Campus Watch in the Media
Glasnost in MESA
by Martin Kramer
http://Lisa Anderson, dean of international affairs at Columbia and president of the Middle East Studies Association (MESA), has sent a letter to members in the current MESA Newsletter. It contains a remarkably frank indictment of the performance of Middl
Thousands of individually rational decisions, as my political science colleagues might observe, contributed to a collective abdication of responsibility. In the social sciences, graduate students who wanted jobs and junior faculty who wanted tenure mimicked their colleagues in other areas and looked for flickers of electoral politics and glimmers of economic privatization...and neglected the stubborn durability of the authoritarian regimes....More senior scholars, pained by the demoralization in the region and its neglect in their disciplines, suspended active research agendas in favor of administrative assignments in their universities....In the humanities, many scholars...were reluctant to jeopardize access to visas and research authorizations; in their excessive caution, they failed to speak out about the often appalling circumstances of their friends and colleagues there.
In sum, the practitioners either silenced themselves or parroted disciplinary dogmas. I made most of these points, with evidence, in the fourth chapter of my book Ivory Towers on Sand: The Failure of Middle Eastern Studies in America. I'm glad to see them finally conceded, instead of denied. Anderson's own joint appearance with me on a panel in Washington in November was the first sign of glasnost in MESA. This is another.
During the 1980s, the formerly conservative Middle East Studies Association underwent an important ideological transformation....What happened in the Middle East Studies Association therefore was a metropolitan story of cultural opposition to Western domination.
I pointed out that so total an "ideological transformation" in MESA would not have taken place had there not been a massive shift in the ethnic composition of its membership, as attested by Aswad. And on the very same page, I quoted a political scientist who noted "the widespread, if undocumentable, impression that an individual's ethnic background or political persuasion may influence hiring and tenure decisions" in Middle Eastern studies. The political scientist: Lisa Anderson.
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