Saturday, April 02, 2005

Pope John Paul II

Pope John Paul II has passed away. Though I am not Catholic, am not Christian, and have had some significant quibbles with some of his acts as Pope, I have rarely seen a man who has done so much good in his tenure here on earth. God rest his soul.

The Washington Monthly and Slate opine on who the next Pope will be.

Thursday, March 31, 2005

Where to, Professor Zywicki?

Todd Zywicki of the VC puts together a long post on Academic Diversity, kindly linking to my previous post in the process. I just want to give a few reflections on his latest piece, the vast bulk of which I agree with.

The only true quibble I have is Prof. Zywicki's protest of the "ethnic studies" type courses. As he puts it:
While there are many good professors who create an open and balanced forum for a true exchange of ideas, there are many situations where this plainly is not the case. Most obviously, the entire point of many courses today is to present a particular viewpoint, not to create a balanced discussion, such as Women's Studies, African-American Studies, and GLBT Studies (for instance, when Dartmouth added a GLBT Studies program a few years ago, its first course was taught by a local activist, rather than a properly-qualified professor)

I obviously wouldn't defend having a class taught by a random activist pulled from the street. I do, however, see the value in those sorts of classes (Women's studies, GLBT studies, Jewish studies, et al). The primary objection to these sorts of classes is that they are not "neutral," that is, while a generic philosophy class teaches precepts common to all mankind (or at least, makes the effort to), ethnic studies courses are explicitly within the perspective of a single group. Conservatives tend to object to this from two angles: first, that it is needlessly divisive and leads to ethnic strife (by accentuating differences rather than bringing people together as one) and second, that it is unequal, since there isn't a "Men's Studies," or "Christian History" class. Advocates of Ethnic Studies classes have a single response that addresses both: that "generic" classes aren't neutral but actually coming from the perspective of the dominant group (in America, White Christian Males). Ethnic studies classes thus are no more perspectivized than any other class, it just is explicit about where it is coming from. The classes aren't "unequal" because every other class IS taught from the WCM perspective; it's just that White Christian Males have spoken alone for so long that they mistake the sound of their own voice for silence. Ethnic Studies classes thus give equal time to voices and perspectives that are marginalized in the dominant discourse that every person hears.

This isn't to say that Zywicki doesn't have a valid argument here. At some point, there has to be a cross-over, where so many persons are articulating the "marginalized" views that it ceases to be marginal anymore. The question is, have we reached that point? I'd venture no, because a) these views, despite their prevalence in academia, still have yet to gain much penetration into mainstream political discourse and b) these views are virtually non-existent in secondary school education, so incoming college students still have had far more exposure to the dominant views than to marginal ones. In this respect, having Ethnic Studies classes aids the quest (indeed, one might say is a pre-requisite) for an educational experience which "exposes students to a variety of ideas and perspectives, and through that develops critical thinking skills and an understanding of different ways of seeing the world which is necessary for living in a free and democratic society." However, as Zywicki and his allies will surely rejoin, diversity cuts both ways, and it is as important to expose students to conservative views as it is to liberal ones. I agree whole-heartedly, and while I think that Ethnic Studies classes should be preserved, I'd submit it should be part of a broader educational experience that presents conservative views as well as liberal ones.

Now that we've gotten past that little detour, where to? In other words, how to we get to that lovely panacea of diversity we lust so for so much? In my previous posts on the topic, I've argued that there are other explanations beyond bias that help explain the underrepresentation of conservatives in academia. The first of these is self-selection; conservatives may be less prone to the desire of academic life in the first place. For example, they might prefer jobs which offer more financial rewards, or ones that have more practical opportunities for influence (such as at Think Tanks or in politics, for example). Since that problem is on the end of the conservatives, I'll leave it up to them to fix it. The second potential bar I saw was the emphasis by universities on "novel" scholarship, which I argued in the last post was detrimental to conservatives who, by definition, are more likely to believe and be arguing for something that has already been said. Since this is an institutional problem, it seems, to me, to be ripe for resolution (and all you conservatives out there note: the thought-process I used to come to this idea came directly out of my exposure and enjoyment of critical theory and post-modernism. Just goes to show you that it is a tool that can be used by all ends of the political spectrum).

Professor Zywicki and I have been exchanging emails, and trading some ideas on how this institutional flaw can be rectified. This was the solution I came up with:
Perhaps an alternative would be recasting the norm about what "acceptable" (esp. for tenure review) scholarship is. If academia was changed to be more debate oriented, with the expectation that professors would not just construct arguments but also actively engage in debate with their philosophical opponents, that could help conservatives immensely by astronomically increasing the worth of their at-present less valuable defenses of prior claims, and by giving an alternative path to academic success beyond just making new claims and blissfully ignoring the scathing criticism coming from the other side of the political divide.

