom, the Courtroom, and the Classroom (Harper, 2016).


    1/21/17   The America We Lost When Trump Won
    This op-ed from the New York Times fairly sums up how I've been feeling since the election. It serves as a sad counterpoint to my very first blog entry on this page, when so many of us felt flush with the victory and hope expressed in November 2008.

    "The America We Lost When Trump Won," by Kevin Baker

    NO, I’m not over it.

    On Election Day I felt as though I had awakened in America and gone to sleep in Ecuador, or maybe Belgium. Or Thailand, or Zambia, or any other perfectly nice country that endures the usual ups and downs of history as the years pass, headed toward no particular destiny.

    It’s different here, or at least it was. America was always supposed to be something, as much a vision as a physical reality, from the moment that John Winthrop, evoking Jerusalem, urged the Massachusetts Bay Colony to “be as a city upon a hill.” To be an American writer meant being able to share that sense of purpose, those expectations, and to flatter yourself that you were helping to shape it. Nobody expects anything out of Belgium.

    More than any other country, I think, America has been a constant character in the work of its writers. Not only those writers who celebrate it ecstatically, like Walt Whitman, who made his life’s work one long ode to our young nation, or Nathaniel Hawthorne, or Toni Morrison, or E. L. Doctorow, who have picked more critically through its past. It applies as well to those who have scourged it, and exposed the worst of its contradictions and betrayals; a Richard Wright or a Ralph Ellison, or John Reed. It remained a vivid entity even in the work of those who have left it for one reason or another, Henry James or Edith Wharton, F. Scott Fitzgerald or Ernest Hemingway, or John Dos Passos.

    Their love for it, and their disappointments, all have the same roots, which are those expectations and those dreams. Even at our lowest, we believe with Langston Hughes’s wish to “let America be America again/The land that never yet has been, and yet must be”; with the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s overworked but ever more necessary claim that the moral arc of the universe may be long but that here, at least, it bends toward justice. Even its sternest critics agreed: America was going places!

    I know that it may sound naïve, even childish, to think that any nation has a special destiny. It’s the kind of thing that dictators and demagogues like to tell their people. I doubt if many of the other writers I know would admit they believe in such a big, vague concept as “American exceptionalism.” But we do, most of us. It’s inescapable, considering what we are: the first republic of the modern age, a nation of immigrants, haven to so many peoples from around the world. We have, like no other country, for better and for ill, dominated the modern world through both our hard power and our soft, our weapons but also our ideas.

    I can tell you all of the worst things we have done. The annihilation of the peoples who lived here before we did, and how much of America was built on the backs of enslaved Africans. The things we have done to other nations weaker than ours, the death squads and the C.I.A. schemes, and all the squalid little wars we’ve waged to grab land or save face. The exploitation and the bigotry, and the withering greed, and how we let the vastness of this continent fool us into believing that no matter how big a mistake we make, we can always start over — that we can endlessly root up and tear down, and move unmindfully through the world.

    I have written about many of these things, but that was in a greater cause, too. The absolute conviction, in the end, that I, too, was caught up in the great work; that I was helping us to get to some higher place and fulfill our promise.

    Geoffrey Ward, the brilliant American historian and the writer of many of Ken Burns’s documentaries, told me with a sense of wonder, a few days after the election: “I just turned 76 and had naïvely assumed that issues I thought resolved when I was a young man — voting rights, abortion, the ongoing enrichment immigration provides our country — would remain resolved.”

    Nothing is settled anymore in America, and it appears that so many of the gains we have fought so hard to win over the years are about to be rolled back by our new president and the party that has so cravenly backed him, even when it knows better. Obamacare, which millions of us — myself included — depend upon, is already under assault, and Medicare may not be far behind. Who knows what established rights the cadres of far-right justices who will now fill the federal benches for a generation may strike down?

    Yet when I say that I have lost the America I knew, I’m not talking about policy, or even fundamental rights, disorienting as their loss would be. I mean a greater, almost spiritual faith that I had in my fellow citizens and their better instincts, something that served as my north star in all I wrote and all I did.

    When I watched the debates and the conventions this year, my thoughts kept going back to my parents, neither of whom lived to see this election. They would have been staggered by the sheer, pounding vulgarity of it all. They were both political moderates, who voted Republican as well as Democratic, and who like most of us never paid all that much attention to politics outside the few weeks before an election. But the phenomenon of Donald J. Trump — a man who says he has never asked God for forgiveness, who refers to the Eucharist with characteristic humility (“I drink my little wine, which is about the only wine I drink, and have my little cracker"), who mocks our military heroes, who lumbers about a stage proclaiming, “I alone can fix it!,” who dismissed a working man after the election with a tweet that read in part, “Spend more time working — less talking” — would have been incomprehensible to them. They would have thought themselves transported to some other time and country, maybe another dimension. As do I.

    I have listened to all the blame foisted on the Clinton campaign for doing this or that wrong, or the media for not exposing Mr. Trump, or for giving him too much airtime. I don’t buy it. Hillary Clinton’s campaign wasn’t that bad, and Mr. Trump was exposed enough for any thinking adult to see exactly what he is.

    From assorted commentators I have heard that it is unfair or condescending to say that all Trump voters were racists, or sexists, or that they hated foreigners. All right. But if they were not, they were willing to accept an awful lot of racism and sexism and xenophobia in the deal they made with their champion, and demanded precious few particulars in return. Lately Mr. Trump has endorsed the comparison of his personal populist movement with Andrew Jackson’s, and it is true that there was much that was racist and ignorant at the heart of Jacksonian democracy. For their love, the followers of Old Hickory demanded the destruction of Native American civilization in the South, and the furthering of slavery westward. This cruel bargain won Jackson voters land, and thus the vote. What have those who embraced “Mr. I Alone Can Fix It” obtained, save for the vague, grandiose promise, renewed in his inaugural, that they will soon “start winning again, winning like never before”? Or — worse — Mr. Trump’s vow to end “political correctness” and make this, at least rhetorically, the same white man’s America it was in Jackson’s time?

    I know that Mr. Trump was elected, in part, because too many people were still hurting in this economy, from the terrible disruptions of their lives and their communities over the last 25 years. I have been poor and desperate myself, and I know what that feels like. In their giddy rush to globalization and the paper economy, too many liberal — and conservative — leaders have made the same mistake that they made in Vietnam, when they tried to palm that misbegotten conflict off on the poor and the working class. They have forgotten — again — that this great nation will endure and will prosper only if we all prosper together.

    Yet that is no excuse for what we did last November.

    Throughout our history, Americans have encountered economic shocks much worse than anything we know today, and with many fewer resources at their disposal. American working people have agency, they are plenty educated, and in past crises they rejected the extremism that other nations turned to. Even in the Great Depression they did not succumb to the ideologies of Fascism and Communism sweeping the world. When the system seemed broken in the past, when the elites and the major parties seemed irretrievably corrupt and deaf to their appeals, their response was to build true democratic movements from the ground up, and to push them on to victory even if that took decades.

    The populists after the Civil War, faced with the collapse into peonage of American farmers — then about half the population — built nationwide lecture and correspondence networks, and eventually won the reforms they needed, even though it took them more than 60 years. The first wave of feminists fought for more than 70 years to win their biggest demand; Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton were dead by the time women got the vote. African-Americans battled ceaselessly, in every way they could, against their enslavement and Jim Crow, training their own lawyers to take their cases to the Supreme Court. The struggles for labor rights, gay rights, Hispanic rights, civil liberties, religious toleration, women’s control over their own bodies — all these battles and more took decades to win. They are the glory of our civilization.

    Today’s passive, unhappy Americans sat on their couches and chose a strutting TV clown to save us.

    What they have done is a desecration, a foolish and vindictive act of vandalism, by which they betrayed all the best and most valiant labors of our ancestors. We don’t want to accept this, because we cannot accept that the people, at least in the long run of things, can be wrong in our American democracy. But they can be wrong, just like any people, anywhere. And until we do accept this abject failure of both our system and ourselves, there is no hope for our redemption.

    A couple of days after the election I watched on CNN as red-faced Russian apparatchiks in Moscow toasted one another on their great success. “Hurrah!” I thought. “No more American exceptionalism! We have joined up with the drunken idiot of history!” Once Russians, too, and especially Russian writers, were certain that there was a special destiny for the Russian soul. But a century of disastrous choices and their consequences seems to have disillusioned them. They have so much to teach us.

    Kevin Baker is a novelist and essayist and the author, most recently, of “America the Ingenious.”

     


    12/14/16   Letter to Electors
    I signed the following statement:

    Esteemed Electors:

    We, a bipartisan coalition of Americans including Electors, scholars, officials, and concerned citizens write to you in the spirit of fellowship, out of our sense of patriotism, and with great urgency.

    There are times in the life of a nation when extraordinary circumstances call for extraordinary measures. Now is a such time, and your courage and leadership are required.Never in our Republic’s history has there been a President-apparent comparable to Donald Trump. His inauguration would present a grave and continual threat to the Constitution, to domestic tranquility, and to international stability:


  • He has threatened the freedom of speech by condoning violence at public events, and suggesting criminal penalties and even revocation of citizenship to punish political expression;

  • He has threatened the freedom of press by vowing to revoke First Amendment protections for journalists;

  • He has threatened the freedom of religion by proposing to bar entry to the country and force the registration of members of certain faiths;

  • He has entangled himself with foreign interests through his personal business dealings, and refused to provide records of his taxes, which could allay suspicions;

  • He has indicated a willingness to condone torture, in contravention of the Constitution and our international treaties, which carry the force of law;

  • He is uncomfortably close to the regime of Russia, which has interfered in the election;

  • He has shown reckless disregard for diplomacy, communicating impulsively, in public forums, regarding matters of national security, and allowing personal emotions to interfere with reasoned judgment, calling into question his fitness as Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces and the nuclear capabilities of the United States;

  • He has, unlike every previous Commander-in-Chief, never served in any public position, whether elected or appointed, civilian or military, thereby bringing no experience or proven judgment on behalf of The People, or evidence of a character suited to high office.

    For these reasons, his assumption of office endangers the Constitution, the freedoms it protects, and the continued prosperity and welfare of the United States.

    You, Electors, possess the power to prevent this outcome. You are not bound to cast your vote for the candidate of your party – and, as he won neither a majority nor even a plurality of the popular vote, there can be no question of undermining the will of The People.

    The Constitution empowers Electors to exercise judgment and choice. If your role were only ceremonial, our Founders would not have required the states to elect you, or that you cast ballots by your own hand. State laws notwithstanding, you are free to vote your conscience. You have a mandate, like all officials, to protect and defend the Constitution.

    And you have the right and responsibility to investigate those who stand for this office, and to deliberate before casting your vote.

    We place country before party in imploring you, our fellow Americans, to investigate and deliberate. We stand with you as you exercise your conscience and give profound consideration to the consequences of your vote. We affirm your right and your duty to do so free from intimidation, and urge you to cast your ballot for a person with the temperament, integrity and commitment to Constitutional principles necessary in a President.

    In doing so, know that you enjoy the support of millions of Americans.

    Thank you for your service to our country.


  • 12/13/16   Collective Statement by Scholars in U.S. History and Related Fields on Civil Rights and Liberties in Dangerous Times
    I signed the following statement, republished from this site:

    As scholars of United States history and related fields, we have experienced concern and alarm as we went from a divisive campaign season to the election of Donald Trump as our president-elect. On the eve of a new administration whose key players have traded in hateful rhetoric and emboldened the harassment of various targets, we urge Americans to be vigilant against a mass violation of civil rights and liberties that could result if such troubling developments continue unchecked. Looking back on World War II and the Cold War, we recognize how easily the rights of people have been suspended during times of great uncertainty. A key lesson of such ordeals has been to never again repeat these mistakes, and so we issue a call to recognize and act upon the critical links between historical knowledge, informed citizenship, and the protection of civil and human rights.

    During World War II, in the wake of Japan’s attack on Pearl Harbor, U.S. officials justified the imprisonment of 120,000 Japanese Americans--U.S. and foreign born, most of whom were U.S. citizens--with the argument of “military necessity.” In the ensuing early Cold War era, the McCarthyist “witch hunts,” House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) investigations, and registry of communists and their sympathizers destroyed the lives of countless teachers, artists, politicians, and others.

    These historical persecutions have since been widely repudiated by scholars and elected leaders. For instance, the 1988 Civil Liberties Act signed by President Reagan and passed by a bipartisan Congress acknowledged internment as a mistake fueled by racism. It stated, “The internment of the individuals of Japanese ancestry was caused by racial prejudice, war hysteria, and a failure of political leadership.” The Cold War witch hunts associated with Joseph McCarthy were roundly denounced by Republicans and Democrats during the 1954 Army-McCarthy Senate hearings. Decades of research, debate, and analysis have brought historians to a consensus that episodes like internment and McCarthyism were misguided and immoral, and should never be repeated.

