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The freedom to comply

By Michael J. Smith on Wednesday June 18, 2008 07:54 PM

A friend of mine, who still works in the belly of the Credentialling Sector beast, sent me the following clip, from a publication with the narcotic name of Inside Higher Education:

Michigan Severs Ties to Controversial Publisher

In September, the University of Michigan Press faced intense criticism from pro-Israel groups... over its distribution of a book called Overcoming Zionism, which argues that the creation of Israel was a mistake and urges adoption of the "one state" solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.... Michigan wasn't the publisher, but it distributed the book under a deal with Pluto Press, a leftist British publisher with extensive lists on the Middle East and international affairs.

Some critics of the book demanded that Michigan stop distributing the book, which it briefly did, and cut ties to Pluto immediately. The university declined to do [cut ties], and resumed distributing the book, citing both contractual obligations to Pluto and concerns that halting distribution because of content would raise issues of academic freedom. By the end of this year, however, Michigan will no longer be distributing the book or have any ties to Pluto Press.....

Among those who publish with Pluto are Noam Chomsky, Howard Zinn, bell hooks, and Ariel Dorfman....

.... Peggy McCracken, an associate dean at Michigan who is chair of the executive board of the press, said that politics wasn't the issue. She said that... Pluto doesn't have peer review on the Michigan model.... Pluto uses peer review on proposals and chapters, but not the finished manuscript.

....McCracken added that "certainly the free and open exchange of ideas is the foundation of everything we do at the university."

A little touch of deadpan Irish humor there, I suspect, in that last graf from Ms McCracken.

Stories like this -- the next most recent discussed here was the purge of Norman Finkelstein -- always delight me with the contrast between Academia's self-image, as a place for Ms McCracken's "free and open exchange of ideas", and the utter poltroonery with which it nearly always responds to ideological witch-hunts.

Back in the Red Scare days, the Unis obligingly got rid of all their Reds, and nowadays, they can almost always be relied on to cave in promptly to indignant e-mails from Israel fans.

It all leads one to wonder a bit about the concept of "academic freedom". It's a little strange -- isn't it? -- that academics should claim entitlement to some kind of freedom which isn't apparently available to the rest of us.

Presumably the justification is the broader social benefit that accrues to us all from these fearless thinkers and scholars, boldly

Voyaging through strange seas of thought, alone

... regardless of conventional wisdom, heedless of prejudice and superstition, willing and eager to challenge all unquestioned assumptions, and so on.

Well, there might me something to say for this idea if the Unis were really anything like that. But of course they aren't; Michigan's servile kowtowing to the Israel lobby is the way Academia actually works, ninety-nine times out of a hundred.

So I say the hell with academic freedom. Let the professoriate get used to the same kind of labor discipline as the proletariat. Away with the fig leaf. Let's candidly say (what is in fact the fact) that Unis exist to indoctrinate the young; to justify inequality with a factitious gilding of "merit"; to defend received ideas, and to call groupthink "peer review".

Let's get Laputa back on the ground again.

Comments (13)


"Michigan's servile kowtowing to the Israel lobby is the way Academia actually works, ninety-nine times out of a hundred"

Actually, UM Press distributed hundreds of titles for Pluto Press over the life of the agreement, dozens of which were anti-Israel at best, and outright anti-semitic at worst. How was the kowtowing to the Israel Lobby?

You really want to push the anti-Jewish conspiracy theories- i.e. the oppressive Jews trying to dictate the dialogue- when you wouldn't do that to any other minority who protested racist books being distributed by a public university.


I would like to hear in what way Kovel's book -- which I read recently with considerable interest -- was "racist".

Re: Kovel's book:

Was the URL previously posted intended to be evidence of Kovel's "racism"? If so it is thoroughly unpersuasive. Here's the lede (and the rest is all in the same vein; you could look it up):

New Attack on Kovel Book
U-M Press' Folly
By: Robert Sklar (from Detroit Jewish News)

More and more of the Jewish community is mobilizing against the University of Michigan Press' troubling relationship as U.S. distributor for a London-based publisher of a highly controversial book that essentially advocates doing away with the State of Israel in favor of a single secular democratic state with no ties to the Jewish people.

Al Schumann:

Yeah, I don't see any proof of racism in the review either. What I do see is the review's author conflating Zionism with Jewish identity. The coupling of the two has had a toxic outcome.


Kovel's book is actually very much worth a read. It's not flawless but it has what the old boys called "the heart of the matter" in it:

Overcoming Zionism, by Joel Kovel


"Michigan's servile kowtowing to the Israel lobby is the way Academia actually works, ninety-nine times out of a hundred"

But see what Berkeley did with Novartis and BP. What about NYU in Abu Dhabi (or wherever it is)? Often enough the faculty may be politically correct (if generally insufferable), but the administrators are not.


"Often enough the faculty may be politically correct (if generally insufferable), but the administrators are not"

what version of pc ??

the admin vs the flat caps
the monty's illusion abounds

tenured vs endowed chair

each flat cap--er
a solitooodentious fortress of unfettered
at about mid 6 digits per annum

Son of Uncle Sam:

Racist, you want racist? Try,'Your Inheritance' by Sacred Truth Ministries. Better get a New Testament to refer to as well.
Militia propaganda presented to me when I was working for my Father Uncle. I kept it as a sou sou souvenier. Granted it won't be found at your local community college, but it is on our boys in greens book shelves, that is the apitomy of academic freedom,... if you're told to read it.

...The coupling of the two has had a toxic outcome...

Oh, but not as toxic as it yet has the potential to become. (cough)


Fine, fine dissection of the situation - the "Credentialing Sector"is absolutely apropos. If you get a paycheck from a higher ed place, you are guilty of racketeering, profiting from an enterprise that is guilty of fraud and extortion. The worst part about this criminal enterprise, and what drove me away fairly early on in my callow youth, was the pr campaign of balderdash, self-ennoblement, faculty self-righteousness, that permeated every cranny. Where do you think the money comes from to give the Rumsfeld juniors their credentials? What do you think can get taught in such a creaking dance floor of Cantabridgian rich folks calling the tunes? George W went to both Yale and Harvard - that ought to be enough to shut the whole thing down. Then start a tuition-less Open University, not these drug-delivery systems for future apparatchiks, man. Yeah, professor, what's my grade now, boyee?


But -- Ms X -- who's doing the coupling? Aren't the biggest offenders the defense attorneys for Israel -- the people who insist that to attack Israel is to attack the Jews?

Al Schumann:

I think Ms. Xeno was very kindly indulging my fondness for obliquely salacious, highly creepy metaphors.

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