Wednesday, January 02, 2008

On that "Moderate" MLA resolution

As covered in Inside Higher Ed, the Modern Language Association recently considered two resolutions considering the supposed to danger to academic freedom represented by the Ward Churchill case and the cases of other academics, presumably Norman Finkelstein and Nadia Abu El-Haj, who "criticize Zionism." The more "balanced" and "moderate" substitute resolution offered by (self-described in his book title "Manifesto of a Tenured Radical"?) Cary Nelson
noted that the "Middle East is a subject of intense debate," said it was "essential that colleges and universities protect faculty rights to speak forthrightly on all sides of the issue," and urged colleges to "resist" pressure from outside groups about tenure reviews and speakers and to instead uphold academic freedom. Nelson’s resolution did not identify one side or the other as victim or villain in the campus debates over the Middle East and said that academic freedom must apply to people "to address the issue of the Middle East in the manner they choose."
I'm not sure I agree with Judeosphere that hell froze over or that "sanity" prevailed at the MLA. Academic freedom isn't defined as tenure and freedom from outside criticism for extremists and shoddy scholars. Why is outside criticism inevitably "pressure" requiring "resistance"? Perhaps outside criticism should be listened to if it has intellectual validity and ignored if it doesn't.

Judging from the account given in the Inside Higher Ed article, the substitute resolution could easily be taken as vaguer, more controversy-avoiding expression of solidarity with Finkelstein, El-Haj, and Churchill. Did the substitute resolution refuse to take sides or did it simply avoid naming the side it was taking? What other tenure battles might the resolution have had in mind?

There is also the matter of campus speakers, but somehow I don't think the impetus for the resolution had anything to do with pro-Israel speakers who have been squelched, but rather involved such things as Juan Cole's complaint that "At . . . Harvard, there have been a number of disinvitees-- academics asked to speak and who then saw the invitation withdrawn, apparently on grounds of disagreeing with Alan Dershowitz." I suppose it comes down to how much of a rebuke might be seen in the radicals' failure to get the wording they wanted. Perhaps moonbats don't always get what they want, but if they try sometimes they find they get what they need.

Crossposted on Soccer Dad

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