    Internationally the United States has been engaged in a war on terror, and domestically the election made clear that we are in an ideological “culture war.” And while we find ourselves in a distinct moment compared to World War II and the Cold War, we are seeing the return of familiar calls against perceived enemies. Alarmingly, justifications for a Muslim registry have cited Japanese American imprisonment during World War II as a credible precedent, and the Professor Watchlist—which speciously identifies “un-patriotic professors”--is eerily similar to the communist registry of the McCarthy era. Looking back to history provides copious lessons on what is at stake when we allow hysteria and untruths to trample people’s rights. We know the consequences, and it is possible, with vigilance and a clear eye on history, to prevent tragedy before it is too late.

    It is not just that we are at the cusp of what may be a massive rollback of civil rights and liberties, but our culture is also mired in confusion about facts vs. misinformation and a rebellion against knowledge and critical thinking. This makes our present moment doubly dangerous. Though we cannot know for certain what is ahead, we urge all Americans to enter the coming months with lessons of the past in mind, and to draw upon them to stand up for the protection of all people’s civil rights and liberties.

    We sign this statement as individual scholars. Institutions are listed for identification purposes only.

    View the original statement and signatures here.


    11/9/16   Horrified but Unsurprised
    The American people have often shown a capacity for evil.

    However, our people have just as often shown a capacity for love, kindness, goodness, and compassion. For every Taney we have produced a Douglass, for every Ford a Gompers, for every Wallace a Dr. King, for every Delano Grape a Cesar Chavez. And yes, for every W., an Obama.

    So let us be not defeated but energized, not afraid but brave.


    9/12/16   What Next?
    Questions for a Post-Trump America
    If current polls hold up, in early November we will be celebrating the defeat of the presidential candidacy of Donald J. Trump. We will have deflected from the presidency the racism and other forms of intolerance he has espoused. The important question then--and I think we need to ask it now--is what next?

    The horrible conflation of white male paranoia with the decline of the working class (and much of the rest of the middle class) which allowed Trump to win the Republican nomination is nothing new. But the lessons for the remaining leaders of the party, sadly, are that one needs to win the Trump constituency to win the nomination. Democrats may see this as a cause to rejoice: the suicide of the Republican Party. But the pattern of electoral success for Republicans will remain the same: tack to the right in the primaries and to the center in the general election. Trump will be seen as having succeeded in the former task but failed in the latter. His successor--quite possibly Paul Ryan--will perhaps be more adept at this. Trump may not have succeeded in winning the presidency, but he may have won it for Paul Ryan in 2020.

    The election of 1964 saw a similar pairing to the current Trump-Clinton matchup. Republican Senator Barry Goldwater was a right-wing extremist, like Trump, but with a modicum of government experience and views only slightly less outlandish. He tapped into the ennui of the white conservative of the time, and won the GOP nomination, but like Trump he suffered from major organizational flaws and was handily defeated by the old pro, his opponent Lyndon Johnson. Four years later, the GOP fielded a nominee nearly as conservative, but much more politically adept, and Richard Nixon became president. The winning combination, an appeal to the growing conservative base during the primaries followed by a tack to the center in the fall, proved Watergate-proof: Nixon's unelected successor, Gerald Ford, used it to come within a hair's breadth of winning in 1976 despite his pardon of the disgraced former president, and in 1980 the adroit politician Ronald Reagan, actor-turned-governor, won in a landslide.

    From the Southern Strategy to Philadelphia, Mississippi, to Willie Horton, the Goldwater fiasco of 1964 gave the Republicans the game plan to win five of the next six elections--and thereby brought Goldwater extremism into the mainstream. We continue to deal with the consequences.

    Trump may be unable to learn the lessons of history, but his opponents should do better. When they get over the euphoria of electing the first woman president--a welcome rebuke to centuries of male dominance in high American office no less impressive than Barack Obama's historic election eight years ago--Democrats need to get to work. They must reject fiscal policy that makes the rich richer and everyone else poorer, and implement social policy that restores confidence in our government. Otherwise, in the long run, their victory may prove as temporary as Lyndon Johnson's.


    8/25/16   The Most Qualified Presidential Nominee
    Political positions aside, looking only at the resumes of the candidates, scholars have pointed to George H.W. Bush as the best-qualified presidential nominee in recent history. A success in business and in politics, he served two terms as a moderate Republican Congressman in conservative Democratic Houston, Texas, re-elected by a majority-white district despite his support of President Johnson's civil rights bills. After that he led the U.S. delegation to the United Nations, served as chairman of the National Republican Committee, was the American envoy to Red China, and even headed the C.I.A. Despite two failed attempts to win a senate seat, he won statewide elections for the first time when he ran for and won the vice presidency in 1980, a job which he held for two terms before winning the G.O.P. nomination (and the presidency itself) in 1988.

    I would argue, however, that despite her shorter list of actual government jobs, Hillary Clinton is in fact a more-qualified presidential nominee than was Bush in 1988--indeed that she is the best-qualified presidential nominee since the Civil War (when the job was very different than it is today).

    A brief list of her accomplishments may not quite make the point. She has been counsel to the House Judiciary Committee during its deliberation of articles of impeachment against President Nixon; First Lady of Arkansas; First Lady of the United States; United States Senator; and Secretary of State. Impressive, if somewhat shorter than Poppy Bush's resume.

    While the first Bush had the longer list of individual jobs, Hillary Clinton has had more years in (or married to the holder of) public office. But not every year in the same job comes with the equivalent amount of experience. It seems to me there is a declining benefit as one continues in the same job: successfully navigating the first year as a senator, vice president, cabinet secretary or committee chair is, I would argue, a better qualification for the presidency than the second or third year in that job, and certainly more important than the ninth or tenth. George H.W. Bush and Hillary Clinton, as nominees, also brought both domestic and international governing experience to the table; clearly that's a better qualification than domestic experience alone.

    To determine the relative qualifications of the major-party presidential nominees I developed an algorithm that rates the prior elected and appointmed government service of nominees, with a declining value for each year in a particular job, and bonus points for certain special types of service. I've made some judgement calls on the relative value of jobs, so different numbers would produce different results: feel free to download my spreadsheet HERE and play around with it to see what you get.

    I gave the highest scores to the first year of each individual job, and set a "sunset" year, after which no points would be awarded. Here are the specific scores awarded for each job, the schedule for additional service, and bonus points:

    Job
    First Year Points
    Additional Year Points
    Maximum Years
    President
    12
    6
    8
    Senator/Governor/
    Cabinet (per department)
    10
    5
    8
    Top General/Admiral
    8
    4
    8
    Vice President/U.S. First Lady/
    Ambassador (per country)/
    Director (per agency)/
    Supreme Court Justice
    6
    3
    8
    Congress/Party Chair/
    Statewide Official/
    Subcabinet (per job)
    4
    2
    6
    State Legislator
    2
    1
    4

    Additional
    First Year Points
    Additional Year Points
    Maximum Years
    Senate Majority/Minority Leader
    5
    3
    6
    Speaker of the House
    3
    2
    4
    Senate Committee Chair
    (per Committee)
    4
    3
    4
    House Committee Chair
    (per Committee)
    2
    1
    4

    Bonus
    Points
    International
    10
    More Than Three Jobs
    5 per Additional Job
    Any Government Service
    (if less than 5 total points)
    1-5
    (to bring the total points to 5)


    In terms of scope, I looked at every presidential candidate who earned electoral votes in the general election, as the earliest elections took place before parties made nominations, and some third-party nominees earned electoral votes--on the premise that earning electoral votes indicates statistically significant support. And I excluded nominees seeking re-election to a second contiguous full term (although these can be found in the spreadsheet, highlighted yellow).

    One could reasonably argue my decision to equate service as U.S. First Lady with service as Vice President. On the one hand, First Ladies are not elected and hold no formal government role. But Vice Presidents likewise have a minimal constitutional role: preside over the Senate (and deliver tie-breaking votes when necessary). First Ladies and Vice Presidents are given policy portfolios only at the pleasure of the president. Some do nothing, while others play a more active role in decision-making. As it happens, the only First Lady in the survey played an active role in the Clinton Administration's domestic policy.

    Based on this algorithm, it is unsurprising that Hillary Clinton, with a score of 107, is the best-qualified first-time major-party presidential nominee since the Civil War. She earned 25 points as Secretary of State, 45 points as Senator, 27 points as First Lady, and 10 bonus points for international service. Despite his impressive resume, George H.W. Bush came in only sixth since the Civil War, with 88 points. He earned 27 points as VP, 21 points for service as delegate to the UN, envoy to China, and director of the CIA; 10 points as a U.S. Congressman, and 5 points as RNC chair. He earned 10 bonus points for international service and 15 for the quantity of his jobs. In addition to Hillary Clinton, he was beaten out by Lyndon Johnson (1964, Democrat, 103 points), Bob Dole (1996, Republican, 98 points), Teddy Roosevelt (1912, Progressive, 92 points), and "Fighting Bob" La Follette (1924, Progressive, 89 points).

    At the opposite end of the spectrum, tied for least-qualified nominee--both since the Civil War and all-time--are Wendell Wilkie (1940, Republican) and of course Donald Trump (2016, Republican), each with exactly zero points, for no prior government service whatsoever. Unless Trump wins, none of the bottom nine won their elections.

    An important thing for Hillary Clinton to consider is that qualifications do not necessarily translate into victory: of the twenty best-qualified nominees, only eight won their elections. Of those, only one went on to win a second full term: Richard Nixon (1968, Republican, 52 points); and as she well knows, he didn't finish it.

    How do the best-qualified nominees stack up as presidents? Those eight best-qualified winners include an excellent president: Harry Truman (1948, Democrat, 75 points). He, like Lyndon Johnson (1964, Democrat, 103 points), inherited the presidency after his predecessor's death and after his own election chose to not seek a full second term.

    However, relatively poor preparation is not necessarily an indicator of failure as president. The lowest-ranking winners include Woodrow Wilson (1912, Democrat, 15 points). Elected with only two years experience as governor of New Jersey, he was re-elected to a second full term and is considered one of our better presidents. Another president usually rated as well for his performance in office, Ronald Reagan (1980, Republican, 45 points), had eight years' experience as governor of California.

    Prior qualifications are good, but not necessarily indicative of performance in office. Abraham Lincoln, usually considered the best president in American history, ranks near the bottom (1860, Republican, 11 points). His predecessor James Buchanan is usually considered the worst, yet he ranks very close to the top on prior service (1856, Democrat, 133.5 points).

    And, in case you're wondering, the best-prepared nominee in American history was John Quincy Adams (1824, Democratic-Republican, 151.5 points). Seven years in the cabinet, five-and-a-half in the senate, and fourteen as an ambassador to four different countries. Elected without winning the popular vote, he lost his re-election bid to Andrew Jackson (1828, Democrat, 45 points).

     


    12/04/14   A Nation of Racism
    Remarks at Understanding Ferguson, Governors State University
    We are a nation of racism and we have been since at least 1710 when Virginia formalized its racial slave code. We were founded by slaveholders and when we agreed to end slavery most whites favored second-class status for African Americans. Each arriving wave of European immigrants was gradually encouraged to jump into a melting pot, eventually mixing themselves all up in whiteness, by becoming as racist as those who came before, and this is continuing with more recent non-African migrant groups. Whether we pass laws to keep Blacks in a separate, inferior space, as we did in the South from the Civil War to the Civil Rights Era, or just do it without using the law, as we did then in the North and do now everywhere in the country, we have built on this history by establishing in our very marrow the notion of separate and unequal. My African-American colleague, Professor Henry Louis Gates, Jr., was arrested when he forgot his keys and had to break into his own home, after a white neighbor called the cops. If I lose my keys, the neighbors, the locksmith, and maybe even the police will bend over backwards to help me get back in. My local locksmith didn't even ask for my ID when I asked him to change the locks after I bought my house. I doubt Professor Gates would enjoy the same privilege.

    But by the same token, we are a nation of great promise. Our founding document was written by a slaveholder who said all men are created equal. Our northern states were the first societies in human history to outlaw slavery, and we fought our bloodiest war--with more deaths than in all other American wars combined--to end that pernicious, peculiar institution, setting an example that resulted in the end of legal slavery worldwide only two decades later. For every two steps back, after all, we've taken one step forward, and this year we are commemorating the fiftieth anniversary of yet another shining moment in our struggle: the signing of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

    The events in Ferguson have elements of both sides of American history. On the one hand we have the continued manifestation of this terrible racism from which we still suffer, the killing of an unarmed Black man by a white officer who saw Michael Brown as a thug, inhuman, animalistic--rather than as a young man who had been accused of petty theft and minor assault, deserving of some minor punishment, yes, but also deserving of sympathy, attention, education, nurturing, and respect--like any white eighteen-year-old.

    But the reaction to the killing and the subsequent grand jury verdict, the expressions of frustration and pain and anger and sadness, also remind me of a time when we came together as a nation. To heal, yes, but also to learn, to improve, to turn personal tragedy into community triumph. From the killing of Chaney, Goodman, and Schwerner, we got the Voting Rights Act of 1965, which made possible the election of President Obama. We are living in a historical moment again. We have the opportunity to use this moment in ways that will make our children and our grandchildren proud.