By making participation in Symposia and paneled debates either an independent requirement or a partial substitution for novel scholarship in the tenure process, we can give conservative scholars a leg up by end-running the institutional barrier to success posed by novel scholarship requirements. As an ex-high school debater who seriously believes in the value of discourse and argumentation as an integral part of the intellectual process, this holds a lot of appeal for me personally.

PLO Judgment Affirmed

Way back in the early days of the blog, I wrote a brief post on a $116 million judgment a Rhode Island district court slapped on the PLO for violating the Anti-Terrorism Act, which authorizes any "national of the United States injured in his or her person, property, or business by reason of an act of international terrorism, or his or her estate, survivors, or heirs" to sue in US courts and collect damages.

Via How Appealing, I find today that the 1st Circuit Court of Appeals has affirmed the judgment over "sovereign immunity" and "political question" protests by the Palestinean Authority.

Schiavo Dies

Terri Schiavo finally passed away this morning, in her Florida hospice. May God rest her soul.

The Family Research Council offers its condolences and uses this opportunity to rally the troops against the "culture of death" which is "still very much alive in our society." I just hope they live up to their word.

Wednesday, March 30, 2005

Novelty and the Liberal Academia

Much hay has been made over the purported liberal slant of academia. A study by GMU Professor Robert Lichtler concludes that:
By their own description, 72 percent of those teaching at American universities and colleges are liberal and 15 percent are conservative, says the study being published this week. The imbalance is almost as striking in partisan terms, with 50 percent of the faculty members surveyed identifying themselves as Democrats and 11 percent as Republicans.

The disparity is even more pronounced at the most elite schools, where, according to the study, 87 percent of faculty are liberal and 13 percent are conservative.
The researchers say that liberals, men and non-regular churchgoers are more likely to be teaching at top schools, while conservatives, women and more religious faculty are more likely to be relegated to lower-tier colleges and universities.

Top-tier schools, roughly a third of the total, are defined as highly ranked liberal arts colleges and research universities that grant PhDs.

The most liberal faculties are those devoted to the humanities (81 percent) and social sciences (75 percent), according to the study. But liberals outnumbered conservatives even among engineering faculty (51 percent to 19 percent) and business faculty (49 percent to 39 percent).

The most left-leaning departments are English literature, philosophy, political science and religious studies, where at least 80 percent of the faculty say they are liberal and no more than 5 percent call themselves conservative, the study says.

The Volokh Conspiracy has done a lot of thinking on this topic, most recently here and earlier here, which prompted my own musings as well. Kevin Drum, by contrast, mocks conservative commentators for whom the absence of women in academia is a clear indicator of inherent difference, while screaming the exact opposite when it comes to their own underrepresentation in the nation's universities.

In my first foray into this loaded topic, I agreed that the statistics showed a pretty clear liberal skew, but argued that more information was needed in order to determine whether there was bias at work, or whether there was, to some degree, self-selection. I claimed that, all else being equal, it made more sense to ascribe underrepresentation amongst a racial or gender group to bias than it did for a political group, since the latter has far more "essential" characteristics to it that might lead it away from academia than the former, whose "essential characteristics" are often merely stereotypes or products of past discrimination and lack of opportunity. I then said that in order to prove discrimination against conservative persons, we'd have to find "significant numbers of Republicans who wish to enter Academia but either a) face institutional obstacles to doing so (such as biased administrators) or b) feel academia is a "hostile environment" to persons with their views." In my opinion, the jury is still out on both of those questions.

However, there is another factor that may act as a barrier to conservatives in academia: innovation and novelty. The basic philosophy behind conservatism is preservation of the past. Generally, their policy preferences involve either preserving the status quo, or reverting society to the near (or not so near) past. Either way, the point is, their advocacy has already happened. And having already happened, it has almost definitely already been analyzed, explained, and justified, at least to some degree. Liberals, by contrast, tend to look toward change. They want to see a shift in the status quo, the creation of something new. And in looking for the new, liberals are more likely to be, well, novel. This is not to say that conservatives have no ground for original argumentation. They can still make responses and refutations to proposed liberal changes, or advocate new procedures or warrants for old claims. However, this is far narrower footing than what is available to the left. For example, a talented conservative professor might write a law review article demolishing Catherine MacKinnon's theories on sex discrimination and anti-subordination theory. That's all well and good, except that as Eugene Volokh notes in his book Academic Legal Writing, an article framed as a response to another piece generally limits ones audience to those who have read the original, a far smaller pool than those who might be interested in the topic as a whole.

