Wednesday, August 04, 2010

Inside Higher Ed Reports on MAA Decision to Meet in Arizona

A Medieval War -- Over Arizona


moria said...

Why did I expect the level of discourse in IHE comments to be higher than the general level of discourse in comment threads elsewhere on the internet? Okay, the words are a little bit bigger, but the anonymous throwing of incoherent hate-napalm? Precisely on par.

Dear profession o' mine, I do love you, but oh, how often you let me down.

Cheers to ITM and its readers, then, for having led a sane conversation about a polarizing issue. Applause all around.

Eileen Joy said...

@Moira: thanks much for your kind comments here, and also your lament. I was a bit frightened to even read the IHE article as I figured they would choose my most extreme quotation and maybe make me look like I was *also* throwing napalm. I think the use of Masha Raskolnikov's quotations were much more judicious. But regardless, I think one of the best uses of a weblog such as this one is that we can have an extended discussion where we really listen to each other and also modify our own positions a bit as we go along while also [hopefully] being willing to stand firm on certain principles.

Karl Steel said...

Why did I expect the level of discourse in IHE comments

To say nothing of the discourse on MEDTEXTL...although I'm thinking of only one person, unlikely to read this thread (but I'll welcome him if he does), prone to accusing us of not respecting the police ("who risk their lives every day to keep us safe"), and of engaging in "textbook Liberal guilt, identity politics," and a "tediously predictable Liberal protest movement," as if he alone is, like the dead Troilus, above the fray, the sole one speaking in its own voice, free of guilt, of texts, self-moved.

Karl Steel said...

Unfair of me, I think, to speak in such a lateral fashion. Here's a link to the (publically available email) in question.

To repeat what Moira said:
"Dear profession o' mine, I do love you, but oh, how often you let me down."

Daniel said...

This issue of boycott has come up before with academic organizations, albeit on a smaller scale.

I teach Medieval philosophy and, once every other year the South Carolina Society for Philosophy (of which I was once a member when I taught in that state) and the North Carolina Philosophy Society get together for a joint meeting.

The issue in that case was the Confederate Flag that hangs in front of the South Carolina State House and the NAACP boycott.

It was decided (somewhat unilaterally by NC, without consulting SC) not to hold joint meetings in SC (which had been done every other joint meeting) until the flag was removed and/or the NAACP lifted its own boycott of the state.

The year following, at the joint meeting in Charlotte, there was a panel held on the boycott. One of my colleagues at the time made an argument against boycotts in general, and this one in particular, based on the lack of economic harm inflicted on the offending state (what do they lose? sales tax on hotel rentals?) and the unintentional harm inflicted on those who are supposed to be aided (low-wage service industry/hotel workers).

The issue came up again with the APA in San Francisco last year, when the workers at the main hotel (where most interviews and panels were held) were on strike. The APA caved in this case, although some held alternative panels at USF and the APA provided shuttles for those wanting to attend.

I guess my point in all this is to say that I don't think the MAA is that different from other major academic organizations of this type: MLA, APA. They're going to protect their bottom line, primarily, and unless they are faced with some sort of mass revolt (say 80%), they're not going to move the show. Smaller organizations have more mobility and (composed of younger members) are usually more politically aware.

Also, I'm curious to ask: while I agree that the language of the MAA justification is less than authentic (or politically aware), I haven't heard (on this thread or the previous one) much mention of the federal intervention and its results. Why should that not figure in the decision? Granted the law is not repealed, but the court's decision is a start, no?

Anonymous said...

This reminds me of Comment Is Free crowd. I would have hoped that the IHE commentators could engage in a civil discussion without resorting to such obfuscation ("political correctness", "politicization") and avoidance of the core issues of racial profiling, discrimination, and the banning of ethnic studies. But there is in fact a larger political and ethical dimension: Combine the nativist appeals to defend "our national identity, our language, our culture" -- and, one might easily add, "our national sovereignty" -- with the repeated demonization and dehumanization of the Other ("ILLEGALS", most of whom, apparently, belong to violent drug cartels) and what you have is Know Nothing mentality in 21st century rhetoric. The papists are coming, the papists are coming! -- or is it the wetbacks? I am convinced more than ever that we must hold fast to Alain Badiou's performative claim that there is only one world as a point of political action. No one is illegal.

moria said...

Eileen – whatever. That rotting vegetables line is priceless. I remain unwilling to declare a position on this issue (mostly for the reasons Vellum articulates here; see also: I'm not a medievalist and have no material stake in this), and I also have alma-mater-mutuality loyalty to Raskolnikov, but if your napalm comes in the form of informed metaphor-mixing, it will always be all right by me.

Eileen Joy said...

@Anonymous: no one is illegal. Thank you for this. This gets at the heart of the cosmopolitanism that I also invoked on the comment thread at the IHE post. I couldn't agree more.

Karl Steel said...

based on the lack of economic harm inflicted on the offending state (what do they lose? sales tax on hotel rentals?) and the unintentional harm inflicted on those who are supposed to be aided (low-wage service industry/hotel workers)

In answer to these questions, which seem to me to be raised whenever the question of a boycott comes up: 1) yes, but also prestige; 2) true, but if one is concerned about that, one could always spend the money at a hotel or restaurant somewhere else. The point is to exert mass pressure, to recognize that one is not acting only to salve one's conscience (but see below), but also as part of a mass movement, whose effects will be achieved only by pressure enacted by masses of individual, seemingly inconsequential decisions.

As for the Fed intervention, relying on that strikes me as a gamble. And the Fed has not yet dislodged HB 2281, a law that gives the lie to those who claim that AZ is only trying to protect its borders against illegal immigrants and all that the Right believes accompanies immigration. This law, given that it intervenes precisely on the level of curriculum design, should especially outrage academics, even if the 'papers please' law doesn't move us.

I use that 'us' deliberately. I'm regretting, a bit, linking to Calabrese's MEDTEXTL email, because I don't think his reaction represents the thoughts that majority of voting MAA members who decided that a weak response was the best response. Furthermore, I'm grumpy about the MAA decision and about the decision of my fellow MAA members, and I worry that I'm looking around for someone to blame. This email gives me a target in a way that the signatures to the letter can't. And that's unfair.

On the other hand, I could argue that those who favored keeping MAA 2011 in Tempe now know who their allies are. Whatever the motivation of their decision, the effect is the same, which is perhaps all that matters (but see below). Hence the utility of the link to Calabrese's email. But to multiply hands: the 'truth' of the decision may not be in Calabrese's Rightist email but rather in the entropy of the decision itself, less a decision than a velliety, such that what Calabrese portrays as ├ępater les gauches is in fact only the sliding towards an unethics, an unmorality, nonaction.

Who knows?

I do know, however, that I will act, however minimally. I'm not renewing my MAA membership this January, and I'll let them know why. I'm not going to Tempe.

I'm ashamed of the MAA--especially because its recent trends (more articles about Jews and Muslims) promised that the journal was moving in a more pluralistic, less parochially Christian direction. I had hoped for more. I had expected that the MAA members would want to be able to look back and know that they made a good decision.

But at the same time, I have to doubt my good faith, as I doubt my good conscience and my churning sense of outrage, whether at particular medievalists or the MAA as a whole. I was never going to Tempe, and I haven't been to a MAA congress since Seattle.

Thus it's honestly been easy for me to make these decisions. Let me compare: I didn't abandon Siena because of Italy's nativist "anti-terrorist" laws. Why not? Would it have just been too hard? Too expensive?

Daniel said...


Some good points. I had almost entirely forgotten about HB 2281 when I wrote above.