    11/25/14   Press Narratives, Marion Barry, and the Fletcher Alternative
    The press narrative of the life of Marion Barry, longtime Mayor of Washington, D.C. who died last week, portrays Mr. Barry as having been a disappointment. A bright civil rights leader in the 1960s, he descended into the morass of politics and became the worse for it, leading to accusations of corruption and his eventual conviction on drug-related charges. The city became a dirty cesspool of crime, drug abuse, and despair, and its mayor was emblematic.

    But Washington was no more dirty and dangerous than other major cities in the 1980s, and white politicians have also been accused (and forgiven) of cocaine use. Republican Texas Representative Charlie Wilson, while in office, and possibly even former president George W. Bush, in his youth, were accused of using cocaine. And on the Democratic side, accusations have been levied at Senator Ted Kennedy and Hamilton Jordan, an aide to President Jimmy Carter. None of these white politicians suffered politically, yet Marion Barry was made a laughingstock on late-night TV, and the voters of Washington, D.C., who eventually re-elected him to the mayor's office, were derided as fools.

    Let me be clear: Marion Barry should have avoided corruption and drugs alike. As part of the Civil Rights Era's first generation of African-American politicians, Barry should have known that he would need to work at least twice as hard as his white couterparts--and that his foibles would garner double the scrutiny. But the narrative is unfair. It plays into traditional white expectations of stereotypical African-American behavior, dating back at least as far as the myth of the corrupt Reconstruction-era politician. It is a convenient myth in that it allows whites to justify their racism (be it overt, unconscious, or institutional). It is a myth we must all fight, and so the current press narrative of Marion Barry is one we must reject.

    As an illustration of this, let's engage in a little conjecture on what might have happened if Barry had lost the general election for mayor in 1978. His Republican opponent was Arthur Fletcher, who had most recently been an aide to President Gerald Ford. I know a little something about Arthur Fletcher; he played an important role in the events which form the core of my first book, and he is the subject of my second (forthcoming) book. The New York Times obituary of Marion Barry neglected to mention Fletcher, while the Washington Post obit did mention him, but in both cases the implication was that in this overwhelmingly Democratic city the winner of the Democratic primary was a shoo-in for the general election. (This need not have been the case; in 1978 columnist William Raspberry reported that stronger support of Fletcher's candidacy by the Republican National Committee might have heralded the beginning of a viable two-party system in the District; however, this would have signalled a change of direction the Republican Party was then--and still apparently now--unwilling to take.)

    The press narrative of Fletcher runs along the opposite lines of that of Marion Barry (but still contains strong elements of racism and post-Reconstruction racist mythology): in this narrative, Fletcher was a corrupt Kansas politician in the 1950s who was "saved" by the Civil Rights Movement (and harsh personal experiences) and became an unselfish leader, advising four presidents, leading the United Negro College Fund, and becoming known as "the father of affirmative action." There are huge problems with this narrative, just as there are huge problems with the press narrative for Marion Barry. But these narratives allow us to consider what might have happened had things turned out differently at the moment when these stories collided--the mayoral election of 1978.

    Had lightning somehow struck and resulted in an election victory for Fletcher (in fact he polled far better than expected but didn't break 40% in any ward except the 3rd, in Northwest D.C.), the press narratives would have us imagine that Washington, D.C. would have somehow been idyllic during the 1980s. True, Fletcher probably wouldn't have run an administration quite as corrupt as Barry's, and it's even more likely that he would have avoided an arrest on drug (or any other) charges (Fletcher was never arrested in his life). But the idea that a Fletcher mayoralty during the 1980s would have alowed the city to avoid the rampant crime and drug abuse then experienced by so many other American cities is ridiculous. Fletcher might have used his experience as a presidential advisor on urban affairs to good effect and probably would have worked out privatization deals with corporations eager to win sponsorship opportunities in the District, but he would have still had to face the overwhelming problem that D.C. has a minuscule tax base and remains beholden to a largely hostile Congress. Reaganites shared Fletcher's party affiliation but little else; Vice President Bush would have offered help but only to the limited effect of which any vice president is capable. Even with major finanicial support from the RNC, Fletcher's re-election bid in 1982 would probably have fallen victim to deepening urban blight and a Democratic midterm resurgence.

    So on the occasion of Marion Barry's death, let's be careful how we frame the narrative. Is it possible that Mayor Barry was a kind soul with a good heart and a commitment to social justice who was undermined by a racist society that took advantage of his public mistakes, and an unfortunate addiction to drugs and alcohol? Is it possible that he was a tragic figure worthy of sympathy more than ridicule?


    07/05/13   Another Day That Will Live in Infamy
    Two days ago the Egyptian army overthrew the elected president, Mohammed Morsi, suspended the constitution, and installed an interim government. President Morsi, political leader of the Moslem Brotherhood, an Islamist group with a plurality of support among the electorate, had marginalized the secular opposition and proven unresponsive to protests. We can have a variety of opinions on the one-year administration of Morsi, and indeed on his fitness to serve a second term had he not been ousted in a military coup d'etat. But it seems to me that Americans who applaud the coup and support the generals are paternalistic at best and fascist at worst. This is not simply, as David Brooks called it, a question of process over substance ("Defending the Coup," New York Times, July 5, 2013). Nor does it portend the decline of political Islamism, as Tom Friedman would have it: after all, Islamists have been kept down by secular military power before ("Egypt's Revolution, Part II," New York Times, July 4, 2013). This is a question of democratic legitimacy. At issue are our republican values and the idea that people of all beliefs and opinions should look to the ballot box rather than down the barrel of a gun.

    The claim that we should support the coup because we favor substance over process, because Mohammed Morsi was arrogating to himself and his party inordinate power for a democracy, and because the Moslem Brotherhood holds beliefs antithetical to democratic ideals, posits a dangerous assertion. This is the crux of the "substance over process" argument: that it is better to have a military dictatorship with secular generals with whom we agree than a democracy with Islamist elected leaders with whom we disagree.

    Those of us who approve of the military coup in Egypt must ask ourselves under what circumstances we would approve of a military coup in the United States. What do we do here when we oppose the policies of the incumbent? If we see his actions as unconstitutional and illegal? If we see him as arrogating to himself inordinate power for a democracy? Many of us felt this way about the Bush administration, and many others likewise feel this way about the Obama administration. But should any American advocate a military coup d'etat in the United States, that person would be labeled a crackpot. After all, our system holds that once elected, a president can hold power for a full term. It also holds that a president can be removed for "high crimes and misdemeanors." So when we oppose the policies of the incumbent, we Americans wait until the next a national election. And if the situation is so dire and our constitutional concerns so severe that we can't wait, there is always the option of impeachment.

    I can already hear my readers veritably screaming "but that's us! Egyptians don't have the same constitutional protections!" Actually, they do (or rather, they did before this coup).

    According to Article 133 of the 2012 Egyptian Constitution (translated by Nivien Saleh of the Thunderbird School of Global Management), "The President of the Republic is elected for a four-year term.... He may be reelected once." Article 152 lays out procedures for impeachment remarkably similar to those found in the United States Constitution. The voters chose Morsi and his party. Once elected, Morsi had the right to govern for his full term unless impeached. That's the social contract inherent in the ballot: when we lose an election, we support the right of the winner to govern, and can only remove him congruent with the rules we agreed to follow by casting our votes.

    Most of those who favor this military coup would never consider legitimate a similar takeover in the United States. This is hypocritical, or course, but it is also paternalistic: such people are stating that Egyptians (or non-westerners) are not ready for democracy--and that we are. When pressed, such people explain that Egyptians (and non-westerners) suffer from a lack of education, an over-prevalence of religious extremism, and a weak civil society, as compared to American voters. This is nonsense, of course. There is no evidence that the average educational attainment of the Egyptian voter is significantly lower than that of her American counterpart. The popularity of the Tea Party and ultra-Catholic candidates like Rick Santorum demonstrates that religious extremists have an outsized voice in American politics (and we wouldn't have advocated a military coup if Santorum had been elected president). The civil society charge also does not hold up. Americans have been decreasingly involved in civic organizations, as demonstrated in studies like Robert Putnam's Bowling Alone and others. While we have a stronger history of civil society in the United States than they do in Egypt, if anything our civil society is weakening while theirs is strengthening.

    Also inherent in such an argument is the fascist notion that the Egyptian military is somehow legitimate, that it is to them that the Egyptian people should turn when they feel that their government is behaving unconstitutionally. That an unelected cabal of generals should serve as kingmakers is as ridiculous as the idea that the Egyptians are not ready for democracy. But the modern world has already had its share of military dictatorships, from Chile to Hungary to Libya to Vietnam. In all cases the rights of the people were trampled in the name of "order." None of these governments were legitimate, and none were fundamentally different than medieval monarchies. Modern, enlightened people cannot support military states. Democracy, however distasteful it may appear at the moment, is the only legitimate form of government.

    Finally, by supporting the coup, what message are we sending to the Islamists? Clearly, we are telling them that we will support any democratic outcome as long as it does not involve their victory at the polls. There can be only one result from this. The Islamists will exit the democratic process and seek success through violence and terrorism. That is horrible. Occasional Islamist electoral victories create the environment that will allow Islamists to accept occasional electoral defeats (much as the Bush victories girded most Republicans to accept the Obama administration and the Obama victories are girding Democrats for the eventual Republican return to power.)

    Mohammed Morsi's Islamic Brotherhood-dominated government was a poor one. He appears to have behaved undemocratically, to say the least. But his opponents should have pursued impeachment or waited until the end of his term. His ouster by a military cabal should be mourned. Wednesday was a dark day for democracy.


    03/02/12   Presidential Pet Peeve
    Barack Obama is not the 44th President of the United States.

    There's a line guaranteed to attract attention. But read it closely: I'm not saying he isn't the president. I'm just saying he isn't the 44th. Sounds crazy? Maybe, if you've been led to believe that there have been exactly 43 presidents before him. But as any good US historian knows, that isn't true.

    I'm not talking about the presidents of the Continental or Confederation Congress, who preceded George Washington (those presidents did not preside over the nation, they presided over congress, much the way Vice President Joe Biden presides over the senate in his capacity as President of the Senate). Washington was indeed our nation's first president. Nor am I referring to Jefferson Davis, the President of the Confederate States of America: Abraham Lincoln was our 16th president and Andrew Johnson our 17th.

    I am referring to the ridiculous yet widely-accepted notion that Grover Cleveland was both the 22nd and the 24th president of the United States because his two terms in office were non-sequential. He succeeded the 21st president, Chester Arthur, and the 23rd president, Benjamin Harrison, it is true, but that fact didn't make him two presidents any more than it made him two people. During Cleveland's second term, there had been a total of 23 men who had served as president, and the next president, William McKinley, was the 24th man to hold the office, not the 25th.

    One might argue against this by noting that Cleveland's were the 22nd and 24th presidential administrations, and therefore he should be considered the 22nd and 24th presidents. But every two-term president is seen as presiding over two administrations; with re-election, presidents expect pro forma resignations from their cabinet officers, and it has been considered honorable to leave government service with the start of the boss' new term since Secretary of State Thomas Jefferson did it in 1793. By that standard, Cleveland presided over the 28th and 30th presidential administrations and President Obama is presiding over the 62nd presidential administration (that's counting every succession and every re-election).

    The president who was re-elected after four years out of office should not be counted any differently than the fifteen who were re-elected while holding the office. So let's get it straight: Cleveland, the 22nd man to hold the office, was the 22nd and only the 22nd President of the United States, and Barack Obama is not the 44th, but the 43rd.


    07/12/11   Toe-to-Toe with the Imposter
    Arriving in Oxford
    I suffered badly from imposter syndrome while in grad school and as a postdoc. Although I managed, I think, to cover it up with bravado and gregariousness, I regularly doubted my ability to pass my comprehensive exams, research, write, and defend a dissertation, and secure a job as a professor. It took the publication of my book and my appointment to a tenure-track position for me to overcome it, but it took this past weekend’s conference at the University of Oxford to realize I had done so.

    When I started at the University of Virginia I quickly became miserable, personally and professionally. My girlfriend was still in New York, and every other weekend either I would head north or she would come south. Having been an award-winning history major at Baruch College, where I was a big fish in a small pond, I soon found myself a small fish in a big pond. My work habits were difficult to maintain, my studies suffered, and I earned more Bs than As. Although my advisor Michael Holt, Grace Hale, and possibly Brian Balogh had faith in my prospects, it would appear that I failed to suitably impress Ed Ayers and Gary Gallagher, in retrospect with good reason. I left after completing the MA.

    With the recession still on and CUNY offering me a stipend, I decided to give history another shot, but immediately suffered another setback. Noting that I had an MA, my new advisor, Jim Oakes, recommended I take the written comprehensive before I even started classes, and I failed.

    With this background it should be easy to understand why I suffered from imposter syndrome. And although I passed the writtens on my second try a year later, I earned a B on my second major paper.

    I took refuge in student government, a pursuit which brought early success. Elected to represent my department at the Doctoral Students’ Council, I was immediately elected to represent the DSC at the University Student Senate, where I quickly became Vice Chair for Graduate Affairs, was appointed to represent the students on a committee of the Board of Trustees, and found myself regularly rubbing elbows with senior administrators. Although I denied it to myself at the time, it was a way to avoid not only my studies. There remained, that constant, small voice inside that told me that I wasn’t up to the task of doctoral work.

