Sunday, May 22, 2005

Academic Freedom

One anonymous commenter alerted me to the important event of David Graeber's firing at Yale. The interview I'm linking to is over a week old - I'm not that good at keeping up with Counterpunch. However, it's very important to go there, read the article and sign the petition supporting Graeber, an anarchist anthropology prof. who's just been fired at Yale - probably because of his involvement with GESO, DAN and other groups unbeloved by the tenured fac. at Yale.
He says: If you'd asked me six months ago, I would have probably said "academics can be activists as long as they do nothing to challenge the structure of the university," or anyone's power within it. If you want to make an issue of labor conditions in Soweto, great, you're a wonderful humanitarian; if you want to make an issue of labor conditions for the janitors who clean your office, that's an entirely different story. But I think you're right, something's changing. I mean, I'm sure it's not like there's someone giving orders from above or anything, but there's a climate suddenly where people feel they can get away with this sort of thing, and the Ward Churchill and Massad cases obviously must have something to do with that. I've been hearing a lot of stories, in recent weeks, about radical teachers suddenly being let go for no apparent reason. They don't even have to dig up something offensive you're supposed to have said any more - at least, in my case no one is even suggesting I did or said anything outrageous, in which case, at least there'd be something to argue about.
I haven't seen that much hoopla about this case because Graeber doesn't have tenure. (I can't wait to read the interviewer, Joshua Frank's new book, Left Out: How Liberals Helped Re-elect George Bush.) If you want to see who's behind the wicked war on leftie profs, go look at the "students for academic freedom" website. I won't link here. It's easy enough to find - David Horowitz and assorted toadies and cronies. One of the most odious pieces there is a typically politically naive piece by that intellectual poseur Stanley Fish. rggh.

1 comment:

Matthew said...

Let me start by saying that all progressive folks should defend David Graeber and all progressive academics currently under attack.
Secondly I think I want this opportunity to look at some of the questions around "academic freedom," left academics and the working class. (i know that sounds ambitious but I will try to wrap it up pretty quick).
Firstly, and I hope this is obvious to most folks, academic freedom is a freedom that only academics have. There are few jobs out there where virtually nothing is taboo as workplace discourse. Is academic freedom in the interest of those who by definition don't have it? Yes, in a trickle-down sort of way. I don't put quotes around tricke-down because in this instance, unlike Reagan's, the benefits bestowed on the few arguably do benefit the rest of us.
Probably the main reason Graeber got the boot was his support of the Graduate Student Union. Having been on a lot of listservs that played host to left academics in various phases of the career I've seen many statements and discussions that try to define academics into the working class. Sure academics work hard, often with no benefits and shockingly low pay but there is the matter of the power and privilege that come with a teaching position in higher education. Academic freedom, in that it is not a right-something reciprocal and universal, is a privilege and not a small one. Despite years of effort to break down the teacher/student dynamic the power to give grades is certainly of a magnitude that working class people can seldom lay claim to.
When folks are in college they are exposed to so many different ideas and so many different possibilites that they're class allegiances are in flux. This state of flux, combined with the effects of being away from home for the first time, is why fraternities exist. The shifting allegiances, class cultural sexual are what enable the left to organize on campus as well.
Some folks like this state of flux so much they never want to leave it.
Postmodernism is the most obvious manifestation of this type of personality.
This is also demonstrated by the presence, on the left of folks who may have started out life well off and through choices typically made in their college years have been proletarianized, likewise many left academics point to their childhood of modest means as proof of some kind of authenticity.

The attack on Ward Churchill, David Graeber and others is an attempt gain more control of the state of class flux of college students. You could go to every law office around the country and not be guaranteed to find a conscious leftist in each, similarly for restaruants or any number of other sort of establishments. Not so with college campuses, you will find at least one leftist on every faculty (well maybe not Bob Jones). This is the left's most significant source of power in the US.
I wanted to go on about the possiblity of unionizing academics facing a possible faustian bargain of losing academic freedom but gaining job security and benfits but I havent the foggiest on the specifics of that issue and without any better way of concluding I will simply say that I am certainly not the first to point out the above