Behind these times: on professional standards and not losing your marbles.

John Judis has published an interesting intellectual biography of recently deceased historian Martin J. Sklar (1935-2014), whom I had never heard of until I saw this article.  (It turns out that there are some very good reasons for this–read on.)  Judis’s essay focuses on Sklar’s conversion from committed socialism to being a huge fan of Sarah Palin and Glenn Beck.  It’s weird–you can read the whole thing if you want, but it was the details of Sklar’s professional credentials and ambitions that interested me.  He started as a precocious sixteen-year old college freshman in 1951 at the University of Wisconsin, and took his B.A. and M.A. there.  However, he got stalled.  Really stalled.

If Sklar’s career had proceeded along the same path as some of his fellow graduate students, he probably would have ended up like [Walter] LaFeber as a renowned professor at an Ivy League university. But Sklar had difficulty finishing what he was writing, and he was also pulled to and fro by the impassioned politics of the times. After he got his MA at Wisconsin, he moved to New York to work on Studies on the Left. Then he became a Ph.D. student at the University of Rochester. He could have easily converted his research on Wilson into a Ph.D. thesis, but he got involved in student politics and embarked on a reconceptualization of the history of American capitalism, based on a study of the 1920s. Some of this research ended up in an incredibly difficult but original essay in Radical America, but much of it resided in a larger manuscript that sat unpublished in a file cabinet, as did other writings. Sklar would sometimes extract these writings and read from them in order to make a point, but would then stash them back away. Sklar left Rochester and graduate school in 1969 to get a job at Northern Illinois University’s left-leaning history department, which included his friend Parrini. In spite of the enthusiastic support of his colleagues and students, he was denied tenure by the administration in 1976 because he had not finished his dissertation.

He went to work for In These Times until 1979.  Then, sometime in the 1980s (?)–Judis doesn’t say exactly when– Continue reading

What a schmuck! Chris Hedges is a plagiarist.

It turns out that Chris Hedges is a plagiarist.  Christopher Ketcham assembles a very damning dossier demonstrating that it’s serial, not incidental, plagiarism that he has committed.

It doesn’t exactly surprise me, given his logorhheac output, which is a typical tell in the case of other plagiarists (Stephen Ambrose, for example.)  It’s disappointing, however, because for the past several years, I have assigned chapters from his 2003 book War is a Force that Gives Us Meaning in my survey class, which I’ve organized around a consideration of warfare in early America.  It’s also embarrassing for me as a professor, doubly embarrassing because not only have I assigned portions of this book for a decade to students who flunked my classes when they plagiarized, but also because the news of his plagiarism in this book is more than a decade old!

The horror, the horror~!  (See Joseph Conrad, Heart of Darkness–I’m not plagiarizing Conrad, I’m evoking him here): Continue reading

Would I do it tomorrow?

Why did I agree to do this?

Why did I agree to do this?

Great advice for academics planning next year’s conference and travel schedule, from David Plotz of Slate:

What an honor! You have been asked to appear on a panel, to keynote a conference, to advise a celebrity, to be publically acclaimed. Perhaps you have been offered a plump check. Perhaps you’ve even been promised a prize! Of course you’re flattered. Of course you accept, because you have so much time to prepare. After all, this thing isn’t happening until October. It’s next year. It’s in 2018. It’s so far in the future, you’ll probably be dead by then.

You’ve made a terrible mistake.

Here’s what will happen. Though the engagement seems infinitely far away today, it will eventually, inevitably, be a week away. Then it’s a day away. And you still haven’t written the speech you need to write. You still have to make a hotel reservation and buy a train ticket and find a baby sitter and apologize to your sister for missing her birthday dinner and beg Dan to cover for you in a meeting. (Sorry, Dan.) The opportunity that sparkled so brightly when they flattered you into it six months ago isn’t gleaming anymore. It’s just a gigantic hassle.

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The so-called “liberal” academic workplace

AliceteapartyJust go read this description of a job interview in a humanities program at a rich SLAC.  The search Chair told our informant, Anonymous, that the young African American woman on the faculty had been denied tenure.  Some flava:

Dr. Chair explained that the whole process had been very unpleasant and that the aforementioned white male colleagues had been “hurt” as a consequence. I said something innocuous in response like, “Oh well I suppose the tenure process is hard on everyone.” But Dr. Chair assured me that there had been problems for a while. “We just want this to be a nice place,” she said.

In addition to making her white male colleagues sad, Dr. Chair told me that the African-American woman who had been fired did not produce what she was expected to produce or teach what she was expected to teach. When I asked what those expectations were, Dr. Chair sighed and said something to the effect of, “She’s a black feminist, you know, and it’s just: not everything is about black feminism.” She said this to me matter-of-factly, as if it were a satisfactory answer to my question.

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Right wing minority wields disproportionate influence over the NWHM, and why the NWHM lets them

Via a retweet by Modupe Labode on Twitter, I found this fascinating essay by Manon Parry, who tells of her experience as a recent Ph.D. who had an informational interview with a staff member from the National Women’s History Museum in 2010:

While CEO Joan Wages may not think historians are integral to the project, the resulting online exhibitions, labelled “amateur, superficial, and inaccurate” by Michel, are certainly disappointing, mixing trite sentimentality (“Profiles in Motherhood”) with shallow celebration (“Daring Dames,” and “Young and Brave: Girls Changing History”). As the Huffington Post article noted, “there appears to be little rhyme or reason to who or what is featured on the museum’s website.” Yet despite the upbeat tone and narrow emphasis on great women and their accomplishments, the exhibitions are still too provocative for the right-wing opponents of women’s history. Since 2008, legislation to grant NWHM permission to build near the National Mall has stalled six times, blocked in Congress by Republican opponents acting on behalf of anti-abortion interests. Michele Bachmann’s charge that the museum will create an “ideological shrine to abortion” is just the latest in this repeated strategy. In 2010, Tom Coburn (R-OK) and Jim DeMint (R-SC), placed a hold on a bill two days after Concerned Women for America requested one, claiming that the museum would “focus on abortion rights.” In response, Wages reassured opponents that reproductive health will never be tackled in the museum. “We cannot afford, literally, to focus on issues that are divisive.”

I know first-hand that the content of the museum’s website owes more to the fears of a political backlash than to the results of decades of groundbreaking historical research.

I completed my PhD in 2010 with Sonya Michel as my dissertation advisor. Interested in employment opportunities at the NWHM, I arranged an informal phone conversation with a staff member at Ralph Appelbaum Associates, then involved as designers for the project. Although this contact acknowledged my relevant training and expertise, she bluntly stated that my research, on family planning media over the twentieth century, made me a liability, given the political sensitivity of the topic. Birth control may be legal in America today, but it is clearly not legitimate. I mention this personal anecdote as full disclosure, not to complain about what happened to me, but to highlight how bad things have become. This is the state of the public history of women in twenty-first century America. Simplified, politically sensitive, and censored.

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