    But even then there were signs of the success to come. I published reviews in my minor and major and I earned a rare A from notoriously difficult grader Laird Bergad in his class on the history of Brazil. And I earned an A on my “outside” paper on a topic unrelated to my planned dissertation on industrialization and slavery. Sadly, I spent more time focusing on my doubts than on these successes.

    Still, I plugged on. I passed my orals and switched my thesis topic and advisor, moving into the twentieth century and the history of civil rights (which had been the topic of that “outside” paper). Firmly back on track, I researched, wrote, and defended my dissertation.

    But now it was 2008, and the job market had tanked. I thought that what remaining academic jobs there were would go to the “elite” scholars—those who had stayed at UVa or worked with pedigree advisors at Ivy League schools. I couldn’t compete with people like Wayne Hsieh, who finished at UVa after four years and immediately landed a tenure-track job at Yale, his undergraduate alma mater. Wanting to stay in New York for the sake of my wife and daughter—where the chances of landing a position seemed particularly abysmal—I focused on applying for administrative jobs, trading on the connections I had made through my student government work.

    My advisor, Clarence Taylor, as well as Brian Purnell, one of my readers, urged me to submit my dissertation to presses. It doesn’t cost anything, I thought; nothing ventured, nothing gained. A year after my defense I was under contract with the University Press of Kentucky. I decided to go on the academic job market in earnest.

    After two years on the market, however, I once again began to doubt myself. Most of the rejections didn’t faze me, but the ones where I came very close—especially those in New York—were hard to handle. After not getting a job offer at BMCC, where I was the inside candidate, I didn’t even get an interview at BCC, where I was an adjunct and former sub. Then I was rejected for an adjunct job. Perhaps my book contract was just luck, I thought. I doubted my skills with history, I doubted my abilities as a teacher, I doubted I had the personality to win over a search committee.

    And then, suddenly, it was over. My book was published and I had a job.

    I didn’t think about my imposter syndrome again—by then I had long known the term—until this past weekend when I attended a conference at St. Anne’s College, Oxford. There, toe-to-toe with serious scholars (about a third of whom were from Oxford or Cambridge, either as grad students or faculty), I held my own, engaging in incisive discussions inside and outside of panels with the likes of Gareth Davies, Kevin Yuill, Catherine Clinton, and even a team from UVa—two ABDs and a recent PhD. (Particularly noteworthy were my interactions with Clinton, a seemingly imposing imposing figure during my senior year at Baruch when she was a visiting full professor, who now, as holder of a chair at Queens University Belfast, is “Catherine.”)

    But what I found most remarkable was the imposter syndrome on evidence among Oxford and Cambridge grad students. It was then, while commiserating with them, that I finally realized that I was “cured.” I had arrived. I no longer have any doubts about where I stand in our field. I can hold my own with some of the finest scholars in the world.

    I didn’t write this to brag. (Much of my career, as you can see, has been nothing to brag about.) Rather, I wrote it to encourage those grad students who may be experiencing similar setbacks to those I faced. My last post contained an unduly harsh admonition to those who have been procrastinating, but I want you all to know just how successful you can be in our field despite seemingly debilitating failures. Focus on the positive, stay flexible, keep working at a good pace, and remember that you are capable of doing great work. If I can do it, you can too—if you really want to.

     


    06/15/11   The Abysmal Job Market, Revisited
    Last summer I posted a comparison between my experience and that of Joe Sramek, a friend and fellow CUNY PhD who went on the academic job market two years before me (Advice for the Abysmal Job Market, 8/9/10). Joe had written a piece for the Graduate Center Advocate in the fall of 2007 in which he laid out his path to the tenure-track job he now holds: over 150 applications, more than a dozen interviews at AHA Atlanta, three on-campus interviews, and one job offer. But between his Advocate piece and my doctoral defense a year later, the market tanked, and it has not recovered. Last year I blogged about my experience during my second post-doctoral year and my first in earnest on the academic job market. Consciously channeling Joe’s piece, I noted my nearly one hundred applications, exactly zero interviews at AHA San Diego, two telephone interviews and one on-campus interview. I had received no job offers for tenure-track positions but I was looking forward to starting my second semester as a full-time sub at CUNY, the “inside candidate” for a tenure-track job at Borough of Manhattan Community College. Under the circumstances, I considered it a successful year in that I had become a full-time faculty member and had, as I put it, the chance to try again.

    As the insider at BMCC I considered the entire semester one long job interview, and was interviewed by the committee and then, as a finalist, by the provost. When I ultimately did not get the job, and found myself scrambling for adjunct work in January—again with no interviews scheduled for the AHA (Boston)—I considered writing this “revisited” piece. Ultimately I decided against it, worrying that I would come off as bitter at an academic market that had let me down. After all, my credentials were about as solid as they could be: a book in press, full-time teaching experience, copious committee experience, strong references. Things soon went from bad to worse: in March I didn’t even make the interview cut at Bronx Community College, which had two tenure-track jobs available, and in April I was rejected for an adjunct job—an adjunct job, for Pete’s sake—at New York City College of Technology.

    But yesterday I received my third full-time job offer in as many weeks, and it now seems as if every three to four days I withdraw from a search after being offered an interview. As I prepare for the move to my new tenure-track job at Governors State University, an upper-division college with graduate and doctoral students outside Chicago where I will be designing the undergraduate history major and new MA program in history education, this seems like a good opportunity to reflect on the market and offer some fresh advice to recent grads and ABDs at the CUNY Grad Center.

    A la Joe Sramek, let’s start with the stats. Over the past two years, I applied for a total of 281 academic positions: 181 tenure-track (or otherwise permanent); 58 replacement (visiting, sub, etc.), 36 postdocs, and 6 public historian (i.e. in-house historian at the Department of Defense). I had (or was offered) 15 first-round interviews (8 of which for tenure-track or permanent jobs) and 7 on-campus interviews (4 for tenure-track/permanent). The result: five job offers, two of which were tenure/track or permanent and three for visiting positions (including the two visiting positions I accepted last year).

    (A word about “permanent” non-tenure track: this is a category of job about which I was unaware prior to my search. Perhaps it is a new phenomenon, as colleges seek to retain their options to lay off faculty in the wake of ever-tighter budgets. But I interviewed for two of these positions and was offered one, which ultimately I did not take because fortunately within days I had a tenure-track offer. Announcements for these jobs typically contain the word “renewable” but otherwise appear to be replacement jobs, but the applicant should ask how renewable they are during the interview. The two that resulted in interviews for me each involved three-year contracts, permanently renewable.)

    Last year, my main regret was that I hadn’t gone on the job market in the semester of my defense—fall 2008. I still regret that, as the market was better then than it would be the following year. But my current regret is that I didn’t promote myself adequately as the author of a book until it was actually published. When I say adequately I mean listing the book on the first page of the CV, centered, below the address, above all other content. I had been listing the book under “publications,” on page two of the CV. Once I made it more prominent I received a flurry of interview offers, and that’s the key in this job market: you have to have a stand-out CV and cover letter. These are the tools for getting from the application to the interview—and to do that you will need to beat the longest odds of the process.

    In this abysmal job market, search committees are receiving upwards of 200 applications for each position. It’s easy to understand why: just read Perspectives—the AHA monthly magazine—and you’ll see that since 2008 the number of PhDs granted in history has exceeded the number of job openings. From these 200-odd applications, search committees must select 10-12 candidates for an initial interview. So it’s basically twenty-to-one against getting an interview. The odds get significantly better after that: 3-4 candidates get on-campus interviews, and if the top choice turns down the job (as I did for one permanent job and one temporary job) you only need to be in the top two to get it. In short, you need to get out of the general pool of applicants and into the much smaller pool of interviewing candidates. To do that you need a solid cover letter and a stand-out CV.

    Your cover letter should be between 1.5 and 2 pages. The body should include a lengthy paragraph on your dissertation (followed by a short paragraph on your current scholarship if you have moved beyond your dissertation), a paragraph on your teaching experience, a paragraph on your teaching philosophy, and a brief statement about your service experience if you have any. (While at the Graduate Center it pays to serve on two or three committees; ideally you’ll serve on at least one that is college-wide. Ask your DSC rep to put you in touch with the students serving on the Committee on Committees so that you can get on a college-wide committee.) The introduction should briefly list your major accomplishments as they relate to the particular job (“with my dissertation now under contract and with copious experience teaching both American history and Western Civilization, I am very excited by the opportunity to apply for the assistant professorship at Beaufunk State University, Juneau”) and the conclusion should briefly restate the fact that your quals make you a good fit for the job and that you are available for a telephone or Skype interview and will be attending the AHA. Scholarship and teaching should come first and second: respectively for a research university job and reverse for a community college job; use your own best judgment for the many jobs in-between.

    Everyone in this market has a Ph.D. or soon will (even for community college jobs), and everyone who’s in serious contention for the jobs you want has a list of awards, good references, and a solid transcript. You will stand out with a book (again, aggressively promoted on the CV from the moment you get a contract) and with full-time teaching experience. Is it possible to get a job in this market with neither? Sure. But the odds are worse than abysmal. So you need to get these things. The full-time temporary teaching experience will come through persistent applications and a willingness to travel (especially now that CUNY has cut virtually all substitute lines). The book contract will be a harder trick, so you need to put a lot of energy into that. It’s not just luck: you need to write an excellent dissertation on a topic that fills a gap in the existing literature or is otherwise very sexy. But you also need to have a good relationship with your advisor, who will recommend appropriate presses; you need to write your dissertation in a style that is conducive to becoming a book; you need to develop a strong book proposal; and you need to respond to the anonymous peer criticism with grace and thoughtfulness, showing the editors that you’re someone they can work with comfortably.

    Here comes the tough love. If you’ve been working on your PhD for more than a decade, or you’re having problems getting your advisor or committee members to agree to schedule a defense, stop. Just stop. Get out and find another career. You’re not going to get a book published and you’re not going to get a full-time job—so you can forget about joining the professoriate. No college is looking for a failed historian, and the sooner you accept that you need to get out, the better it will be for you. And if you can’t count on good references you are in for continual frustration. I know this is harsh, but it’s reality, and the sooner you accept it the happier you’ll be. If you don’t get out now you can expect a career on the adjunct circuit—and even adjunct jobs are getting harder to come by. If you haven’t already done so, file for your MPhil and move on.

    But if all indications are that you’ve got a shot at this, you need to get on the market with gusto, starting with the fall semester of the academic year in which you will defend. Get an Interfolio account, line up your references, get them to upload their letters directly to Interfolio, and ask them to renew their letters each year you’re still on the market. Use your Interfolio references for EVERYTHING: even online applications, which ask for your referees’ contact information, can be given individual Interfolio e-mail addresses (instructions at Interfolio). Apply for every single job for which you feel qualified, based on your scholarship and your teaching experience—including temporary jobs outside of your scholarship as long as you’ve taught in that field. Check the listings every week at higheredjobs.com, historians.org, H-Net, and cuny.edu. Apply for each job significantly early to meet the deadline—and be conscious of whether the search calls for delivery by e-mail, online, or post. Plan on attending the AHA, but don’t be dejected if you don’t get scheduled interviews for it (I never did). At the AHA, check the job board and apply. I applied for two jobs at AHA Boston and got one interview while I was there. Keep checking and applying into the spring. Both of my tenure-track/permanent job offers were the result of applications with spring deadlines.

    If you can get into the interview pool, you’ve got an excellent chance of landing a good job. And the more you interview, the better you’ll get at showing what’s great about you—and the more your chances improve. Because once you’re in that pool, it’s much more about personality and delivery than paper credentials. But there are some things you’ll need to keep in mind long before you get to the interview stage.

    Most importantly, you need to start regularly reflecting on your teaching. You don’t need to be an excellent teacher to get a job, even at a teaching institution like a community college, but you do need to demonstrate that you think about your teaching and are looking for ways to improve it. It’s generally better to talk about the mistakes you’ve made as a teacher—as long as you can discuss how you overcame them—than it is to recite all the latest pedagogical techniques you’ve been trying.

    Give some serious thought—preferably long before the interview—on why you want to be a teacher.

    Once you’re offered an interview, research the school and think carefully about why you want to work there, why you think you’re a good fit, and what you want to know from the interviewers. Yes, I know, you want to work there because you want a job—any job—and all you really want to know from them, in this market, is whether or not they’ll hire you. But part of the process is to pretend you don’t feel that way. So do as much research as you can in advance, take notes, and write down questions. The questions, by the way, are as much about showing you’re serious as about getting more information. After all, if you only get one offer, you’re going to take it. But if you get more than one, you may not have a lot of time to make up your mind, so it pays to know as much as you can. You should ask about the teaching load and opportunities for research funding, service commitments, where the faculty tend to live, etc. But the question I always lead with is “tell me more about the students.”

    You’ll probably be asked about using technology in the classroom. You might also be asked about online courses. Be honest. Talk about what technologies you like, and where you feel you could use more training. If you haven’t taught an online course (I haven’t), it pays to be able to say you set up a blog for your students and posted questions on it each week for them to discuss. But as with everything else, don’t just do it for the sake of being able to say you did it; reflect on the results and be prepared to discuss them.

