Juan Cole Strikes a Pose as Freedom's Hero, but There's More to the Story
by Winfield Myers • April 24, 2007
Juan Cole, professor of history at Michigan, former president of MESA, and erstwhile chaired professor at Yale, will take part in a "workshop" on May 3 at Brown University. Titled "The Study of the Middle East and Islam: Challenges after 9-11," the workshop will allow some of the most powerful forces in Middle East studies to don the mantle of victimhood (or better, to strut it, as it is a permanent feature of their moral cover).
Cole's biography for the workshop, in addition to the usual info, sports this claim:
Citing his blog, several prominent conservative commentators and journalists launched a public campaign against his potential hiring by Yale University last spring.
To which a proper rejoinder might be, "Citing his scholarship, senior professors at Yale and Duke refused to allow Cole to join them in their august institutions."
The full story of Cole and Yale, "Juan Cole and Yale: The Inside Story," was written by David White for Campus Watch and published August 3, 2006. Here are three key paragraphs from White's article:
According to several insiders, Cole's scholarship, which several professors deemed insufficient, was the decisive factor in the final decision against his appointment. Cole faced strong opposition from some of the most senior, influential, and highly-regarded members of Yale's history department, including prominent Yale historians Donald Kagan and John Lewis Gaddis. And that was kiss of death, because the Senior Appointment Committee wants a faculty vote that's nearly unanimous.
About the blog (emphasis added):
Regarding the role played by Cole's often polemical blog, sources close to Yale's decision argued that although it opened the eyes of many professors, it hardly killed Cole's chances. As Yale political science professor Steven Smith explained, "It would be very comforting for Cole's supporters to think that this got steamrolled because of his controversial blog opinions. The blog opened people's eyes as to what was going on. He was a kind of stealth candidate. I didn't know anybody that knew about this coming in; he was just kind of smuggled. And I think the blog opened people's eyes as to who this guy was, and what his views were.... It allowed us to see something about the quality of his mind."
A current Yale political science professor argued, "when it came to crunch time, of course the blog was a factor, but it's not what people looked at most seriously. At the end of the day, it wasn't his blog; it was his scholarly work. And that's why he was denied the position."
Cole was also turned down for a job at Duke last year, although he hasn't argued that he was treated unfairly by external agitator types in that case. In fact, he hasn't mentioned it all on his blog, perhaps because he didn't want to draw attention to his efforts to leave Michigan, since he wrote on his blog last June that he wasn't trying to leave Ann Arbor:
Second, it is important in interpreting these things to know who initiated the looking. I am not actively seeking other employment, and did not apply to Yale; they came to me and asked if they could look at me for an appointment.
Another Campus Watch article, again written by David White: "Cole Case," covers the Duke story and strikes a familiar cord on Cole's academic record:
[A]ccording to several professors familiar with the proceedings, Cole's presentation was unimpressive. According to [Malachi] Hacohen, 'It was one of the worst job talks I have heard in my life,' '[it was] logically faulty,' and 'the talk seemed as if it were directed more to CNN viewers than to an academic audience.' Michael Munger, chair of Duke's department of political science, explained that Cole's lecture 'was just not at a level we were expecting…it was more like an undergraduate lecture.'
It's one of the wonders of the modern academic enterprise that its most privileged practitioners, whose academic freedom is untrammeled and who, especially in the case of Cole, are known for vitriolic attacks on critics (see the articles cited above for examples), capture the public eye by whining about critics. As I've argued before, they grew unused to answering for their words and deeds and, as everyone who was ever a teenager remembers, it's always easier to fling insults at one's opponents than risk defeat in debate. If the leaders of Middle East studies in America behave this shamelessly in the face of public criticism, imagine their behavior if the critics fall silent.
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