Yesterday, Nicholas Kristof of the New York Times wrote an inane piece lamenting the lack of engagement of the larger public by academics. He was then taken to task by many, many academics who engage with the public. One thing I haven’t seen mentioned regarding Kristof is that engagement with the public, in certain places, can result in government pressure. I’m not talking about outside the U.S. either. Recently, the great state of New York has attempted to pass a bill (it’s in the NY Senate now) that would bar public institutions and academic groups from receiving funds if they boycott countries in which the New York Board of Regents charters their own institutions (Maryland, Florida and Illinois are investigating similar bills). This is a response to the decision by American Studies Association to boycott Israel over human rights.
Apparently, this is the wrong kind of engagement (for the record, I don’t agree with the boycott).
Moving to below the Mason-Dixon Line, we visit the great state of Louisiana (boldface mine):
I turned in a portfolio for full professor on January 15. Over the course of the past 5 years since I turned in my portfolio for tenure and promotion to associate professor, I published perhaps 200 op-eds and letters to the editor, gave many presentations on issues related to higher education, state budgets, academic freedom, healthcare, pensions, K-12 education, and the like….
How much of this work ended up in my promotion file this year? ZERO. I won’t stop doing public service, but it is hard to recruit others in a right-to-work, deep red, higher education under siege state like my native Louisiana. The advocacy work won’t count toward advancement. In fact, one of the highest paid professors on my campus… said to my face that I was committing “career suicide.” People are scared here, and it is mighty hard to blame them. We have more campuses under AAUP censure than any other state, and we are a small state. If I didn’t have tenure, I would have already been fired. Please get to know what it is like in the trenches.
It’s also worth remembering how Juan Cole, for his moderate views on the Middle East (which unfortunately coincided with the insanity of the reign of Little Lord Pontchartrain), was a denied position at Yale in 2006, according to one professor, due to his blogging activities.
Perhaps Kristof, from his lofty perch at the New York Times, would want to consider these anecdotes. Then again, he essentially has tenure, so why would he….