    Don’t ever say “pedagogy” in an interview; for that matter, don’t use all that many GRE words at all: you’ll come off as out of touch, incapable of relating to your students. You should speak in a relaxed manner, using plain English. Answer questions directly, and don’t be evasive; just like in your orals, don’t be afraid to say “I don’t know.” Hopefully you won’t have to say it that much in each interview.

    Be positive; don’t be glib, trite, or flip; take the interview seriously even while showing that you don’t take yourself so seriously. I was once asked about my experience teaching junior high school. [I gave the wrong answer.] Needless to say, I didn’t get that job. Only in retrospect did I realize that they were asking how I could relate to students pursuing degrees in education. But more importantly, if I wasn’t prepared to discuss something on my CV, I shouldn’t have put it on my CV. A far better answer, obviously, would have been something like “it taught me just how hard teachers work and gave me a tremendous respect for people pursuing that calling.”

    Be prepared with a list of courses you’d like to teach, not just the courses you’ve already taught. As a full-timer you will likely teach at least one or two courses a year beyond the introductory surveys. In interviews for two of the jobs I was ultimately offered, I was asked about my willingness to teach in my minor, so you should think about how you would design such courses. For your surveys, be prepared to list the textbooks you’ve assigned.

    Try to think about the process from the interviewers’ perspective. Reading more than 200 cover letters and CVs, then meeting to discuss them and choose interviewees, then debating the choice of finalists. But that’s just the logistics: they’re often very anxious about making the right choice. They’ll be working with the successful candidate for at least seven years, if not many more; that’s a big commitment and they don’t want to hire someone with whom they won’t get along. But once you can relate to that experience, it will be helpful if you can find a way to show that empathy during the interview. People who can relate to different perspectives make good colleagues.

    Don’t be put off by what appears to be a bad attitude on the part of the interviewers. You may think they don’t like you, but they don’t know you, and they might be role-playing to test your responses. You also might rub someone the wrong way; be cool, and you might win over everyone else. (That person you’re rubbing the wrong way might actually be disliked by everyone else.)

    The more you interview, the more you’ll find that your answers seem (to you) rehearsed. Just remember that this is the first time your interviewers are hearing them, so behave accordingly. This holds true even with multiple interviews on the same campus: the dean hasn’t heard your spiel with the committee, so just say it all again. You’ll develop a few catch phrases, and that’s great: it will build your confidence, and confidence (as long as it’s not arrogance) comes off well in an interview.

    Full-day campus interviews will include a meal, but late in the day your energy will start to flag. You might have breakfast with the committee chair, a meeting with the full committee, lunch with committee members, a teaching demo or job talk (to which the entire community might be invited, a walking tour of the campus, and one-on-one meetings with the chair, dean, and/or provost. Bring granola bars to keep your energy up; eat them when you’re getting tired, rather than waiting until you’re hungry. Because of adrenaline and anxiety you might not actually get hungry until much later.

    With the teaching demo or job talk, style and substance both matter. As with the orals, if you don’t know the answer, don’t fake it; admit it candidly and explain that you use such moments in your teaching as an opportunity to show how professors aren’t omniscient, and that you turn it around and ask the students what they think the answer is. Try to teach towards your specialty, both because that’s where your expertise is and also because it shows how you relate your scholarship to your teaching. In one demo I was asked to lecture on the social and political changes of the Age of Jackson. As a scholar of African-American history, I focused on the growth of abolitionism during that era and the political changes regarding the expansion of slavery. I didn’t even mention Andrew Jackson himself until the Q&A. I got the job.

    A good way to prepare for the teaching demo: teach (duh). But here’s a good way to prepare for the job talk: convert a dissertation chapter into a fifteen-minute presentation, then start delivering it at conferences. You can find a list of Calls for Papers at H-net; find the conferences that seem most likely to accept your paper, write a proposal, and send it off. After you’ve delivered the paper a few times, the job talk will be second nature—and all those presentations are lines on the CV!

    When you get a job offer, ask how long you have before they need a decision. Then IMMEDIATELY inform any other search committees for whom you have interviewed but not been told whether or not you got those jobs. If it’s true, say “I’d really rather work with you, but I need to make a decision soon.” I did that, and within two days I had a better job offer—which I accepted.

    Try to avoid pulling out of jobs which you have already accepted, but you can exploit the job-value hierarchy. It is understood that you can and will back out of adjunct commitments for a full-time job, and you can back out of a temporary job for a permanent job. This is not unethical as long as you have not signed a contract (and may be ethical in any event when it comes to backing out of adjunct contracts—just be sure you’re not breaking the law). But if you have signed a contract for a temporary full-time job, you must meet that commitment. You also may not ethically back out of one job for a better job in the same tier, i.e. backing out of a tenure-track 5-5 for a tenure-track 4-4, or backing out of an adjunct job with an hour-long commute for one closer to home. In this regard a verbal acceptance is ethically binding, so it pays to ask for as much time as possible and not commit until you’re sure you’re ready. Just don’t miss out! It’s better to turn down a better offer in the same tier later than to lose one job hoping for a better offer that may never come.

    You can imagine just how excited and relieved I am to be off the market. But like Joe Sramek before me, I felt that I could not leave for my future on the tenure track without imparting what I have learned to my fellow CUNY PhDs and ABDs. See you at AHA Chicago!


    02/06/11   AAAHRP Conference, Seattle, Washington
    I'm sitting in my room at the Arctic Club Hotel in downtown Seattle, enjoying my last morning of Pacific Time. Yesterday's presentation at the Northwest African-American Museum was a success. I delivered my latest paper on Art Fletcher, the father of affirmative action, and faced interesting questions. King County Councilmember Larry Gossett, referring to Art's 1967 election to the Pasco City Council, asked about the minority and general population of Pasco at the time. A Washington State University Ph.D. candidate named Marc Robinson asked for more information about the Pasco drug trade. In both cases I did not have the answers, so I'm glad the questions were asked. I also had the good fortune to meet Patsy Fletcher, Art's daughter-in-law (Paul Fletcher's ex-wife), who chaired a panel later in the day; and Nat Jackson, Art's protege and successor at the East Pasco Self-Help Coop, who drove up from his home in Olympia. Nat and I spent most of the afternoon together; he had brought a VCR to play me a tape he had made in 1995 in which Art announced his presidential run. Tacoma Mayor Marilyn Strickland--who has the distinction of being Tacoma's first African American woman mayor and first Asian-American woman Mayor (her father was black and her mother is Korean-American) delivered an excellent keynote address, discussing (and lamenting) the continued importance of race in American politics since the election of Barack Obama. My favorite presentations included that of University of Montana Professor Tobin Miller Shearer, who compared the aggressive use of prayer at civil rights protests in the South with displays of guns by black militants later in the period; and that of Western Carolina University Professor Pamela M. Harris, who analyzed the dearth of newspaper accounts of Irene Morgan's Supreme Court decision in an attempt to determine why Morgan, who refused to give up her seat on a segregated bus in the 1940s, is barely remembered in comparison with Rosa Parks.


    12/30/10   Mayor Bloomberg's "Let 'em Eat Cake" Moment
    On Monday, the first day after the snowfall, Mayor Mike Bloomberg, speaking from his perfectly plowed, salted, and cleared East 79th Street, suggested New Yorkers "relax and take in a Broadway show."1. I'd love to take in a Broadway show, but not only are ticket prices far beyond what most New Yorkers consider an affordable evening's entertainment (one current show has tickets from $76.50 to $289.00) but there were no trains running anywhere near my neighborhood, and my street hadn't been plowed, so I couldn't drive to another neighborhood with underground trains. On Tuesday morning, the F train started running again, and on Wednesday afternoon my street was plowed. (As of Thursday morning, we still haven't had any mail delivery.) Mind you, the snow stopped falling early Monday morning. To add insult to injury, the mayor then told New Yorkers that we were to blame for driving in the snowstorm and getting stuck. But the coup de grace came when he said that "people’s perceptions were based largely on whether their own streets were clear." Yes, and that's most of us! On Tuesday night, when my local F train became Brooklyn's only above-ground line back in service, I went to Park Slope. I walked along 8th Avenue from 9th Street to Garfield Place. Every residential street (with the exception of the one next to the hospital, thankfully) looked exactly like my own in Gravesend: unplowed.

    What this episode indicates is something that many New Yorkers already knew about our plutocrat mayor: that he is not one of us. I don't mean that he's from Boston; most New Yorkers originally hail from elsewhere. I mean that he is not representative of us, he doesn't get us, he hardly even pretends. He doesn't value our opinions, and when he hears them, as with the snow, he attributes them to venal self-interest (which says more about him than it does of us). I can't say I disagree with all of his signature policies; his successful smoking ban in bars and restaurants, his push for calorie counts on menus, his increase of the bike lanes and pedestrian-only plazas, and his unsuccessful attempt to decrease the number of cars in lower Manhattan all strike me as improvements to New York City and our way of life. It's the way he does it, running roughshod over our feelings and opinions. Another recent example, besides the poor way he handled the blizzard, was his appointment of a media executive to head the Board of Education. Tone-deaf.

    And so I invoke a sad episode in history for comparison. What made Marie Antoinette's statement historically significant was that it showed just how cut off she was from her people, just how little she understood life for everyday Parisians. For her, when the royal pantry was out of bread, she could simply have cake (another type of bread). But for the hungry of France, there was no such option. She could hardly conceive of such a life. And "Mayor Mike," while obviously not as distant (he did, after all, have a middle-class upbringing), is sufficiently distant nonetheless.

    Marie Antoinette went to the guillotine. Will Bloomberg's political career suffer the same fate?


    11/02/10   65,000 African American Soldiers in the Confederate Army? I Think Not
    Historian James R. Grossman recently posted this blog entry on a current elementary or secondary school textbook in use in the state of Virginia.

    Obviously the historical profession needs to work harder to ensure that children at all levels are assigned quality history textbooks, and another problem is the ability of partisans of historical "pseudofacts" to use the internet to spread false messages about the past. But as an internet user and sometime blogger, I'd prefer to meet the challenge head-on. So here's my rebuttal to the notion that there may have been as many as 65,000 African-Americans in the Confederate Army:

    Certainly we can dismiss out of hand the notion that black soldiers served under General Stonewall Jackson, who died in May of 1863, nearly two years before the Confederate government authorized the recruiting of black troops. Further, the fact that blacks were not allowed to serve in the Confederate Army until weeks before the end of the war creates a logistical problem with the veracity of the statement. Could the ragtag remnants of the Confederate government and army even have mustered in (let alone trained) 65,000 volunteers of any color in that short time span? And if they did, wouldn't they have been able to win a few battles and prolong the war into at least the early summer of 1865? With 65,000 fresh recruits, why would General Lee have surrendered when he did?

    So clearly we're not talking about actual soldiers, legally recruited and trained. What then are we talking about? Assuming that this figure of 65,000 was not made out of whole cloth, is there any other way to arrive at it?

    If we include, in addition to the handful of actual black soldiers that did enlist to fight for the south during the Confederacy's final days, the blacks (most, if not all of whom, presumably, were slaves) who served support functions for southern white soldiers and officers during the war, perhaps we could get to that figure, but I doubt it. But what if we counted all the slaves owned by confederate army officers? If we consider these human beings as personal property, as slave-owners certainly did (and modern Confederate apologists certainly still do), then being owned by a soldier in the Confederate army would make them "part" of the army in the manner in which a soldier's canteen is "part" of the army. These people may never have seen a battlefield; many of them may have even abandoned their owners after hearing news of the Emancipation Proclamation; nevertheless, Confederate apologists might still consider them somehow part of the army, and when added together, they might meet or even exceed the figure of 65,000.

    But this seems to me the very definition of comparing apples with oranges. Even if 65,000 slaves were coerced (with offers of freedom or more direct modes of coercion) into the Confederate ranks, how does that compare to the 180,000 former slaves and free blacks who willingly and eagerly fought for their freedom on the Union side?

    Look, some black southerners served in the Confederate army in the final days of the Civil War. OK. And there's a nut down in Ashville, North Carolina, a black man who marches to the town square every morning in full Confederate regalia. But it just isn't important enough to record beyond a footnote--certainly in comparison to the service of black soldiers in the Union army. The attempt to inflate the figure is an attempt to make black Confederate soldiers more relevant than they were--and thereby justify the false claim that the Civil War was not about slavery.

    What do you think?


    09/29/10   Thirty Years from Independence Plaza
    As I start my new job here at BMCC, I can't help but feel as if I am returning after thirty years. It was in 1982, 28 years ago, that I graduated from P.S. 234, the Independence School, at the end of 5th grade. My morning walk from the train to my office at BMCC today passes the drop-off point for the school bus I took every morning from Greenwich Village to Greenwich Street.

    Tribeca was a different neighborhood back then. De-industrialization had left this thriving commercial neighborhood with numerous piers on the Hudson virtually an empty shell. Dark warehouses and loading docks piqued the curiosity of the elementary-school student traveling in and out every day. Independence Plaza--designed as an attempt to remake the neighborhood as a residential gem--was more of a dangerous housing project than an urban oasis.

