Saturday, October 21, 2017

Egregious Professor Roundup

I got an email from an academic in Italy addressed to "Egregious Professor David Schraub." Apparently, that's a common issue because "egregio" has a meaning closer to "excellent" in Italian. Nonetheless, I kind of want to change my Twitter handle to "Egregious Professor."

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This is a from last year, but Jacob Levy gives a qualified defense of "safe spaces" in the academic context that is really fantastic, and well-worth a read.

Fifteen Jewish extremists arrested in Israel for threatening Arabs, including the notorious Bentzi Gopstein.

The Montana Republican Party is the sort of place where, if you bodyslam a reporter, you'll have to fend off criticism -- from those who say you should have shot him.

Kevin Williamson has an interesting piece on the pathologies of poor White communities. I don't necessarily endorse it, but it is a rare example of someone taking the way we talk about poor Black communities and earnestly applying those same standards to Trump-backing Whites.

Bezalel Smotrich is a dick in every single possible aspect, so his remarks on the "me too" campaign are entirely on-brand.

Remember how I said "Not Knowing "Zio" is a Slur is an Indictment, Not a Defense"? Yeah, same thing applies to not knowing that portraying George Soros as tentacle-monster encircling the globe is antisemitic.

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Jewish Lessons From a Teach-In

Syracuse University Professors Zachary Braiterman recounts his experiences volunteering to provide a perspective on antisemitism at a "teach-in" organized in response to the Charlottesville neo-Nazi rally. It's thoughtful, nuanced, and recounts a mostly (though not entirely) positive experience. The most important thing it emphasizes is that -- to reiterate -- influence is wielded by the people in the room. If you're worried that discretely Jewish experiences of and vulnerabilities to the rising tide of far-right extremism are not being fully or fairly aired, then put yourself in a position where you're airing them.

The way that Zachary got on this panel was straight-forward: he volunteered. None of the organizers asked him about Zionism; nobody put him through an "are you a good Jew or a bad Jew" battery of questions. That isn't to say that such things never happen, but here they didn't. And when it turned out that the original date for the teach-in was to be Rosh Hashana, the fact that Zachary was in the room meant that he was well-positioned to facilitate a change of date while there was still time to do so.

Again, the experience wasn't entirely seamless. While Zachary relates that his talk resolutely did not speak about Zionism or anti-Zionism, an audience member took it upon herself to try to draw a link between Zionism and American militancy. But the fact that someone like Zachary was on the panel meant that he was the one who got to address that question. Again, what benefits we see from being in the room.

In some respects, Zachary's account reminds me of the experiences I relayed in this post (only even more positive). At the root, his experience and mine are hopeful accounts of what happens when  you insist on being in the room and actually show up. I don't pretend like every story traces such a happy arc. But it remains possible, and so I remain optimistic.

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Liberal Academia Fails Again

A new study by Kyle Dodson of UC-Merced finds that, while student-student interactions have a politically polarizing effect (liberals push further left, conservatives move farther right), student-faculty interactions tend to moderate students (liberals and conservatives each move closer to the center). Obviously, something has gone awry in the liberal academy's indoctrination machine.

In all seriousness, while I'm not surprised by this finding, I do think it is worth kvelling over a little bit. Group polarization is a well-established phenomenon, and most professors are left-of-center, so one might expect that student engagement with professors would push left-wing students further left. That this doesn't happen even granted the political composition of the professoriate speaks very well of our professionalism and sense of intellectual mission.
With regard to political views, academic engagement promoted moderation. "[T]he results indicate -- in contrast to the concerns of many conservative commentators -- that academic involvement generally moderates attitudes," Dodson writes. "While conservative students do become more liberal as a result of academic involvement, liberals become more conservative as a result of their academic involvement. Indeed it appears that a critical engagement with a diverse set of ideas -- a hallmark of the college experience -- challenges students to re-evaluate the strength of their political convictions."
I'm not a fan of moderation for moderation's sake, but I'm a big fan of getting people to reassess their political priors and consider the validity of views-not-their-own. So go us!

Sunday, October 15, 2017

Many People Are The Real Threat To Free Speech

Right-wing hecklers shouted down and ultimately forced the cancellation of talk by California Attorney General Xavier Becerra at Whittier College. The hecklers were protesting Beccara's efforts to protect immigrants against predation by the Trump administration.

I mention this story in part because FIRE is the body who picked it up (I periodically hear people claim FIRE doesn't care about free speech violations emanating from the right, but that has not been my experience and this represents a good counterexample). I also mention it because it is a clear example of a free speech violation on a college campus. I do not mention this story to play "right-wingers are the real threat to free speech in this country" game.

The fact is, lots of people don't like free speech; mostly when it's exercised by groups they dislike. Sometimes it's right-wingers at Whittier, sometimes it's left-wingers at William & Mary (what a terrible example to pick, by the way, as the fulcrum for "protest is speech too". Yes, it is, precisely because the overwhelmingly majority of the time it does not manifest as censorial disruption as it did at W&M).

That they actually indict free speech on the regular doesn't stop them from racing off to cry "free speech" when the speaker is someone they like -- the lead heckler at Whittier, as FIRE observes, is rather flagrantly ... opportunistic, we'll say ... on this issue; one could see George Ciccariello-Maher on the other side (as the National Review rightly observes, in GCM's case not believing in academic freedom doesn't mean he doesn't deserve it, but it's fair to call things what they are).

It's perhaps not surprising that this issue -- like so many others -- has devolved into little more than partisan point scoring and desires to push a narrative. But the fact is that there are threats to free speech from all over the political spectrum. I don't tend to think college campuses should be the epicenter of this conversation, particularly when the President of the United States is talking about shutting down broadcast television networks whose coverage he dislikes. Yet even on campus, one can see plenty of offenders on both sides.