Steven Salaita’s (Academic) Freedom

It seems that the current state of Salaita’s academic freedom is freedom from academia:

Even as I complicate honest work, I’m aware of how indebted I am to the notion.  It guided my exit from academe and my rejection of the pundit economy.  I’ve always overvalued recalcitrance, a compulsion, as I understand it, to vigorously avoid situations that require ass-kissing, usually resulting in significant reputational harm.  Since elementary school, I’ve searched for a space where I could conform to my surroundings without feeling unmoored from an inner sense of decency.  That space, it turns out, is equivalent to the volume of a school bus.

I pitched honest living to my parents when I told them about the new job.  Despite being aware of academe’s ruthless memory, they hoped that I’d one day be a professor again.  They probably still do.  In a better world, my redemption would happen in the United States.  I wanted to quell that expectation.  “Even if Harvard offered me a job I’d say no,” I proclaimed with earnest hyperbole.

They feigned support but didn’t believe me.  I understand why.  It’s hard to imagine coming of age in reverse.  Hollywood doesn’t make inspirational movies about struggling to overcome material comfort.  We don’t aspire to the working class.  Personal fulfillment occurs through economic uplift.  We go from the outdoors to the office, from the ghetto to the high-rise, from the bar rail to the capital.  That’s the dream, to become a celebrity or a tycoon or, in humbler fantasies, a bureaucrat.  But forward progress as material comfort is cultivated through the ubiquitous lie that upward mobility equals righteousness.  Honest living is a nice story we tell ourselves to rationalize privation, but in the real world money procures all the honesty we need.

For immigrants, these myths can be acute.  I could see my parents struggling between a filial instinct to nurture and an abrupt recognition of their failure.  My mom, a retired high school teacher, seemed interested in the logistics of transporting students, but my dad, the original professor, clenched his hands and stared across the table.  It’s the only time I’ve seen him avoid eye contact.

I’ve encounter, recently, students who are are studying computer science not because they like it, or chose it, but because their parents picked it for them. These students, even the good ones, are very unhappy.

I’ve been trying to communicate to PhD students that a PhD program is just one form of life and not one that everyone (or most people!) find worth while. It’s hard to accept that a PhD doesn’t make you better and that failing to get one doesn’t make you worse. It’s not clear that the best way to become a good researcher is to “finish your PhD”. For many fields, PhD projects are not very much like how you go on to do research.

Salaita remains an interesting case. His academic career was definitely and perniciously destroyed on false and illegitimate grounds. He was not a marginal figure but a minor “star” professor. His case was an egregious violation of both the spirit and letter of academic freedom. I should think that the standard advice is to make sure any new contract was fully enacted before resigning one’s old position, just in case.

So he was wronged but seems content with where he ended up. This demands respect. But it’s also a bit tricky to get right.

Of course, less dramatic versions of his story are playing out all the time. The adjunct crises is ongoing. Unemployable people with huge student debt are all over. We have to think hard about how higher education is going to work in the coming decade and to make sure we aren’t causing unnecessary harm.


Constitutional Chaos in US and UK

The constitutional order in the US and the UK is pretty much in tatters. The US might be a bit better off? Maybe a lot better off? It’s more dramatic in the UK because of Brexit which, after all, involves a wholesale rejiggering of a huge swath of the UK’s governing and international structure.

But put aside Brexit per se…both the Government and Parliament are a total mess. Neither the Government nor Parliament is functional. The speaker blocking a “meaningful vote 3” on May’s deal is a perfect example.

How have we gotten to three “meaningful” votes in the first place? The first two lost by enormous majorities. (The first time by a truly staggering margin.) Either one should have brought down the government or at least May. And yet Parliament hasn’t voted no confidence and the Conservatives voted down the challenge to her leadership.

Of course, the stakes are generational. Leaving (or post referendum Remaining) is not easily reversible by a subsequent Parliament. And Parliament is split. It doesn’t help that both Cameron’s and May’s Governments have even tried to be marginally competent. Brexit on any scenario is a huge governance challenge. Yet we’ve not seen the legwork. (I feel sorry for the civil service.)

The US might be better off but Trump’s ravaging if the executive branch is no joke. Both the US and the UK are very complex societies deeply embedded in the international order. Taking a wrecking ball to all that probably won’t end well and even more probably won’t end well for the US and UK.

Center right parties with ascendant hard/lunatic right wings are really bad for liberal democracies, if they get power. We’re seeing that play out in real time. We can hope the contagion will be contained but there’s huge risks all around us.

Worse, the pressure of ecological collapse is going to ratchet up. With key societies weakened, we’re going to have even more trouble maintaining core institutions.

Music Monday: In This Land

Sweet Honey in the Rock is worth a lot of your time. The bookend songs from their album In this Land (including the titular song) are among their best. They don’t have good YouTube but here’s the Spotify playlist for them.

It’d be interesting to see an update to “In this Land” because there’s even more to not understand.

It’s interesting how weak their presence is on the web. Their lyrics aren’t available! They were an amazing group with a long history.

I guess being on The Streamings is something.


Blogging has been light these past few weeks. That’s partly because the Cold of Doom has wrecked me and party because it’s been busy. The cold makes it more busy.

Oh well. Maybe I’ll have a burst and catch up. Maybe not. Daily blogging was fun but didn’t have any material benefits. For example, I’m pretty sure it sucked some writing from other stuff instead of stimulating more. But who knows?

Sunday Baking: Buckle and Cookies

We had visitors so I made blueberry buckle again:

Which did not go over that well! Kids are often strange eaters.

I also made the giant chocolate chip cookies:

I forgot the salt on the second half! Which led to the discovery that Zoe like em with salt or with orange extract but not both. She doesn’t dislike them with both, just prefers one at a time.

Does May Have a Government?

Losing major vote after vote often by crushing majorities, proposing stuff then whipping against the amended version, then having cabinet ministers defect…how does May have the confidence of Parliament?

Corbyn, by his existence, is propping her up, I think. He so unacceptable to Tories that they won’t actually push for a general election. Of course, Corbyn defied the PLP to stand (and win) the leadership election when he lost the confidence of the MPs. May’s folly of an election prevented more coups (for a while) but Corbyn still sucks as an opposition leader on almost every front.

So there we are. No one is adhering to the norms which structured UK governance and May doesn’t have the guts to split her party.

And so we have a fundamentally broken set of institutions trying to remake our constitutional order. Such fun.