    And of course, there were the twins. Recently completed--but for all I knew as a seven-year-old, longstanding fixtures--these two shining edifices of glass and steel represented the anchor of a neighborhood desperately trying to recover. Strength amidst squalor. How excited I was--we all were--when the school bus driver would ask, on a morning with particularly light traffic, if we wanted to go see them! Instead of turning on Harrison Street, he'd stay on the West Side Highway--then a dark nest of drugs and prostitution under the old viaduct--and pass the gleaming World Trade Center, the "twin towers," before making a U-turn at Battery Park.

    But most mornings were mundane--in a Greenwich Village sort of mundaneity. My stop was on University Place and East 13th Street. There was a corner deli where I learned to steal candy and subsequently learned not to steal candy--still there, with different owners--and there was a second-floor window where a fat man would parade around naked--also still there, but presumably with a different tenant. Stromboli Pizza--which we called Amadeo's after the boxer-turned restaurateur who owned it and made every pizza by hand, flipping the dough in the air--is also still there, but Amadeo himself is long gone. (His picture remains, but the owners are not related.)

    We'd line up and board the bus and it would take us south on University Place--University was a two-way street then, and New York University then gave as much to the neighborhood as it took--then around Washington Square Park and down LaGuardia Place into Soho. Then it was west on Broome and north on Hudson to drop off the P.S. 3 students and pick up my friend Uri Feiner, who today is godfather to my daughter. Then West on Christopher to the West Side Highway. Finally, east on Harrison and south on Greenwich to what was originally called P.S. 3 Annex, a small elementary school at the top of what seemed like an incredibly long flight of stairs to a plaza with a playground beside a very tall building.

    Mundane also meant an early exposure to Pink Floyd. The driver blasted The Wall--that paean to adolescent male angst--and the whole bus would sing along in the afternoons when he'd reach "Another Brick in the Wall, Part Two." Our favorite line, naturally, was "We don't need no education."

    One day, during recess, Shawn Adams and I took advantage of the lax security among our teachers, and ran off along the promenade on Independence Plaza's western edge, crossing above Harrison Street and exiting the Plaza at Franklin Street for an unsupervised slice of pizza and a turn or three at "Space Invaders" or "Asteroids." The pizzeria may have also had a bar; it was certainly dark, and knowing what I now know about the neighborhood then, I consider us lucky to have gotten back to school unscathed, let alone our absence undetected.

    One horrible morning, Etan Patz didn't get on the bus. His stop was on West Broadway and Prince Street. We weren't friends; he was one year behind me, and a year is huge in elementary school. But everyone on the bus soon knew just about everything there seemed to be to know about him, with pictures plastered all over downtown Manhattan. And after that, one of my parents always walked me to the bus stop.

    Graduation came in 1982 and it was off to junior high without a second thought. High school, military service, my twenties, college and graduate school, all have come and gone without visits to Independence Plaza. I've sped by many times on West Street--now without the viaduct--towards the battery--now without the twins.

    After thirty years, Tribeca is a different place. Yes, Independence Plaza and the warehouse buildings are still here, but the Plaza is now the posh urban oasis its builders envisioned--and far too expensive for a BMCC professor. The warehouses, however, are more accessible, with trendy restaurants, bars, and coffee houses. The piers have been replaced by the World Financial Center and Stuyvesant High School. There's less room for imagination, but there's also less danger.

    I'm glad to be back.


    Comments

    Edith Pajarito, 11/14/10
    I wad going to leave a comment about the 65,000 african-American that fought in the civil war but there is not way to leave a comment. Instead, i will leave a commet about 30 years after independence plaza. Is interesting how independence plaza has change through the years and moré about how this área has become expensive but safeter but missing the Twins that were a great loss to this wonderful city.

     


    08/09/10   Advice from the Abysmal Job Market
    Three years ago my friend Joe Sramek defended, went on the job market with over 100 applications, had about a dozen interviews at the 2007 Atlanta AHA (and turned down a few more that he couldn't find time for), had three on-campus interviews, and was offered and accepted one tenure-track job. He was both lucky and talented. Since then, as you know (unless you've been blissfully nose-deep in the books these past few years, which is entirely possible), we've entered the worst academic market possibly since the Middle Ages—but definitely since the 1970s. Under these circumstances, it’s very difficult to hold ourselves up to Joe’s standard. Having just completed a year on that market with very different results, my advice may prove useful to grad students who will be defending in the next year or two.

    First, to parallel Joe's story, let me tell you about my year. I went on the market with over 100 applications. I had two telephone interviews for tenure-track jobs and two local campus interviews for replacement faculty jobs (in my case, CUNY full-time substitute positions) and had exactly zero interviews at the 2010 San Diego AHA (although I enjoyed attending panels in the balmy weather). I was also placed on a pre-interview shortlist for one tenure-track job but didn’t make the interview cut. All four of the preliminary interviews resulted in second-round on-campus interviews. One of the tenure-track jobs resulted in a rejection; the other ended in a cancelled search (for administrative reasons; I’ve been encouraged to re-apply next month when the search is reopened). I was offered both replacement jobs. I still don't have a tenure-track job, but under the circumstances it was a successful year. I am a full-time faculty member with a full-time salary and summers off—and the opportunity to try again.

    Some will advise you not to go on the market the semester you defend. Others will say you won't get a tenure-track job in this market without a current replacement job and a book contract. I say you should apply for anything and everything for which you are qualified. Serendipity, synchronicity, and dumb luck are incredibly important and underrated factors—and completely beyond your control. But if you don't apply, you definitely won't have a shot. The financial outlay is minimal—the cost of postage for those departments that are still using snail mail, and the cost of Interfolio dossier service. The energy outlay, however, is significant. Be prepared for 8-12 hours per week in the fall, and 1-2 hours per week in the spring—not counting interviews. The more you do in advance, the easier the individual applications will be.

    Use Interfolio dossier service. Do you really want to bother your referees for every application? Get three trusted faculty members to write strong anonymous letters of reference, and have them upload them to your Interfolio account. You should also order a copy of your doctoral transcript to be sent to Interfolio. Once your dossier is complete, you can order Interfolio to send the documents in any combination—by e-mail or post—directly to each search committee. Interfolio will send your documents for $6 per application. You can also upload your CV to Interfolio, but I don’t recommend that, because you’ll want to change your CV too often for the service to be useful.

    Some more documents you’ll need, in varying combinations, for most applications: A research agenda (what you plan to do with your dissertation, and what you’re thinking about doing next); a research philosophy (how you approach the task); a teaching philosophy (ditto); three writing samples (a full chapter, a truncated chapter, and something 2-3 pages long--like a book review); your dissertation table of contents as a separate file; sample syllabi (from courses you’ve already taught as well as for 2-3 courses you’d like to teach as electives); and your teaching evaluations (scan your copies and combine them into a single document). If you plan to apply for post-docs, you should prepare a research proposal. And if you plan to apply for public history jobs with the federal government and are a military veteran, scan your DD-214.

    And then there’s the cover letter. I have five draft versions and I still tailor them for each application (beyond de rigueur address and date changes). My main cover letter is for research universities. Then I have one for small colleges and community colleges; one for replacement jobs; and one for replacement jobs at small or community colleges. (Small and community colleges prize teaching flexibility—if you’ve taught in your minor or in other disciplines that’s a plus—and replacement searches usually aren’t looking for a permanent colleague). Finally, I have a cover letter for post-docs (sometimes they require it). The cover letters for jobs should include a section on your scholarship and a section on your teaching. I put scholarship first for the big colleges and teaching first for the small colleges. But read the call for applications carefully and add or subtract based on what each search committee wants.

    Check out these three articles: “How to Make Your Application Stand Out,” by Rob Jenkins (Chronicle of Higher Education, November 23, 2009); “Dodging the Anvil,” by Thomas H. Benton (Chronicle of Higher Education, January 4, 2010); and “Subtle Cues Can Tell an Interviewer ‘Pick Me,’” by Phyllis Korkki (New York Times, September 13, 2009).

    The fall is application season, with deadlines usually beginning on October 1 but sometimes stretching into late December. During the late fall telephone interviews begin, and most primary interviews are conducted in the early winter, often at the AHA. In the late winter and early spring there will be on-campus interviews and applications for late searches and replacement jobs (these are called substitutes at CUNY and visiting professors elsewhere). Don’t give these short shrift; until you have a job offer, you should remain actively on the market, and being a replacement is far better than adjuncting.

    Where are the jobs listed? Once a week I check historians.org, H-Net, and CUNYFirst. And tell the office administrator to keep you on the grad student listserv--it's how I first heard about all my actual jobs except my current one.

    Lastly, don’t forget to keep up with your scholarship. Your break after your defense should be no longer than twice the length of the break you took after your orals. Get to work on your book proposal. There’s no better way to cheer yourself in a horrible job market than with the news of a book contract (and it’s helpful in landing those jobs, too)!


    08/13/09   On Gates, Crowley, and Race
    It was only a matter of time before I blogged on this. I am a historian of African-American history, after all. But so far I've been content to let people like Bob Herbert cover it. Having had a month to mull it over, this seemed like an apt time to weigh in.

    Some background. On the night of July 16th, Harvard scholar, activist, and TV personality Henry Louis Gates, Jr.--who is Black--returned to his home to find that he couldn't get in through the front door. And so he entered through the rear, prompting a concerned neighbor to call 911. Sergeant Crowley of the Cambridge Police Department--who is white--arrived on the scene with another officer, who is Black, and possibly other officers. Gates came to the door, produced ID to prove that it was his own residence, and was arrested for disorderly conduct. The charges were dropped. President Obama, asked about the incident at a press conference on health care, called it "stupid." The president later apologized and invited Gates and Crowley to a beer at the White House.

    First, Gates. Gates is incredibly smart. He knows that as a Black man he is in more danger of unwanted police attention in America than a white man, and he has used this knowledge to avoid angering law enforcement officials in the past. He does this, like other smart men, by engaging in some variation of the humiliating "shuck, jive, and grin" routine that puts racist whites at ease--the whites move the unknown Black man from the "possible dangerous criminal" category to the "happy slave" category. Smart Blacks do this because they know that statistically they are more likely to be targeted by police officers than whites. They do this because they'd rather be humiliated in the short term than endure the treatment of Amadou Diallo, Abner Louima, or Sean Bell. But after proving that he was the lawful resident of his home--and having endured a lifetime of occasional humiliation because of his race, Gates got angry and apparently insulted Sergeant Crowley (he may have said something about the sergeant's mother). Excusable? perfectly. Legal? That too.

    Next, Crowley. Sergeant Crowley is what we in race relations call an unconscious racist. That means when he thinks intellectually about race, he believes in equal rights, and in his better moments he demonstrates what President Obama might call a "post-racial" mentality. He has apparently led racial sensitivity seminars in the Cambridge Police Department. But as a white man in America he is the product of generations of racial conditioning which have not been erased in the half-century since Brown. (By this definition, everyone in America--including this author as well as Gates himself--is at least an unconscious racist--with some of us genuinely trying to overcome it and others, on the opposite end, who are conscious or overt racists--people who believe in segregation or white supremacy, for instance.) Statistically, Crowley was more likely to ignore Gates' anger and insults if Gates was white. But he didn't ignore it. As a small crowd began to gather, apparently Crowley decided that Gates' behavior, if left unanswered, would lower the respect of the community for the police. Or he took it personally and decided to get tough. Either way, he made an arrest that--while technically legal--was absolutely wrong. Because as a police officer, he's supposed to de-personalize the situation. He's supposed to be able to weather a few insults here and there. He's supposed to recognize that anger seemingly directed at him may actually be directed at the system he represents. In short, he's supposed to have a thick skin.

    I am glad the police exist. I believe that a free society needs a strong constabulary to maintain peace. I served for nine years as an Auxiliary Police Officer with the NYPD. The police provide an essential service for which I am grateful. But that doesn't blind me to the institutional racism found throughout American police departments; nor does it blind me to the individual psychology which prompts youngsters to become police officers rather than, say, firefighters or emergency medical technicians. Further, police officers accept a certain degree of risk as part of their jobs. In exchange for that risk, we honor our police officers much the way we honor our military veterans. And police officers extend a professional courtesy to each other--far too much, I think--by not writing speeding tickets or, in more extreme cases, by protecting each other from criminal charges (the so-called thin blue line). Ultimately, however, regardless of how they (illegally) treat one another, police officers who arrest civilians for what amounts to disrespectful behavior are wrong to do so. Even if they are afraid for their own safety, their fear--especially when unsubstantiated--does not outweigh our rights.

    Next, the Black officer. Apparently the Black officer or officers on the scene have backed up Sergeant Crowley's account of the incident and support his decision to arrest Gates. This is not surprising. There is a well known saying in Harlem: "fear the white cop, but fear the Black cop more." Black cops are, for the most part, incredibly self-conscious with white cops, constantly trying to prove themselves. And they usually do so by adopting the attitudes and behaviors of their white counterparts, in the extreme. In short, the Black cop will typically side with the white cop before he sides with the innocent Black civilian in order to avoid being labeled as untrustworthy by the white cops. He is leaving behind one community as fast as he can in order to be embraced by another community. He is often successful; today many Black police officers enjoy a tremendous amount of respect from their white colleagues. But the price is that they have turned their backs on an important aspect of justice: they have ignored institutional racism (except when it affects them personally).

