Saturday, March 29, 2003

Teaching by intimidation

Columbia University anthropology professor Nicholas DeGenova abandoned reason at an anti-war "teach-in" held on Columbia's campus earlier this week. New York Newsday reports:

"The only true heroes are those who find ways that help defeat the U.S. military," Nicholas De Genova, assistant professor of anthropology at Columbia University told the audience at Low Library Wednesday night. "I personally would like to see a million Mogadishus."

The crowd was largely silent at the remark. They loudly applauded De Genova later when he said, "If we really believe that this war is criminal ... then we have to believe in the victory of the Iraqi people and the defeat of the U.S. war machine."
This is not reasoned dissent, but open support for Saddam Hussein's regime. While I do not consider—as a judgment of law—De Genova's actions to be treason, he came dangerously close. Openly advocating the murder of U.S. soldiers is, in no context, a legitimate argument to make in the course of debating the merits of the war.

It's interesting that this took place at Columbia, a school which recently named Lee Bollinger its new president. Bollinger's name will soon go down in history as the respondent in the two Michigan affirmative action cases scheduled for argument before the Supreme Court on Tuesday. Bollinger was Michigan's president at the time the cases were first brought. More to the point, Bollinger is an impassioned defender of institutional racism, at least in the guise different admissions standards based on skin color or ethnicity.
Bollinger (and much of organized academia) believes diversity qua diversity is a virtue. For this reason, it is unlikely Bollinger will take any action against Professor De Genova, who after all was only "celebrating diversity" in declaring Saddam Hussein to be America's moral superior. Yet at the same time, the antiwar "teach-in" was anything but a model of intellectual diversity. Consider the Columbia campus newspaper's editorial on the event:

The goal of the event, presumably, was to spark intellectual, scholarly discussion about the war in Iraq. But last night's event was not a serious debate. It was a forum where professors could express their views unopposed.

Even if the event was designed for the very legitimate purpose of advocating only an anti-war perspective -- and not, as Professor Ira Katznelson suggested at the beginning of the evening, "to teach" -- one of the surprising things about the teach-in was the assumption on the part of several speakers that no one in favor of the war (or even anyone ambivalent) was present. Professor Jack Snyder said he felt comfortable speaking at Low last night because he knew there would be little opposition. The speakers were not out to change anyone's mind about the war; instead, they reveled in an atmosphere of intellectual conformity. . . .

While some professors did present articulate and sophisticated reasons for disagreeing with the war, the possibility of disagreement was never taken seriously; no "teaching" took place. Too many students left the teach-in feeling intimidated not by the overwhelming opposition to the war, but to the way an academic forum became a fervid presentation of an exclusive viewpoint. In the future, the University should be wary of advertising a "critical" forum that is so uncritical of its own perspective.
If President Bollinger values the ethical and intellcetual credibility of his university, he will dismiss Nicholas De Genova immediately. If Bollinger can't bring himself to do that, then Columbia's trustees should fire De Genova and Bollinger.

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