This also helps explain why conservative professors, when they get a job at all, are stacked at the bottom of the professorial totem-pole. Novel arguments with broad appeal get published in more popular journals, get more attention, and look better on resumes. Liberals have more opportunities to do this than conservatives, because they are more likely to be writing on topics which have undergone less prior explication and analysis. Sure, occasionally you get a wunderkind like Richard Posner who says something truly revolutionary in support of conservative principles, but such persons are few and far between. Universities know this, and thus, consciously or not, will proceed with caution when evaluating even talented conservative scholars. Meanwhile, with liberals, there is always the chance that your university will be the one boasting the founder of the Critical Post-Colonialist Womyn and Hermeneutics Movement, or whatever, giving your school much attention and a reputation as "path-breaking" or "cutting edge." Say what you will about its merits, but the CPCWH movement certainly sounds more distinctive and will probably get more notice than the fifty-second defense of and expansion the theories of Sir Edmund Burke--no matter how excellent (or even unique) the work might be.

In some respects, one might claim that this focus by universities (unique scholarship as opposed to solid argumentation) is a bias in of itself. Certainly the critical theorist in me would challenge whether or not that particular pattern of hierarchy is natural or inevitable, or reflects the cultural and institutional biases of prevailingly liberal colleges, who wish to preserve their liberal status quo by creating standards which reify their dominance (I shouldn't mock post-modernists like I did above, indeed, if there was a CPCWH movement, I'm the type who would eat it all up, most likely). That's a whole other debate by itself, and one that, as of now, I'm not really ready to opine on. However, leaving that aside for now, it seems that the particular focus of colleges on innovation and novelty itself acts as a structural bar to increased conservative participation in the academia, wholly independent of the particular biases of its current practitioners.

UPDATE: Welcome Volokh-ers!. Hope you enjoyed the post, and check out my latest one on the subject here (reflecting on the post that brought you here).

Grand Rove Party

A great, if wholly depressing, column on the architect of the current GOP majority, Karl Rove (thanks to Andrew Sullivan, who's been surprisingly spry in his "retirement"). It notes that Rove has positioned the GOP so it can lose the battles while winning the war. For example, on Social Security, it looks like Private Accounts are going down in flames. Good news for Democrats? Well, let's see: Democrats get to go into next election saying...they preserved the status quo. Lovely. Terri Schiavo? Same thing, and I expect an outburst of support for the keep-her-alive side when she finally dies. Two years from now, most Americans will forget both issues. The partisans, however, will not forget, and the far right is far more invested in both Social Security and Ms. Schiavo than is the far left.

The thing about Rove is that he really doesn't care about "traditional" conservative values. He's willing to use them as cover fire to achieve other ends (Social Security taking the hits while an atrocious bankruptcy bill passes unscathed), or utterly suppress them so they don't fracture his precious coalition (Immigration "reform" a la Tom Tancredo). As the article notes:
Here in Blue America, Rove is typically caricatured as an ideologue, a hard-right-winger of the Cheney-Ashcroft genre. But as those who've closely followed his career will tell you, he is in fact a pragmatist, an apostle of patronage with a keen sense of factional politics and the spoils system.

Politics for Rove isn't about principles. It is about winning, and dispensing rewards to favored constituencies in the process. Unfortunately, as the GOP drifts further and further away from anything remotely resembling a principle, they become harder and harder to check. The virtues of small government and the protest against the patronage system--one of the few noble aspirations of the Gingrich revolution, have been utterly abandoned by Tom DeLay, who has emerged as the elected incarnation of what Rove does behind the scenes. As the DeLay congress continues to undercut procedural constraints, and Rove and his pragmatist disciples strip away ideological constraints, there is no telling where the GOP will go. Daniel Drezner's noticed, as has die-hard conservative Bill Quick (though obviously he wants the GOP to go in a different direction than I do). On the left end of things (relatively speaking), The New Republic nobly asks DeLay to quit it for the good of the country--while admitting that his continued presence in the House is a walking campaign ad for anti-corruption Democrats. Bull Moose slightly less nobly hopes that the GOP continues to back DeLay, et al, on the grounds that overreach will eventually kick the Republicans out of power.

Power unchecked by scruples. That is the future (and arguably present) of the Republican Party.