    Finally, President Obama. The president was right to label the incident "stupid." It was stupid. That's not the same as labeling Sergeant Crowley stupid--which he did not. Both the President and the American people know the difference between a stupid act (of which we have all been guilty) and a stupid person. When tensions get high, smart people do stupid things. They often immediately regret their behavior (although if the punishment for this one is a beer and a family tour at the white house, I doubt Crowley has any regrets). But the press, trying to sell the story, turned an accurate, honest comment into a scandal. Of course, that's what they do: they're trying to sell papers. Unfortunately, the President decided to play their game and apologized. Politics is politics, and that's what the "stupid" incident and beer moment were all about.

    What we're left with, in the end, is what we began with: the continued refusal of the American people--even with a Black president--to have a serious discussion about race. Oh, from time to time we'll have a "town hall meeting"--and these are useful in that people can give voice to the way they feel, and viewers get to see different sides. But they tend to be dominated by the uneducated, with typical statements like "I don't see why I need to be held responsible for something that happened four hundred years ago" (Ted Koppel's Nightline Town Meeting following the lynching of James Byrd, Jr.). We, the educated, need to do a better job informing the public that slavery didn't end 400 years ago (about 146, actually) and has legacies that continue today, and that whites--even poor whites--continue to benefit from those legacies.

    I guess it starts here.


    Comments

    konrad kozieja, 12/07/09
    I actually found this incident very interesting, first of all i believe that Mr. Gates should of pressed heavy charges against officer Crowley. Unconditioned arrest is unfortunately becoming a very common "thing". People especially in NYC when approached by police believe that the cop has a right to do ask them and do anything. To be honest this is not just a racial issue , even though being African-American can categorize an individual as an immediate "suspect" police brutality and what one can call "unfairness" is a wide spreading issue. Two years ago my hair was longer than one of an avarage female and i went through countless encounters with police, for example i've been pulled over a lot of times by police officers trying to search me and my belongings, at first I was careless and i would let them do "their thing" but as i progressed in my knowledge of law and police procedures I realized they had NO RIGHT to condone their searches on me. So after a while I started to refuse being randomly searched on the street. What I am trying to conclude is that people need to simply understand their rights as a citizen of this country. The fear of the police badge has to be avoided...

    Flamur Nikaj, 09/03/09
    This is the first that I'm hearing of this story and I'm not surprised to hear about a police officer mistreating a black man. The fact that Gates was arrested for showing a little emotion after being embarrassed in front of a crowd of people is despicable. As an educated man I would believe Gates is high on his pride and intelligence. I'm sure he felt humiliated and disgusted because he is being viewed by his neighbors as a criminal. It is normal for a person to react the way he did, especially if it has happened to him in the past. Officer Crowley tried making an example of Gates by arresting him and that is unjust. He didn't want to show weakness by allowing Gates to walk away seemingly unpunished. Gates' reputation has forever tarnished after this incident and it was all over something that the president calls "stupid."


    01/14/09   What Value Life?
    Let's be clear: I cannot influence in any way the war in Gaza, Israeli public opinion, or the official American response. I blog because people I know--many of them, anyway--seem to care what I think. Also, I am a teacher who feels very strongly that politics and matters of opinion do not belong in the classroom, but who believes that he has a responsibility to enlighten on matters about which he cares deeply. And so, I blog on the Gaza War.

    First, I should state that I am a secular Jew. I was raised in the Village Temple and received a bar-mitzvah. Although my father was born a Jew, my mother converted to Judaism after I was born, so the orthodox rabbis of Israel might have some qualms about granting me citizenship were I to apply (and, barring unforeseen circumstances, I have not intention of applying). My wife was born Jewish and so, therefore, was my daughter. But I am not currently a member of a temple. I do not practice, although my daughter underwent a reform naming ceremony at my father's temple. I do not fast on Yom Kippur, although I will attend a break-fast for the whitefish salad. But we light a menorah on Chanukah nights when we are both home, and I have been known to lead a seder or two.

    Second, I should say that I am a Zionist, albeit in the mildest sense of the word. I see the existence of the state of Israel as a beacon of world Judaism, an important re-affirmation of our legitimacy as a people and as a nation, especially important in the shadow of the Holocaust. Anti-semitism will continue, but as long as there is a state of Israel--as a Jewish state--then there will be at least one place where Jewish refugees will never be turned away. Israel's form of government also states to the world that Jews--wherever they live--are a modern, democratic people--notwithstanding our authoritarian, chauvinist rump.

    Since I believe in the legitimacy of the state of Israel, it follows that I believe that Israel has the right--indeed the responsibility--to defend its citizens and its borders. I do. Israel has the right and responsibility to defend itself against existential threats on the battlefield--as it did in the 20th century against Egypt, Syria, and Jordan. And Israel has the right and responsibility to defend itself against suicide bombers in its midst and rocket attacks from territories under its control.

    When Israel was fighting state-based existential threats in the 20th century, like those presented by Egypt, Jordan, and Syria, the response was proportionate to the threat. The threat was the end of the state of Israel. Israel did not conquer the invading countries, but it fought conventional battles and, when successful, occupied buffer sections of those countries so as to attain geographical security: the occupation of the Sinai peninsula and Gaza Strip limited Egypt's strategic control of the Suez Canal and Gulf of Aqaba, from which it launched its earlier attacks; occupation of the West Bank geographically "thickened" Israel to make it more difficult for Jordan to try to cut it in two. When Israel later signed treaties with Egypt and Jordan, the Sinai--which Egypt wanted--was returned, but Gaza and the West Bank--which Egypt and Jordan did not want for demographic reasons--were not. (The rulers of Egypt and Jordan were concerned that incorporation of those areas into their own countries would dangerously increase the proportion of Palestinians to Egyptians and Jordanians. Based on their response to the current war, they still are.)

    The threat since then has come not from the neighboring states--notwithstanding Iraq's Scud missile attacks during the Gulf War and Syria and Iran's continuing animosity--but from the people of the Gaza Strip and the West Bank, the Palestinians. (One of the causes of this threat is, of course, the historical and continuing mistreatment of Palestinian civilians by the Israeli military, but the terrorists have always been--and remain--a minority.) But unlike the earlier state-based threat--and notwithstanding the rhetoric of Hamas--this newer threat is not existential. The existence of the state of Israel, at least for now, is not threatened by the Palestinian people in Gaza or the West Bank, not by Hamas, and not by the launching of Qassam rockets.

    This is not to imply that Hamas' behavior is good, that the suffering of the Israelis affected by the launching of Gaza Qassams is not tragic. Quite the contrary. These acts are evil and illegal. But the Israeli response must be proportionate as it was against the existential state-based threats of the 20th century. Which brings me to the crux of the argument: the Israeli response has not been proportionate; it has been criminal. Yes, criminal. Israeli civil and military leaders are committing war crimes.

    Whether or not civilians are being deliberately targeted, large numbers of civilians (numbers that dwarf those of Israeli casualties from the Qassams, before and during this war) are being killed in targeted structures. When you are ordered to bomb a target in which innocent civilians are known to be present, you cannot press the button--you cannot give the order--unless the threat from that target is greater than the potential loss of innocent life. As far as we know, such threats (nuclear weaponry, for instance) do not exist in Gaza. Those Palestinian civilian lives are of equal value to the Israeli civilian lives, regardless of which party they voted for in the last election. And the behavior of Hamas does not justify the behavior of the Israeli civil and military leaders in issuing and executing these orders.

    One argument made frequently by those who applaud the bombing in Gaza is that Hamas in particular and the Gazan Palestinians in general are like the Nazis--that even though most Gazans are not members of Hamas, the party's anti-Israel demagogues exercise a degree of control over Gaza similar to that held by the Nazis in Germany in the 1930s. There is some validity to this, if only in the fact that the economy of Gaza is similar to that of depression-era Germany, and the humiliation of the Gazans is similar to that of the Germans after World War One. But unlike interwar Germany, Gaza is not now (and has virtually no chance of becoming) a major military-industrial power capable of conquering its neighbors and launching a genocide in Israel. Iran has that potential, but Israel is not bombing Iran (that would be a mistake too, but for other reasons). The fact that the now-moderate Fatah retains political control in the West Bank means that the Gazans might also de-radicalize with an improved standard-of-living (which is probably impossible until Gaza's borders and seaports are re-opened).

    Gaza is not a "concentration camp," as a Vatican spokesman recently labeled it. But Gaza is a ghetto, like the Warsaw Ghetto (albeit much larger), into which many of its residents were forced as refugees, and from which there is currently no exit. Nor are Israeli civil and military leaders Nazis, as some West Bank protesters recently called them. But some of the decisions being executed by the Israeli military are similar to some of those executed by Nazis against civilian populations--especially Jews--during World War Two.

    I do not pretend to have all (or any) of the answers to the continuing crisis in the Middle East. But what I do know is that a history of persecution does not give the Jewish people--my people--the right to persecute. The civilian lives of Palestinians are just as valuable as those of Israelis. And until we all understand that simple principle--that all human life has value--the tragedy will continue.


    Comments

    Shaquanna Cole, 11/10/10
    Hello professor I know I don't talk much in your class but i found your blog entries to be very deep. You seem to care deeply about the issues not only in America but all around the world as well. To me it interesting to know that there is a ghetto in Gaza where al these refuges camps are.

    Vadim Popov, 01/02/10
    well...

    well i wish i knew were to start., i would not be here if i would not have a lot of respect for you Mr. Golland, that would explain my interest in you, and your carrier! I had a great honor of being one of your student, i was very, very lucky to have you as a teacher!!! (that would explain the fact me going back to your web site)

    i am russian speaking americanised jew... hated by most of the free world and self hating jews as well!

    not sure if you are right about stating in your story that you just stating your opinion, that is not true you as a great teacher influense opinions of generations!!!!!! so you better watch what you are saying and as a history teacher do your research on history befoure you state something.

    i understand you need to be liberal and other b.s. and you have to be liked my majority of the world and that requers you to be not honest against jews, and state of isrele....

    but being a teacher, great teacher as i talk from me expiriens!!!! you really need to do your homework about israele.

    this country was born 1948 and fought against arab countries who was trying to destroy it from day 1! it had survived against all ods, it is doing more good to the world than most arab countries put togethere (but who cares about that as the world hates jews!)

    there are 22 arab countries in the world they don't want to take palestinians egypt can take gaza, jordan can take west bank but than they can't blaim jews for arab problems (by the way there were part of those countries)

    you need to understand that 1929 there was no jewish state, yet arabs killed jews in the future state of israele for no good reason back than, what was the excuse than? please advise??????

    arabs go out and celebrate death... why? when one of theirs goes out and kils jews, cristians they celebrate (WTF, why?) what mother can praise her own kids being blown up killing other human beens?

    when sept 11 happened some muslems were really celebrating in this country... why?

    i tell you why they hat jews, and cristians, and hindus, and ect... they celebreat death! i have been to israele and seen seasoned soldiers cry, cry when their fellow soldiers were killed by so called peacefoll terorist you so proudly defent!

    it is clash of coulters and morals, being liberal most of the people support arabs... as they are scared to say the truth... jews cry and feel pain for every single loss of their fellow jews around the world as arabs take great joy in death, death of their own and cristians and/or jews!

    maybe you should go to israele and see, what those bad=evel jews doing there...

    p.s. i am honored as i had you as a teacher you are a great teacher!!! you touch a lot of hearts and minds yet befour you influence minds you must know what you are saying about israele....


    Sera, 03/02/09
    I am a student of Dr. Golland, and found this blog from the site our class uses. Dr. Golland, this blog is an amazing piece and has definitely changed my view of you. I have come to look at you now not just as a teacher, but also as a thoughtful scholar. I am thankful for this, as I am certain it has only enhanced my inclination to think more deeply and at length about your lecture topics, and thusly enhanced my own education and understanding of the subject matter. For some reason, students have a tendency to de-humanize their professors and in some cases in doing so, create a relationship of opposition (sometimes only in their mind) between themselves and their educators. They don't realize, however (as I do not, until I call myself out on it internally) that it really does them nothing but disservice, and cripples their education. I will admit that I am guilty of this to some extent, with some professors I have had more than with others: students tend to think of their teachers as blind pushers of assigned subject matter than scholars who are genuinely taken with the subject that they've (in most cases) devoted their adult life's studies to. I am grateful and happy to have a professor I can look up to not just as an educator but as a scholar as well.

