April 18, 2006


Yale's Next Tenured Radical? (ELIANA JOHNSON and MITCH WEBBER, April 18, 2006, NY Sun)

Yale University is on the verge of offering a faculty appointment to the University of Michigan Professor Juan Cole. That is the word around the campus here in New Haven. If Yale proceeds with the appointment, it will bring in one of the few professors in the United States, perhaps the only one, who has publicly endorsed the recent paper warning against American support of Israel by John Mearsheimer of the University of Chicago and Stephen Walt of Harvard.

A professor of modern Middle East and South Asian history at the University of Michigan, Mr. Cole rose to national prominence in the wake of September 11 when reporters and journalists began seeking him out as an authority on the modern Middle East. It is on similar grounds - seeking a scholar of the contemporary Middle East - that the Yale Center for International and Area Studies and the Yale History Department have sought out Mr. Cole.

The prospect of Mr. Cole joining the Yale faculty is disturbing for many reasons. His "scholarship" in this area consists entirely of crude polemics, and his outlook is colored by a conspiratorial view of history. Mr. Cole has used his modicum of fame not to participate in the realm of respectable scholarly debate but to express his deep and abiding hatred of Israel and to opine about the influence of a Zionist cabal on American foreign policy.

Mr. Cole's most frequent public statements and writing - many of which appear on his blog, Informed Comment - have deviated considerably from his areas of expertise. He rarely misses an opportunity to inveigh against Israel. If it were up to Mr. Cole, the country wouldn't exist at all. It would have been preferable, he claims, for the British to have accepted Jewish refugees "rather than saddling a small, poor peasant country with 500,000 immigrants hungry to make the place their own."

Being anti-immigrant is hardl radical these days.

MORE (via Mike Daley):
Search for scholar spotlights politics in classroom (YOTAM BARKAI, 2/17/06, Yale Herald)

When Yale formally hires a professor of Middle East Studies sometime in the next few years, students accustomed to comfortably liberal lecturers may be confronted with a notorious anti-Western firebrand. Faculty at the Yale Center for International and Area Studies (YCIAS) have confirmed that Juan Cole, an openly anti-George W. Bush, DC ’68, and anti-Israel history professor at the University of Michigan, is under consideration to fill a new slot as an interdisciplinary professor of contemporary Middle East studies. Whether or not the YCIAS search committee ultimately decides to offer the post to Cole, the possibility of such a controversial figure’s coming to Yale has reignited the ongoing campus debate about the role of politicized classes and opinionated professors in a college environment. [...]

Besides evoking questions of Cole’s specific personal views, his potential appointment and its surrounding controversy raise larger questions about the role of politics in the classroom. When professors are teaching students about the most pressing—and polarizing—subjects of the day, is it possible to keep their classes in the neutral zone?

History Professor Ted Bromund agreed that no classroom can be wholly free of politics. “There can be no courses—not even the sciences—that rely entirely on fact without opinions,” he said. “Reading, for instance, cannot cover all points of view: Choosing among the almost infinite options must involve opinion. Informed opinion is still opinion.”

According to Gaddis, the greatest danger of politicized classes and openly opinionated professors is that they obviate academic discussion. “There’s no way professors can separate their own opinions from what they teach, but these should not be the only views they teach,” he said. “And they should always treat their students with respect: There’s never an excuse for failing to do this.”

Though some degree of bias is unavoidable, Bromund emphasized that the search committee’s most important task is to hire professors who avoid politics in the classroom as much as possible. “The finest scholars and teachers are not entirely apolitical, or non-political, but they are ones that seek to limit the role of politics” in their scholarship, he said. “Committees should not necessarily shy away from a scholar who has achieved fame or notoriety for non-academic work.”

Presenting a wide range of perspectives may be even more central to the mission of YCIAS than other departments: The center often treats the most relevant foreign policy questions of the day, with questions on the Middle East among the most divisive. Nancy Ruther, associate director of the YCIAS, insisted that the center preserves a diversity of views in its faculty and speakers, in accordance with its philosophy of balanced coverage. “We hosted the Taliban foreign minister when the Taliban regime was in charge; we hosted a panel for the 50th anniversary of the state of Israel,” she said. “To have all range of views represented in every lecture is simply a pipe dream. Across the board, our Middle Easternists do a very good job keeping a wide range of views represented.”

Yet according to Michael Oren, a visiting fellow in international security studies and senior fellow at the Shalem Center in Jerusalem, figures such as Cole overstep the boundaries of political freedom in the classroom. On Feb. 17, 2003, Cole wrote in an online post, “Apparently [Bush] has fallen for a line from the neo-cons in his administration that they can deliver the Jewish vote to him in 2004 if only he kisses Sharon’s ass.” Oren said of this comment, “Clearly, that’s anti-Semitism; that’s not a criticism of Israeli policy. If you’re accusing Jews of manipulating the American government to fight wars for Israel without any evidence, then that’s not legitimate criticism; that’s in the area of racial hatred.”

Still, Cole can claim a number of supporters, especially among his students, many of whom find him dynamic, funny, and enthusiastic. Miriam Liebman, a sophomore at the University of Michigan, said Cole’s course “America and Middle Eastern Wars” last semester was substantive and informative. “It was a great class, one of the best classes I’ve taken at Michigan,” she said. Liebman admitted that Cole is openly far left and that his political opinions pervaded his lectures. “But I never saw it as a big deal,” she said. “I don’t think the goal of the class is to brainwash 250 Michigan students into thinking the way he does. I think any professor you have will be biased one way or another.”

But Naamah Paley, another sophomore who took his class, pointed out that a professor can profoundly influence and alter students’ perceptions of a controversial and complex topic. According to Paley, Cole’s lecture on the history of Zionism and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict was given on Rosh Hashanah, when no religious Jewish students were present in class to contest his views. Moreover, Paley said Cole’s midterm exam concentrated on the controversial massacres at the Arab village of Deir Yassin and Sabra and Shatila refugee camps in Lebanon rather than on balanced coverage of Israeli history.

For Paley, moreover, the close-minded opinions of a political firebrand like Cole can alienate and stifle students. Earlier this year, Paley met with Cole to discuss her interest in studying abroad in Egypt next year. Yet she said she feared engaging Cole in an argument or even mentioning her Judaism or Zionist beliefs. “I didn’t want him to see me in his eyes as a Jewish student, but as a serious student of Middle East studies who wanted to talk to him about Arabic,” she said.,/blockquote>

Posted by Orrin Judd at April 18, 2006 9:04 PM

Well, perhaps Yale could put ITS logo on the Mearsheimer/Walt paper (the Internet version). That way, they could say they have supplanted Harvard.

Truth and Light (lux et veritas). The Taliban and Juan Cole. Great. Who's going to fill in the Trifecta?

Posted by: jim hamlen at April 19, 2006 1:16 AM

Fill in the trifecta? Shouldn't be difficult, just have to find and hire any intellectual. Preferably European.

Posted by: Mikey at April 19, 2006 8:33 AM

It seems hard to escape the theory that whoever is in charge of Yale isn't doing this kind of thing accidentally.

Posted by: Annoying Old Guy at April 19, 2006 9:10 AM