Monday, June 13, 2011

YIISA Shuts Down

The Yale Interdisciplinary Initiative for the Study of Antisemitism (YIISA) is shutting down after Yale University decided not to renew the program, citing low course enrollment and a dearth of quality, high-placing scholarship produced from the Initiative. The decision has engendered some controversy, with people insinuating that YIISA is actually closing down because academics want to suppress the study of anti-Semitism (and particularly anti-Semitism in the Muslim world).

I mentioned once that one of my scholarly ambitions was to do work at YIISA, so I'm obviously disappointed it is closing. That being said, I'm inclined to accept Yale's explanation for not renewing the program. As I wrote over at Engage:
I’m not happy that YIISA is closing — I was very much an admirer of their project, and in particular I thought David Hirsh produced some stellar work for them. But I, too, recall being surprised at how little published scholarship was coming out of the institution. It seemed to be punching academically well beneath its weight, and I can’t be too surprised it isn’t being renewed as a result.

Is there a solid claim that the inability of scholars of anti-Semitism to place their work in top journals is in part a function of academic norms whereby anti-Semitism isn’t seen as a “real” topic worthy of study? Yes, perhaps. But I don’t think this is the whole story. For one, we’ve definitely seen a fair number of scholarly monographs being published on the topic, giving an opportunity to bypass perhaps biased journal editors. For two, Hirsh’s great work notwithstanding, a lot of the published academic work on anti-Semitism I have read has not been particularly impressive in quality. Reading the contents of the Journal for the Study of Anti-Semitism, I haven’t been blown away by many of the pieces, or wondered why the pieces haven’t been placed in more reputed journals.

The fact of the matter is that a lot of the scholarship I've read in this field has not been of particularly high quality. Professor Hirsh is a notable exception, and his article Anti-Zionism and Antisemitism: Cosmopolitan Reflections is simply magnificent. But when I had browsed YIISA site I had found myself seriously disappointed in their overall product. And ultimately, Yale isn't going to keep funding a center that isn't world-class. It's up to those of us who do work in this field to start producing good work, and get ourselves noticed for the quality of our scholarship.


Cycle Cyril said...

If the problem is not the absence of anti-Semitism but absence of quality papers or studies why shut it down as opposed to improving it?

One might argue that they had a number of years to prove themselves but the question remains the same - why didn't they say get your act together and improve things earlier?

Finally with the kowtowing to Islam and for Islamic monies as well as the anti-Israel sentiment on campuses across the country, which is anti-Semitism in a poorly fitting disguise, don't you think that the lack of papers in "reputable" journals is more than easily explained?

And why do you meekly accepted the demise of YIISA? Are you concerned about your academic future?

David Schraub said...

They did have a number of years to get their act together, and "publish high-quality scholarship" is typically not something that needs to be spelled out. Scholars at Yale don't need to be babied.

Again, I've read a lot of the recent academic scholarship on anti-Semitism, and, with Hirsh as the notable exception, a lot of it just isn't very good. So I think that actual mediocrity is the best explanation for mediocre results. Since I don't plan on producing mediocre scholarship (on anti-Semitism or any other topic), my academic career hopefully won't be derailed by that particular pitfall.