    Now, to the subject at hand:

    "I have the same fear - of being labeled an anti-Semite, a Jew-hater, etc. All for what? For being a person with a conscience?" -Zeeshan

    I am very relieved to see more of this type of thinking. Being engaged to a Jewish man who (quite vocally) shares much of the same opinions you have displayed here, I have followed his example and become deeply interested in this situation. My interest and my willingness to share my opinions and engage in discussion regarding this matter was brought to a grinding halt when I was called both of the things the poster above me stated that he was afraid to be called. One of the people engaged in what I felt was a very mature, intellectual discussion suddenly reverted to calling me a "Jew hater" with "disgustingly anti-Semitic" opinions: and all for stating what was basically in line (and certainly not outside of) what you just stated above. I was aghast with shock and a strange sense of hurt, it truly is a terrible thing to be accused of. I started to question my own views: Was I wrong? Did my disagreement with the way Israel had conducted themselves really make me a "Jew hater"? Did dissension turn me into a bigot? Shortly after this, I witnessed a very heated (and nearly physical!) exchange between an elderly Jewish woman and a Palestinian exchange student in the commons at Hunter. The screaming made the argument nearly unintelligible, but one could make out the name-calling, at least. It took the security men an uncomfortably long time (in which a crowd gathered to watch, most of them open-mouthed in disbelief) to separate the two arguing women. In that time I realized that the emotion of the situation was quickly turning people into irrational monsters, incapable of placing themselves into the "shoes" of others, and that maybe disagreement didn't automatically make me into a bigot, but it certainly did enable otherwise rational people to become blazing, unstoppable locomotives of hate and judgment.

    In any case, the insecurity and uncertainty I feel from being accused of hatred for simple disagreement was somewhat lightened after reading this. I really sincerely hope you continue to post, as I will continue to read.


    Uri, 01/16/09
    Overall, this is a solid and balanced assessment. And I say that as an Israeli who comes from a family with strong roots in zionism and the Israeli military.

    I would like to add a few points:

    1. The mass media reports to the world that Israel has been getting hit by rockets on a regular basis prior to the start of this war. While true, it leaves out that the motivation for those attacks has been the complete sealing of Gaza from the outside world by Israel's military forces. This means no trade, no supplies, no real ability to have an economy. Hamas and Gazans view this as an act of war, as would most in the United States if, say, Canada were to do that to us.

    2. It is important to understand that this war is no surprise. By sealing up Gaza, Israeli politicians such as Olmert, Livni, and Barak, ensured that the pressure cooker of Gaza was going to burst. And they knew that once it burst, it would give them an opportunity to enter Gaza and prove that "Israel is tough."

    3. In the context of mistakes made in the 2006 Hezbola war and subsequent loss of confidence by the Israeli voting public, Olmert & Co, especially defense minister Ehud Barak, have much to gain in showing the Israeli public that they can win a war against rocket-launching gorillas. Especially with elections happening in February and the outgoing American administration to be replaced by one who is less likely to be so amenable to the cause. This one is at least as transparent as Bush's Iraq war scheme.

    4. Proof for point #3, Livini's and Kadima party's poll ratings immediately began to increase as the war began.

    5. Ironically, Israel was in support of--or at least was happy to ignore--Hamas in its earlier years. When secular Arafat and the PLO were enemy #1, Israel was delighted at the idea of radical Islamic Hamas gaining power and threatening Arafat's control. Does this remind you of something? Taliban? Bin Laden? Same old story.

    Now, the flip side. The advertisement mentioned earlier in the comments actually does make some sense. What would happen if Canada launched rockets into Buffalo every day? There would be an all out war of mass proportions, and it would not be proportionate to the attack.

    I think it is reasonable to conclude that proportional use of force is not the only consideration in determination of reasonable use of force. The problem is that the use of force is not just a response, but a deterrent. To be effective as a deterrent, the deterrent must inflict sufficient damage as to cause the other side to reassess the value of the attacks.

    And then there is the question of time. If Israel is hit by 3 rockets a day for 6 months (total of 540 rockets), is it proportional to respond with the same? Can they respond with the equivalent of 540 rockets of firepower in a week and call it a day?

    There is a lot to the argument of proportional use of force that can make it very difficult to rationalize. Which ultimately leads to difficulties rationalizing war in the first place. What is clear is that each side has been escalating the conflict.

    Unfortunately, each side has gains to be made by the escalation: For Israel, this is redemption of its tough reputation after the 2006 Lebanon war, and improved chances for political candidates that prior to this were sure to lose. For Hamas, it's about world attention that shifts from that of a terrorist organization to that representing a people unfairly attacked and in humanitarian crisis, and increased standing among other Arab nations and people.

    I would reckon that most people on both sides just want peace and to be done with it. My hope is that eventually, after enough of these conflicts, the Israeli population begins to recognize in large enough numbers that it is being manipulated in the name of "security," and that the Gazans realize that rockets and suicide bombs are not the best approach, and might do better to hire a good PR firm to create a different kind of pressure--a humanitarian appeal--that puts them more in the company of the abused population of Darfur and less in that of Al Qaeda.

    My final point is that the Palestinian population--that of combined Gaza and West Bank, is inching ever closer to a population majority in Israel. If they can succeed in presenting themselves to the world as a peaceful and repressed population over the next several years, their eventual population growth will yield them with the bargaining position of a true apartheid situation. Likewise, if the Israeli population wakes up in a way similar to what transpired in the United States this past fall, and stops rewarding politically-motivated warfare, there is the potential to truly move forward in resolving these conflicts. Otherwise, as my father, former Officer in the IDF used to say, it's the same story it's been for the last 40 years.


    Jason, 01/15/09
    What can we say... it is one giant fuster cluck. We in the western world think about "wow... 60 years" and to this part of the world that is just about the time it takes for a sand dune to move 80 feet. Jews expelled out of Judea for 400 years... no problem...we will be back. Ottoman Empire rose and fall... don't worry... we will get it back. Both sides can be at war with each other for years and as you point out, adjoining countries have their own rationales and reasonings which just makes things more complicated.

    The last and worst part of this is how the modern world brigns us bloodshed straight to our TVs. Why is it that our grandparents still to this day wont talk about what images they saw in war?


    Zeeshan, 01/14/09
    Dave, well said.

    Gaza is in ruins. Hamas is ever stronger. Morale is at its lowest. And Israel thinks peace will come out of such desperate acts?

    My thoughts are now with the innocent victims - victims of an avoidable humanitarian crisis.

    There was no need to give that lengthy background/introduction to what you stated later in the post. Was it a defense mechanism so that your co-coreligionists dont label you a sell-out? I have the same fear - of being labeled an anti-Semite, a Jew-hater, etc. All for what? For being a person with a conscience?

    But so the world goes...

    I'm glad you took some time to post your thoughts and reflections.

    Prayers for peace,

    Zeeshan



    11/05/08   Some Post-Election Thoughts
    Today our nation was confronted with a profound question, to choose hope or to choose fear. I am proud to say we chose hope.

    For too many years now people like me have been made to feel like outsiders in our own country. We have watched as our president exploited our fear of terrorism to keep himself in power, embroil us in a never-ending war for no good reason, and shred our Constitution. He has allowed us to drown in hurricanes and collapsing bridges, and responded by cutting domestic programs. And he has presided over the worst economic disaster since the Great Depression.

    I love America. I am a veteran. I was a Boy Scout. I have voted in eighteen elections. I have served on jury duty. I pay my taxes as an act of civic pride. In short, I believe in what we stand for as a nation. And tonight, after eight years of being told I was wrong, that America wasn't what I thought it was—my nation told me that in fact I was right.

    Tonight, our new President-Elect linked our generation of Americans with our forebears in a way that no president has done in a long time. Like the generation that fought the Revolution, who stood up to the tyranny of the King and the tyranny of the mob; like the women and men who responded to the impossible situation of human slavery and national disunion and did what had never been done before, re-uniting the nation and freeing the slaves, setting an example that the remaining slaveholding nations would soon follow; like the progressives, who tackled the worst excesses of capitalism; like our grandparents during the New Deal and World War Two, who built dams and homes and unions and planted victory gardens and endured rationing—rationing!—and stood up to the overwhelming dark night of fascism and genocide; and like our parents in the Civil Rights Era, who overturned decades of Jim Crow and ended another ill-advised war. Our next president reminded us that we too have been called to do the impossible.

    The task before us may seem overwhelming, and the cynics among us will surely scoff, as they did in those earlier periods of trial. We have to repair the regulatory system that prevented economic depression for 70 years. We have to bring an end to the war that we needed to fight, by stabilizing Afghanistan and defeating Al-Qaeda, and the one that we didn't, by reasonably withdrawing from Iraq. We have to close down our known confinement facility at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, and our unknown confinement facilities around the world, putting the guilty on trial in the United States and freeing the innocent who were caught in too wide a net. We need to restore our credibility as peacemakers and viability as world leaders. We have to ensure quality medical and psychological care for our returning veterans, and give them the same educational opportunities we gave to their grandparents after World War Two. We have to sponsor cleaner, sustainable fuels, and drastically cut consumption, not only to save ourselves a few dollars at the pump but to save our planet as well. And the list goes on.

    Tonight, President Elect Barack Hussein Obama—what a wonderful thing it says about our nation that we could not only elect a Black man to the presidency but that he should have such an, ahem, international name—called on the better angels of our nature. He paraphrased John Winthrop, who saw America as a "City on a Hill;" John Hancock, who called for "a more perfect union;" Sam Cooke, who sang "It's been a long time coming, but I know a change is gonna' come;" and Abraham Lincoln, who said at the hallowed ground of Gettysburg that "government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth."

    "…Shall not perish from the earth." What a daring promise. In recent years I have become increasingly worried that our great republic was doomed to go the way of Athens, Rome, and all the republics that had come before. As a Jew raised in the shadow of the Holocaust, I have been worried that we are a City on the Hill no longer, that like my immigrant forebears I would soon be forced to seek a new safe haven. In recent years the executive branch has become a single Orwellian department of doublespeak and Congress—even under the Democrats—has compliantly rolled over. I have been especially dismayed by the behavior at the Sarah Palin rallies, where racial epithets and xenophobia became the norm. Palin has made clear that she feels to be a "real" American one must live in a small town, vote Republican—and be white. Sadly, the party of Lincoln is whiter than ever before. Thankfully, today our nation rejected that idea—resoundingly. And tonight I have hope—not fear, but hope—that our great republican experiment will go on throughout my lifetime and my daughter's lifetime.

    As the crowd at the McCain campaign headquarters booed every mention of President-Elect Obama and called out epithets, the gracious Obama crowd cheered the patriotism of Senator McCain. McCain is an American hero, and he deserves to be thanked for his service, both in Vietnam and in Congress (however much we may disagree with his opinion about that war or his votes in the senate). Seizing the historical moment, Obama might have risked two direct quotes, the first from Ronald Reagan, the second from Lincoln: "It's morning in America," and "With malice toward none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in, to bind up the nation's wounds, to care for him who shall have borne the battle and for his widow and his orphan, to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace among ourselves and with all nations."

    But I think the one presidential quote that does the most justice to our historical moment comes from the accidental president who left us only two years ago: Gerald Ford. "My fellow Americans, our long national nightmare is over."


    Comments

    Shaquanna Cole, 11/10/10
    I think as a nation America has come along way with alot of social issues affecting the nation.

    Kary Deoleo, 11/08/10
    hello it is a great post. Sometimes I think what is the mind of those politicians that they do not understand each other. how is it possible that they work for their own convenience?

    Irene Diaz, 11/07/10
    I really enjoy your post.

    Denise Baum, 11/07/08
    After reading your beautifully phrased, articulate words reflecting last evenings Presidential outcome, I was incredibly moved and brought to tears. How well you put so many peoples feeling into words is something to be very proud of. I commend you for being able to express what so many people feel at such a poignant time in our lives.

    May we now go from strength to strength and may Barack Hussein Obama find the right path to lead America down....

    Thank you again for all your beautiful insight into what we all hope to be a better, honest America..


    Joe Sramek, 11/06/08
    Well put! I could not agree more with what you have said - as I said to many of my colleagues at SIU yesterday, I've never felt as proud of my country as I do right now! What a nice thing that we won't be hearing about the "Bradley effect" or, "white voters will never elect a black man," etc. While many of the "yellow dog Democrat" counties here in Southern Illinois voted for McCain on Tuesday (as did many in neighboring Kentucky and the boothill of Missouri, they were counteracted by even bluer suburbs. DuPage County, for example, up in the Chicago suburbs voted nearly 60-40 for Obama! While, to be sure, there were rural whites down here who are still racist enough to ever vote for a black man, but thankfully they were vastly outnumbered by folks like my Republican-leaning parents who voted Obama on Tuesday. In the future, I will look forward to Democratic politicians never again having to pander to such people whether we call them "Reagan Democrats" or "Nascar Dads" or whatever silly name our pundits dream up.

    Now, let's all get to work in helping to enact the progressive America that we have been dreaming of for so long. Indeed, our long national nightmare is over!


    NYVikings, 11/05/08
    Thank you for sharing in words what we, too, feel so deeply (and this should be an Op-Ed piece for the New York Times--we encourage you to pursue this}. Last night, the words of the spiritual that I'm sure you know came to mind and echoed when I (Laurie) read your last line, "Free at last, free at last. Thanks the Lord, I'm free at last." This is why we have optimism about the future of our country: if you represent the next generation of leaders, we are confident about what lies ahead. May we share this with friends and family, both here and abroad? We couldn't have expressed our own feelings of relief and hope with a perspective on history any better than you did so beautifully here.This is fantastic and should be read by every American citizen. We are proud to have you and your family as our friends.

     


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