Tuesday, March 29, 2005

I Got a Job!

I got a Job! I got a Job! Cool things deserve repetition (and capital letters). So, starting this summer, I'll be working in the law library at Williams & Connelly. Very exciting.

That Harvard Law Chair is just a hop, skip, and jump away.

Monday, March 28, 2005

Back to the Dead

I earlier linked to TNR's Iraq'd blog's description of the Sunni Persecution Strategy (see here as well). Essentially, it goes like this: Sunni leaders who wish to prolong the insurgency "gather recruits, material, and political support for the insurgency by aggravating the sense among Sunnis that they have no future in the U.S.-sponsored political process."

After the great success that was the Iraqi election, we though this sort of grievance had subsided. Well, it's baaaackkk, and with a vengeance. More ominously, however, this time the bone the Sunnis have to pick is with the Kurds. The Boston Globe has the scoop:
"The Americans aren't the problem; we're living under an occupation of Kurds and Shi'ites," Sattar Abdulhalik Adburahman, a Sunni leader from the northern city of Kirkuk, told a gathering of tribal leaders last week, to deafening applause. "It's time to fight back." ...

"The Kurds are asking for Kirkuk. Later on they will start asking for Baghdad," said Sheik Abu D'ham, a Sunni tribal leader from Kirkuk who fears assassination if his full name is published. "It was Saddam Hussein who gave the Kurds too much, more than they deserved."

Sooner rather than later, he said, the city's Arabs would rise up. "The last remedy is burning," he said. "There will be fighting."

Obviously, we shouldn't jump to conclusions too quickly. As Iraq'd notes, we don't have a full cross-section of Sunni community opinion, and the rejection of sectarian violence by the Sunni Association of Muslim Scholars also is a positive note. Still..."deafening" applause for a speaker who advocates an uprising against the Kurds, and who claims Saddam Hussein was too good for them, does not bode well (note: Saddam killed 182,000 innocent Kurds in the Anfal Genocide from 1986-1989. Deterring future leaders from advocating genocide, by showing the international community will not consent to it, was one of my primary justifications for the Iraq war). Leaders like this need to be undermined, and fast, if Iraq has any chance for a continued, unified, and (relatively) blood-free existence.

Sunday, March 27, 2005

This Is Why Trials are a Good Thing

Liberals get awfully nervous about military tribunals. For whatever reason, the idea of unrestrained authority, lack of meaningful checks, little due process, no civilian oversight, and President Bush as the ultimate determiner of justice doesn't sit well with us. Why on earth could that be?

Well, today's Washington Post offers a clue. Murnat Kurnaz, a German Muslim of
Turkish descent, was detained by the government for two years after 9/11 after a military tribunal determined there was "some evidence" that he was an al-Qaeda member. That would be nice, except that recently declassified evidence showed that the overwhelming weight of military opinion was that he had no ties to terrorism whatsoever. In all the files relating to Kurnaz's case, precisely one document, a brief unsigned memo by an unknown military official, argued he was a terrorist. As for the rest,
"in nearly 100 pages of documents, now declassified by the government, U.S. military investigators and German law enforcement authorities said they had no such evidence. The Command Intelligence Task Force, the investigative arm of the U.S. Southern Command, which oversees the Guantanamo Bay facility, repeatedly suggested that it may have been a mistake to take Kurnaz off a bus of Islamic missionaries traveling through Pakistan in October 2001.

"CITF has no definite link/evidence of detainee having an association with Al Qaida or making any specific threat against the U.S.," one document says. 'CITF is not aware of evidence that Kurnaz was or is a member of Al Qaeda.'

Another newly declassified document reports that the 'Germans confirmed this detainee has no connection to an al-Qaida cell in Germany.'"

Reaction by the Bush administration to what US District Court Judge Joyce Hens Green called "one of the most troubling military abuses of due process among the many cases of Guantanamo detainees that she has reviewed" was swift.
"Justice Department lawyers told [Kurnaz's lawyer] last week that the information may have been improperly declassified and should be treated in the foreseeable future as classified."

Amazing. The Bush administration detains someone even when the overwhelming body of evidence and analysis says he was wrongfully arrested. Then, when they're caught, their response is to try and hide their mistake by reclassifying the evidence that proves their malfeasance . Simply outrageous.

That, my conservative friends, is why military tribunals cannot be used to fight the war on terror. As applied, they are illegal under American law and international law. The disrespect for constitutional guarantees and the rule of law is simply astounding. Yet somehow, not surprising.