arrieregarde battles of postmodernism

The epicenter of the battle around Salaita’s offer withdrawal seems to be located at the question, whether or not political considerations are admissible when appointing a scholar. I checked what Dr. Salaita himself writes about the matter in a 2008 paper dealing specifically with academic freedom.

A general remark on the paper: most of it consists of unsolicited, unadulterated punditry, bloated with (intentionally, I guess) opaque and (sometimes comically) elevated prose, mainly arguing with a group of Internet writers expressing their views too noisily and/or too effectively, to author’s taste.

What is of interest to me here are some statements by Dr. Salaita on general principles of academic freedom, on page 9ff.

There is little room for misinterpretation: he states, unequivocally, that while letting one’s political views to “inform” her or his scholarship is a departure from the traditional academic

ethos, which maintains the erstwhile myth of disinterest,
[t]his myth is problematic for four main reasons…

In other words, the author does not believe that impartiality is necessary in academic process. And why? Because

1) it pretends that proper academics can achieve a transcendent eminence that allows them to eschew politics;

This is a startling admission. Dr. Salaita seems to easily dismiss the notion that proper scholarship is a perk possible only when you are tenured, and seems to accept as a truism that you should take sides (presumably, aligning your research narrative with that of peers on whom you depend) to achieve “transcendent eminence”. This contradicts starkly what I observe in the research fields close to mine – and makes me view with suspicion the whole area where Dr. Salaita operates. The model of entrenched politicized fiefdoms indeed critically depends on the “academic freedom” Dr. Salaita advocates, but is the last thing a field of scholarly inquiry needs to avoid its slow descend into oblivion.

…I wouldn’t be bothered much by this descend into oblivion if the area where Dr. Salaita is hired were within the usual PoMo nomenclature of critical theory. They deserve their slow death, or, perhaps, the kind of transformation one can see today – from managerial prose to military theories.

What troubles me is that expending scarce resources on this type of activities squeezes out so much needed empirical, data driven, scientific studies in the area – understanding lives and cultures of Native Americans – where American academia (and society as a whole) has such an obvious debt.

Still, I think we will need to defend even those who wants to make academia a hollow echo chamber – just for our sake, to stay ourselves. I would support re-issue of the offer to Dr. Salaita, and – if he does join this campus – I would do everything possible to expose the bogus punditry sold as scholarship we will need to endure as a result.

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